Because development programs operate in complex and dynamic systems, donors and implementing organizations are increasingly seeking to create programs that are collaboratively designed, embed continual learning, and are adaptable. Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) is USAID’s approach to becoming a more effective development organization as it can: 1) reduce duplication and siloing, 2) base programs in evidence, and 3) support adaptive course correction. In fact, a literature review commissioned by USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning found that a well-resourced and intentional approach to CLA can help contribute to improving organizational performance and development outcomes.
While collaborating, learning, and adapting are familiar concepts, what is new is explicitly building in CLA principles and processes at the beginning of project design and implementation so that CLA activities support project efforts to achieve intended outcomes.
Collaboration. As USAID’s flagship multi-sectoral nutrition project, USAID Advancing Nutrition considers collaboration is critical at both the project and activity levels. At the project level, we have staff who belong to multiple teams that share information across teams and bring diverse perspectives to issues. At the activity level, technical teams have identified and are engaging with key communities of practice/working groups in their respective areas to facilitate information-sharing and coordinate overlapping activities and mandates. We also engage with non-governmental and governmental organizations to collaboratively design and implement activities.
Learning and adapting. At the overall project level, we identify time points within the USAID Advancing Nutrition annual planning and implementation cycle where it is critical to conduct learning activities that convene staff to pause and reflect and capture tacit knowledge in support of adaptive management decisions.
CLA in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Like all global development projects and activities, USAID Advancing Nutrition was caught off guard by COVID-19, which forced us to quickly reassess and adapt our programming as the pandemic spread across the globe. As the pandemic evolves, we continuously reflect on our activities and work plans to identify necessary pivots to continue delivering high-quality work while minimizing risk. USAID developed a CLA framework to support unanticipated challenges that has been used throughout USAID-funded work for several years. Our use of the framework during COVID-19 has guided our efforts to pause, reflect, learn, and adapt based on the best real-time evidence available.
To learn more about how the project has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, see this September 2020 brief.
Women’s Diets Learning Agenda
USAID Advancing Nutrition aims to generate global learning, evidence, and innovative practices on how to improve women’s diets, with a focus on pregnant and lactating women (PLW), to inform the design and implementation of nutrition programs and interventions. To do this, we developed a learning agenda on women’s diets to guide work planning and synthesis of evidence and learning on women’s diets across our multi-sectoral portfolio.
The agenda was developed from the strategic maternal, infant, and young child nutrition (MIYCN) planning document that the Nutrition and Health Systems and Early Childhood Development teams developed in collaboration with USAID. The MICYN strategy identified that women’s inadequate diets and many of the challenges that contribute to them are well documented. Unfortunately, there is a lack of programmatic evidence on how to improve women’s diets, especially during pregnancy and lactation. Even where there is evidence, data on program and service quality is not strong enough to demonstrate impact or effectiveness. Policymakers and program planners and managers need more information to determine a minimum effective package for optimizing maternal nutrition and effective strategies to implement it.
Through a collaborative and iterative process with USAID technical teams and USAID, we designed the women’s diets learning agenda to help fill these evidence gaps. We identified five key areas of inquiry and learning questions under each area that we aim to contribute answers to over the life of the project:
- Improving women’s diets through improved food market environments
- Improving women’s diets through demand creation
- Improving PLW’s diets through improved family diets
- Improving PLW’s diets through counseling and other health service delivery
- Improving PLW’s diets through improved policies and policy implementation