Topical & Tangible: Active Learning Process With USAID/OTI
USAID/DCHA/OTI’s Applied Best Practices and Coordination Team members Joe McSpedon and Meg Young recently shared their experience with OTI’s learning model and their Active Learning Process.
Given the focus of OTI on environments in transition, it is critical that the office be able to adapt quickly as circumstances change. By instituting practices like Rolling Assessments, Strategic Review Sessions, and Program Performance Reviews, USAID and its implementers are able to quickly identify what is working and what isn’t working in a given activity or project and then plan any necessary course corrections.
As Joe McSpedon explains about the quarterly Rolling Assessments, they are a chance to step back and ask, “let’s see where we are thus far…Let’s think about the context. Has something changed on the ground that we can take advantage of, or is there something new that we need to think of?” These quarterly efforts usually focus granularly at the activity level, while annual Strategic Review Sessions, although still field-focused, look at a more programmatic level.
Meg Young explains more about the Strategic Review Sessions:
“We look strategically at what exactly are we trying to get done in the country, as a whole, how do all of these activities stack up, and what do they show? Do we need to course adjust after a year of having tried these different entrepreneurial, small-grant styles? If certain small grants were effective, what does that mean in terms of the strategy that we developed a year ago?”
OTI also uses these reviews as “learning moments,” often bringing in external facilitators to provide a fresh set of eyes on the program and the lessons learned.. In addition to outside facilitators, staff members from different teams across OTI often participate to ensure cross pollination of knowledge and feedback.
These tools provide the opportunity for greater organizational learning as OTI can synthesize the Rolling Assessment and Strategic Review Session evaluations into guidance and best practices. In fact, although every OTI activity is unique by virtue of the complex and fluctuating nature of transition environments, the Applied Best Practices and Coordination Team was created to tease out common success factors. As Young explains, “We create guidance that both give you enough structure so that if you’re in a total vacuum you would know, okay, I need at least these six key actions to happen this year, here are the actors that I’m pulling in for those, here are the resources that are available to me, and here’s some guidance on how to get it done.”
These lessons live on OTI’s online knowledge management platform—OTI Anywhere—which is open to both USAID and implementing partners.