Giving Compass’ Take:
• USAID has studied systematic, intentional, and resourced collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) throughout program planning and implementation to improve their development work around the world.
• How can other organizations implement the learnings from this research? What potential pitfalls may keep this research from becoming practice?
• Learn why USAID is working to engage the private sector.
FINDING: Quality knowledge management systems have a significant impact on project performance. People act as nodes of knowledge. As such, human interaction is the basis of knowledge sharing and utilization. The literature reviewed found that knowledge management (KM) processes that are peoplecentric and facilitate reflection and learning are positively linked with improved outcomes. A recent study conducted by RWTH Aachen University in Germany quantitatively tested the proposed relationship between KM and performance.
IMPLICATION FOR USAID STAFF: Follow each step of the Knowledge Cycle in a linear fashion. We often feel we are too busy to follow all four phases of the Knowledge Cycle (generate, capture, share and apply) in an intentional and systematic way, but not practicing good knowledge management can affect our performance and ultimately prove more costly. Research shows that following the Knowledge Cycle—without missing any steps—improves project performance.
FINDING: Teams that have high levels of trust and are considered safe for interpersonal risk-taking tend to be better at learning and adapting. Managing adaptively requires a level of group tolerance for risk-taking, which by extension is contingent on teams having trusting relationships. The literature reviewed found that high trusting teams generally tend to be high-performing.
IMPLICATION FOR USAID STAFF: Create space and time for team members to develop trusting interpersonal relationships. Activities that build mutual understanding and shared trust—such as group reflection moments, team problemsolving and equal conversational turn-taking—aid collaboration and evidence-based decision-making and should be prioritized.
FINDING: Managing adaptively is more likely to improve outcomes when decision-making autonomy is placed as close to frontline staff and local partners as possible. Evidence from aid agencies and developing country governments supports this conclusion, suggesting that greater autonomy helps project adaptability and flexibility.
IMPLICATION FOR USAID STAFF: Empower staff to make decisions and manage adaptively. USAID staff could review decision-making processes within teams and organizations to ensure decision-making authority is as close to frontline staff as possible.
USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and its LEARN support contract are working to integrate systematic, intentional, and resourced collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) throughout program planning and implementation to achieve more effective development programs. As part of this effort, USAID is exploring several approaches to understand whether and how strategic collaboration, continuous learning and adaptive management make a difference to organizational effectiveness and development outcomes.