Collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) is an approach championed by USAID to help projects work effectively with partners, reflect on implementation, and change course when needed. The concept is simple, but implementing the approach in practice is another story. With projects’ detailed scopes of work and precise indicator targets, it can be difficult to figure out how to be adaptive without straying too far from the project’s initial vision.
Because of this tension, I have noticed my colleagues searching for a recipe book that defines CLA and explains how to do it — an easy, step-by-step guide to ticking off the CLA box. But the beauty and the challenge of CLA is that there is no single recipe. Each team has to decide what CLA means in their context and work hard every day to live by its principles.
My staff and I on the Feed the Future Uganda Youth Leadership for Agriculture (YLA) Activity have spent a lot of time deciding what CLA means to us. Here are three tips that we have used to transition from paying lip service to CLA, to working according to its principles every day.
1. Change Your Team’s Mindset
The most important step to implement CLA is to instill a mindset among the team in which everyone is listening to beneficiaries and looking for opportunities to improve development impact. This can start as early as the recruitment process, by looking for prospective staff who are inquisitive and interested in learning.
Changing behavior takes time, so on YLA, we practice. We talk as a team about opportunities to learn and adapt and when we find them, we call them out. By repeating the principles of CLA over and over, we move from understanding the approach to truly believing it. The more we apply something, the more we learn, and the end result is a team that is empowered to be flexible and push boundaries.