CLA training for COPs: Capacity Building in Adaptive Management For Our Most Critical Project Resources

Jun 7, 2019 by Matthew St. John, RTI International Comments (0)

When development projects struggle, a lot of typical weaknesses may be at fault. For instance, the design of the project—which may have been successful elsewhere—may not be appropriate for the local context. Implementation too could be static in the face of changing and complex local environments. Lack of coordination between projects and duplication of efforts can lead to inefficiencies. Sometimes data and evidence that can improve implementation stays “up on the shelf” in project offices, leading to a weak evidence base with outdated or siloed monitoring and evaluation practices.

Adaptive management and CLA can help.

At RTI, we have been thinking about how we can improve our program implementation excellence across projects from different sectors given the challenges faced by projects.   Specifically, how can we deepen our projects’ CLA approaches to achieve better development outcomes?  How can we integrate adaptive management into projects for greater excellence in implementation?

We implement programs for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who rightly ask us, “how are you innovating to achieve results in complex or constantly changing environments?”  How can we strengthen our adaptive management and CLA practices within our projects?

What is adaptive management and CLA?  At RTI, we define adaptive management as practices that seek to achieve better project outcomes through the systematic, iterative, and planned use of emergent or intentional knowledge, data, and learning throughout the project lifecycle. It also involves reacting and responding quickly to changes in the political, social, and economic operating environments internal and external of a project.  CLA operationalizes adaptive management.

But there are acknowledged constraints that are the reality on the ground to an adaptive management approach to projects.

Despite challenges, the CLA framework and all the related methodologies comprise a powerful set of tools for improving program outcomes in the face of changing contexts that organizations and donors should be doing more of to truly deliver the promise of development for global good.

Developing a training for COPs on CLA

As an international research institute, RTI is uniquely capable of providing empirical evidence developed through applied research of our international development projects to tackle these challenges and turn that knowledge into practice back into our projects.

At RTI, I am leading a research initiative to look at how our projects across different sectors are using different CLA approaches and are coming up with new and innovative tools to help our projects integrate their approaches to improve development outcomes.  One new approach we developed to integrate adaptive management and CLA approaches into projects from the start is a training on adaptive management for new Chiefs of Party.  The training is in three sections broken up by ‘pause and reflect moments’ utilizing adult learning techniques.  First, the training reviews current global frameworks in adaptive management.  Then, we present specific cases as examples of how other RTI projects integrate adaptive management approaches. Finally, the training demonstrates tools and reviews with participants on how to build a team culture within projects for adaptive management and CLA mindsets.

As an introduction training meant for COPs who will lead projects across a wide array of sectors, the sessions can be tailored to swap out irrelevant project examples and substitute them for cases of projects in their same sectors.  In this way of ‘plug and play’ content, we make the training more relevant for the new COP.  Also, we adjust the training acknowledging the real-world challenges to using an adaptive management approach.  For example, procurement challenges and dis-enabling environments within which the project must operate that restrict potentially new or innovated approaches based on changes in context.

Why COPs?  They are the most important and literally the ‘key’ personnel on a project.  They are the chief executive officer and the lead external collaborator, learner, and adapter with the donor and other stakeholders.  RTI believes that our staff are our most critical aspect of our success and a people-centered approach to CLA makes sense.

Rolling out CLA training for COPs

In March of this year, we formally rolled out the training to new COPs just in the start up phase of projects such as an energy program in Africa, a health program in the Philippines, and a governance program in Haiti.  The training also coincided with the development and dissemination of new tools to help projects in their CLA approaches; a tool to help projects document their decision making processes of tactical or strategic adaptations for improved ‘adaptive rigor,’  a guide for more effective ‘pause and reflect’ sessions, a guide to applying an applied PEA lens to project staff everyday work, and a tips sheet for helping senior project management form teams with an adaptive culture and growth mindset.  Much of the training is spent reviewing and discussing with the COP best practices in implementing a CLA approach from other RTI-implemented projects.  At the conclusion of the training we spend time making sure the COP knows who they can contact for additional support and link them into RTI’s MERLA Community of Practice of home office and project-based staff to continue the discussion as their knowledge evolves through project implementation.

The training has been well received by the COPs, who appreciate integrating new tools especially during the important start-up phase of their projects.

This is just one way we are further integrating CLA in our programs for better project results. Whether in the energy, health, governance, or other sector, CLA is a proven approach to enabling COPs to apply lessons learned and achieve better development outcomes.

This post was originally published on RTI International’s Insights Blog. Reposted with permission.