Resourcing CLA

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

What is it?

Integrating CLA into how we design and implement programming in an intentional and systematic way requires adequate resources. For example, strategic collaboration requires staff time to identify and engage the right stakeholders. An investment of time is also required to build trusting relationships and partnerships that leverage individual strengths for collective benefit. Learning and adapting require that we invest in effective knowledge management and MEL systems, and that we take time to reflect on what we learn to inform our decisions.

There are three main ways to resource CLA in the USAID context:

Activities. The main way USAID carries out its development assistance is through interventions called “activities,” funded through implementing mechanisms. One of the biggest obstacles to CLA can be lack of flexibility in how funding mechanisms are designed and managed. Resourcing CLA in implementing mechanisms means:

For more on this topic, see the CLA in Activity Design & Implementation section in the CLA toolkit.

Support mechanisms are also used by USAID operating units to resource MEL and CLA throughout the Program Cycle, providing supplemental CLA capacity for specific activities, specific projects, or for the entire portfolio of the mission or OU.

Staffing. Staff members are our greatest asset. Resourcing CLA through staffing means:

Budgeting. Missions, operating units, and implementing partners should allocate funds for CLA-related activities or processes highlighted throughout the CLA framework. Illustrative costs include:

  • Facilitators, venues, and other costs associated with collaboration, learning, and pause-and-reflect events as well as activities with partners and stakeholders.
  • Knowledge management and institutional memory systems, such as filing systems and intranets.
  • Investments in learning activities, such as context and performance monitoring, mid-term and final evaluations, operational research, and other assessments.
  • Communications support to adequately document, distill, and disseminate key learning for decision-makers and other stakeholders.
  • Support for leadership development and team-building activities that can foster a learning culture, improve relationships among staff, and clarify decision-making processes.

How do I get started?

  • Make strategic choices. We integrate CLA throughout the Program Cycle in order to achieve better development results. So before diving straight into resourcing decisions, first step back and consider: What are we trying to achieve in our programs? How will CLA help us get there? Then, in terms of resourcing CLA, what processes and platforms already exist that we can leverage? Finally, what additional resources do we need?

To make the idea of strategic resourcing for CLA concrete, consider this case from USAID/Serbia: Faced with the challenge of reducing corruption and improving the construction permitting process, the Mission realized that previous attempts had failed to create broad consensus among stakeholders. As a result, the Mission invested in developing a better understanding of the current permitting system, building relationships with government and private sector actors, and facilitating conversations among stakeholders. They leveraged existing resources - learning from previous failed attempts and their existing relationships - and invested financially in an activity and USAID staff time, to achieve their intended results.

Use the CLA plan template to help you plan for CLA and determine the resources required.

  • Be explicit about staff roles and responsibilities for CLA. When bringing on new team members or revisiting existing roles and responsibilities within a team, remember that CLA is everyone’s job. Technical experts are responsible for using the technical evidence base in their sectors, many staff (not just MEL staff) are responsible for data collection, contracting staff advise on adaptive mechanisms, leadership needs to model CLA approaches to create the right enabling conditions, and all staff should share their knowledge and collaborate well with others. When developing position descriptions, remember to include CLA functions and skills as appropriate. Have conversations about how existing roles and responsibilities need to be adapted to account for a more systematic and intentional approach to CLA. (Find potential examples of position description language to the right.)

Staff who are assigned CLA-related roles may need to strengthen their skills; they should work with their managers to consider which professional development opportunities make the most sense. For example, relevant training topics may include facilitation skills, negotiation, change management, knowledge management, and scenario planning. If you don’t know where to start, try the 1-hour online course “Introduction to CLA in the Program Cycle.” USAID staff have access to additional capacity strengthening opportunities, including the five-day Better Development Programming through CLA course and the CLA Community of Practice for peer learning and sharing.

  • Consider dedicated support. While CLA is part of everyone’s job description, having dedicated resources can be helpful and complementary, particularly when CLA skills are limited within an organization or the portfolio is large and complex. Missions, Washington operating units, and implementing partners have introduced Organizational Learning or CLA advisor positions to bring CLA-specific skills to a Mission, help facilitate organizational learning, and support teams in achieving their objectives through CLA integration. In addition, Missions and operating units have designed and managed CLA and MEL support mechanisms. USAID Missions can consider this type of dedicated support to help the Mission integrate CLA throughout the Program Cycle, facilitate learning and collaboration among implementing partners, strengthen local capacity for CLA integration, and support a culture of collaborating, learning, and adapting across the Mission and with partners.

Important Tips

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to resourcing CLA because each Mission and organization’s needs will be different. That said, here are some important tips to keep in mind when resourcing CLA:

  • Think beyond financial resources. You don’t always need money to integrate CLA. Think first about what resources you already have access to. For example, you might have a team member with great facilitation skills - how can you capitalize on that person’s strengths to further CLA integration and development results? In addition, sometimes it’s more about how you carry out a task than adding a new task. Most of us already participate in many collaboration opportunities throughout the week - meetings! How can we make the most of them in order to share knowledge, learn from our work, and make informed decisions? Similarly, we will always need to hire new staff, write position descriptions, and ask interview questions. Are we including position description language that values CLA-related skills? And do we ask interview questions that provide insight into candidates’ CLA capacity? If not, this is a simple fix - changing how we do something rather than what we do -  that does not require any additional resources.
  • Be realistic and right-size your resource needs. You never want to under- or over-resource your CLA efforts. Our focus has always been on “right-sizing” your CLA approach and practice to your context, needs, and objectives. We are not collaborating, learning, and adapting for the sake of it, but to be more effective. And if that’s the case, we need to accurately budget for our CLA efforts. 
  • Under-resourcing is much more common than over-resourcing. Some common items that may be forgotten when planning for CLA include: the time it takes to coordinate logistics for large, in-person events; the technology needed for virtual collaboration; effective facilitators with familiarity in adult learning and participatory approaches; time to carry out and manage assessments and other learning efforts; and the resources needed to help stakeholders communicate about, internalize, and use evidence.

At the same time, it is possible to over-resource your CLA effort - spending too much time collaborating with others who don’t share your purpose or interests, learning about topics that are “nice to know” instead of “must know,” or adapting too often.

In both cases, under- or over-resourcing CLA can waste people’s time, lead people to make decisions without a strong evidence-base, or create frustration over a lack of change or too much change.

  • Model and encourage others to resource CLA. With a renewed focus within USAID supporting countries on their journey to self-reliance, it is clear that collaborating, learning, and adapting should not only be an internally focused effort within USAID missions or international partners. We should model CLA with our local partners and counterparts, and encourage them to dedicate the resources required to collaborate, learn, and adapt effectively. If we don’t, we won’t leverage the learning that exists among local partners, have critical local stakeholders to work with, or be able to increase the level of ownership for development programming among local actors.