Kristin Lindell August 17, 2017

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Photo credit: Panagora Group

Collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) is USAID’s approach to organizational learning and adaptive management. Part of my work as Senior Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Specialist on the USAID LEARN contract is to build the evidence base that using a CLA approach improves organizational effectiveness and development results.

The annual CLA Case Competition is an opportunity for USAID staff and implementing partners to contribute case studies of how they have used a CLA approach in their work. We recently completed an analysis of case studies submitted in 2015 to understand more about the effect that CLA has on organizations and development results. Below are three things we learned, paired with illustrative examples from CLA case studies.

  1. Engagement drives better outcomes. Several of the cases demonstrate that engaging with local stakeholders contributes to their increased ownership, which in turn can lead to better development outcomes. For example, when Ebola struck Liberia and eventually spiraled into an epidemic, Global Communities realized it needed to help curtail the epidemic via improved dead body management and safe burials. However, communities were skeptical of Global Communities and even attacked staff members and their vehicles. Residents wanted to know: “Why do you only come when someone has died? Why do you not come to help when someone is sick?”

    As a result, Global Communities had to quickly shift tactics and meaningfully engage community members, particularly traditional leaders, to support safe burial. Because of this intentional relationship building, traditional leaders were willing to educate their community members about Ebola transmission and accompany burial staff for safe and peaceful burials. As a result the number of safe burials increased and Ebola transmission rates declined. Check out the full report to see other cases like the one below!

  2. Feedback drives use: The cases illustrating this finding describe how specific tools and processes for creating feedback loops provide continuous learning to inform decision-making. They demonstrate how feedback loops can increase the likelihood that evidence will be used in decision-making. For example, to support the Ugandan government to improve literacy rates and reduce HIV transmission among primary and secondary school students, Pangora Group, working with RTI International and supported by USAID/Uganda developed a multi-stage approach to continuous learning. By providing RTI with real-time performance feedback, the approach helped RTI adjust and improve its activities, like trainings.
  3. CLA begets CLA. Several cases underscore that when stakeholders learn about positive outcomes linked to a CLA approach in another organization, they adapt the approach to their context. By effectively modeling CLA, and sharing feedback on what works and doesn’t, an organization can perhaps more credibly share its benefits with other development actors and inspire them to integrate CLA into their own work. In other words, “experiencing is believing” and those who experience CLA are more likely to incorporate CLA into how they operate

Investing in CLA bears results. But are we willing to invest? The cases illustrate how investing in CLA practices and approaches provides a range of valuable contributions to organizational change and development outcomes. This suggests that USAID staff and implementing partners should protect and, in many cases, expand investments in CLA integration.

If you want to know more about our analysis, check out our brief and the full report on USAID Learning Lab.

In her current role on the USAID/LEARN contract, Kristin Lindell manages and facilitates LEARN’s monitoring, evaluation and learning processes, approaches, tools and reporting. Kristin earned an MSc and an MA in Economics and International Development as well as a dual bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Spanish. After finishing her education, she traveled to Panama where she worked with a grassroots non-profit to improve their monitoring and evaluation systems. A year later, Kristin moved to Ethiopia and Kenya with the social venture Nuru International. While there, she mentored and trained local M&E teams to build systems for adaptive management.

Three Things Thursday is a weekly blog series where feedback innovators describe three specific components of their feedback practice that they think makes them successful. These straightforward but profound practices help the Feedback Labs community understand how they can integrate closing feedback loops in their own work. If you would like to contribute to the blog with your own Three Things, submit your ideas here or drop Meg a note at [email protected].

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