After almost 60 years of cooperation with USAID, Peru’s development is at a transformative stage. The shift is partly one of funding; as the country nears OECD accession, official development assistance accounts for a smaller slice of the public sector. This evolving strategic partnership with the United States is also shifting the pathway to development impact. In this moment, USAID’s most important contributions are in helping capture evidence from development programming and expand a culture of learning.
While these trends have been in recent years, in 2019 Peru was also a pilot country for USAID’s new Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) process. With a mandate to put evidence at the center of the relationship with the Government of Peru, but without additional staff to concentrate on monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL), the mission needed to find smarter ways to structure learning.
What a moment to encourage deeper collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) in USAID’s work with a strategic country partner! And what a moment for EnCompass LLC and All In for Development—organizations that already center CLA as a core value—to join this team via the USAID Monitoring and Learning for Sustainability (MELS) activity.
A Shared Vision for Learning
Our team was lucky to work with a mission director who was also a CLA champion. He wanted an exceptional CDCS and used his convening power to bring leaders from across the mission together to do so, providing a forum for internal collaboration. Other mission leaders in the Regional Program Office and Front Office shared a vision for the central role of learning in the new strategy. In the context of a changing partnership with Peru and a large-scale revision to agency policy, we had a mandate from multiple levels to integrate CLA throughout the strategy. The CDCS learning plan became the strategic opening.
We decided that grounding the learning plan in theory of change activities with the results framework would attach it to an existing CDCS process that our USAID colleagues already perceived as “mission critical.” Launching the process during a series of CDCS workshops leveraged the mission director’s convening authority. It also ensured collaboration across the mission’s Development Objective (DO) teams. From there, the process of mapping learning questions across technical teams naturally created “A-ha!” moments that generated excitement around learning.
EnCompass and All in for Development supported the mission with three CDCS workshops from mid-2019 through early 2020. In the first two, we set out to co-create and validate the CDCS results framework. The third workshop launched the learning plan process. To systematize learning within the CDCS objectives, we started by locating the learning agenda in the theory of change.
How to Make Learning “Stick”
EnCompass knows how important it is to maximize engagement in these settings. Adult-centered facilitation approaches help our colleagues stay focused in a workshop setting and feel a sense of agency in designing their strategy. A favorite activity during the third workshop was an EnCompass signature, the “sticky wall.”
USAID/Peru staff physically interacted with a life-sized version of their results framework, generating and prioritizing learning questions through brainwriting and voting exercises. Such activities create a mind-body engagement with the process and transcend formal hierarchies, gathering ideas from all participants while also moving the group toward consensus. A clear mapping of results to learning questions began to emerge on the walls.
The sticky walls showed everyone they had common needs for evidence. The Alternative Development team and the Governance team, for example, had an “A-ha!” moment as they began to see how they might collaborate to gather evidence around common themes. As one MELS team member said later, these were “the most enthusiastic sticky wall participants I have engaged with in 8 years at EnCompass.”
No More Silos
Making decisions together helped generate buy-in for the learning questions and enthusiasm for the process that followed over the next 4 months. Because our goal was a learning plan that supported continuous CLA as part of the culture, the next step engaged DO teams to look at each learning question and detail how individual activities and monitoring and evaluation processes would align.
Our team mapped activity MEL plans and upcoming evaluations to each learning question to document where evidence would show up, providing an analytical foundation for each DO team meeting.
The result of this process was a mission-wide learning plan oriented around five cross-cutting priorities. In other words, the learning plan explicitly “un-siloed” the learning process. This shift exemplifies how collaboration can be structured to infuse learning through organizational culture and process.
For our colleagues engaging in similar work with CDCS learning plan development, we advise intentional acompañamiento—being a full partner throughout this process, even scripting the workshops and defining inputs to each meeting in advance.
What’s Next for Peru?
We have just begun implementing the learning plan, so it is impossible to say how deeply the emerging culture of learning will take root for the mission and its partners. But there are promising signs.
One of these is the fact that the learning plan has become a common starting point for conversations within the mission. Each evaluation design, for example, begins with a “cross-walk” that compares the proposed evaluation questions to the CDCS learning questions. Aligning evaluation questions (and thus evidence) to the learning priorities will enable these evaluation teams to structure their findings workshops around CDCS learning priorities.
Another promising sign is the excitement we have seen from USAID/Peru’s implementing partners. We are bringing them into learning intentionally by sharing the plan with them, discussing how the results framework for the mission directly aligns with the activities they are implementing. The response has been tremendous.
Ultimately, if the learning plan is successful, we will see USAID, its implementing partners, and the Peruvian government generating learning together, with the results incorporated in the government’s own development planning.
The following people contributed to this story: Jaime L. Jarvis and Zachariah Falconer-Stout of EnCompass; Armando Valdes and Adriana Torres of All In for Development; and Paola Buendía and Miriam Choy of USAID/Peru.
Image courtesy of the USAID/Peru MELS Activity.