Portfolio Review and CDCS Mid-Course Stocktaking

On this page:   What is it?   |   How do I get started?   |   Important Tips

What is it?

Portfolio reviews and the Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) mid-course stocktaking are complementary approaches for a Mission’s ongoing learning and adapting within the Program Cycle.  Both processes play an important role, serving as key “pause and reflect” moments for the Mission to generate and apply continuous learning across a broad range of programmatic and operational approaches.  

In a mid-course stocktaking, as in portfolio reviews, Missions can leverage opportunities to further enhance strategic collaboration and stakeholder engagement, strengthen knowledge transfer among staff and partners, and address organizational practices and culture to better enable adaptive management.  Beyond compliance with the ADS, conducting these exercises helps ensure that lessons learned and changes in the Mission’s internal and external environments are reflected in programming.

Both approaches:

  • Examine: (1) the status of cross-cutting themes; (2) what can be learned from monitoring data, evaluations, partners and program participants, or other sources of information; (3) challenges and next steps for improving performance and (4) what to adapt as a result of learning.
  • Constitute pause-and-reflect moments focused on progress toward achievement of the CDCS, and project results and expectations regarding future progress.

As directed in the ADS, a mid-course stocktaking is required at least once during the lifetime of the CDCS, while portfolio reviews take place annually and sometimes biannually. While a mid-course stocktaking can be used to fulfill the requirement for a strategy-level portfolio review for that year, there are some differences in their purposes. The main purpose of a mid-course stocktaking is to assess strategy-level results to align program implementation with contextual changes, guide near-term course correction, revisit assumptions and inform future planning. Portfolio reviews offer opportunities to focus on progress toward results at different levels, whether at the development objective, project, activity level, or a combination of these. However, there are a variety of purposes for conducting either approach, and strategic choices will help define their focus depending on what makes sense for the context and programming outcomes.

How do I get started?

For either approach, it is important to reach consensus on the appropriate timing and objectives, to ensure that learning and adapting are prioritized.  Some of the aspects to consider during the planning phase may include the following.

Key tasks in preparing for a portfolio review and mid-course stocktaking: 

  • Assembling the planning team
  • Defining the scope and objectives to better tailor the portfolio reviews and mid-course stocktaking to the Mission’s context
  • Making key decisions about the process (time, format, participants, location, agenda, methods)
  • Determining who (internal and external participants) should be involved, how and when
  • Gathering and analyzing the information that will be or has been collected for the portfolio review or mid-course stocktaking exercise 
  • Assessing changes to the country context since the last review 
  • Distributing documentation and guidance to DO teams and other working groups

Portfolio review-specific considerations:

  • What questions need to be answered to support better decision-making in the year ahead?
  • What progress have we made, what have we learned and where do we need to adapt?
  • What will success look like? How will the results be used?

Stocktaking-specific considerations: 

  • What cumulative progress have we made to date on the CDCS?
  • What have we learned during implementation over the years and how can we apply this information?
  • In what ways do we need to adapt what we are doing based on the changes? 

For comprehensive information on planning and implementing these approaches, see the “How-to notes” on Strategy-level portfolio reviews and CDCS mid-course stocktaking.

Important Tips

  • When planning for portfolio reviews or mid-course stocktakings, It is highly encouraged that you to consider the extent to which current allocation and management of budgetary and human resources support Mission objectives.
  • The planning process includes information gathering and analysis. Collect, analyze, and organize your data early in the preparatory process so the review can focus on learning from the data; using that learning to support programmatic and/or operational change; and to establish any knowledge gaps to address in order to inform future decision making .
  • Outcomes of both types of reviews may require changes to the strategy. For information on how to document changes to strategies, projects and activities, see ADS 201.3.2.19 Amending and Updating the CDCS and ADS 201.3.3.16 Amending and Updating the PAD.
  • Build consensus early in the planning process with the Mission Director and leadership to identify clear objectives for the session, to avoid turning the portfolio review into an annual briefing that may prevent focusing on learning and adapting or addressing higher level results.
  • Engaging local external stakeholders during the mid-course stocktaking is key.  While portfolio reviews are often an internal discussion, there are no limitations on involving external stakeholders when their contributions support the PR goals.
  • Take into account the time needed to document the findings. This helps to capture contextual changes and key decision points, and serves as a record for any adaptations or course corrections. 
  • Plan for engagement and follow-through. The success of your efforts will depend not only on its substantive focus but also on who is engaged, the format of the engagement, and appropriate documentation of and follow-through on action results. An information memorandum, recording any substantive changes in the country context or strategic approach must be developed for the Regional Bureau’s review.