Agile and CLA in International Development

USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) Framework outlines a set of practices to strengthen organizational learning and the conditions that enable it to improve international development effectiveness. In September, RTI International hosted “The Future of CLA: Supporting Countries on their Journeys to Self-Reliance,” an event in which participants explored how CLA contributes to a shared goal of self-reliance.

Maricarmen Smith-Martinez, a program manager at Bixal, led an interactive breakout session about building an organizational culture that empowers staff, teams, and programs to take a flexible yet structured approach to collaboration for continuous improvement. Maricarmen shared Bixal’s experience using the collaborative principles of Agile methodologies during project start-up for the Feed the Future Knowledge, Data, Learning and Training (KDLT) activity, funded by the USAID Bureau for Food Security, and explored how these time-tested concepts align within the CLA Framework. Participants reflected on the CLA principles already embedded in their organization’s culture, sharing insights and approaches for building a stronger CLA culture.

Bixal incorporates Agile methodologies into all its projects, which creates a corporate mindset for the company as a whole. While Agile management has traditionally focused on technology, the principles of Agile and its value system—defined by people, functional products, collaboration, and adaptation—apply to many other sectors. With a focus on continuous improvement, Agile aligns with the CLA Framework of collaborating to learn from experience and adapt approaches or systems based on evidence shared.

Agile methodologies provide a framework for prototyping quickly and bringing products to life faster. Iterative development allows teams to identify problems and address issues early in the process. For example, in partnership with Chemonics, Bixal designed and developed the USAID Global Heath Supply Chain website (GHSupplyChain.org) as a basic web platform in only three months, later upgrading the site based on expanded needs for knowledge management and data visualization. By studying user interactions with the basic website and collaborating with stakeholders to learn more about user needs, Bixal enhanced the site to include a resource library and built the interactive Contraceptive Security Indicators Dashboard, which provides global results by country or topic.

Fully integrating an Agile mindset involves building a culture in which collaboration is enabled and encouraged, creating an environment through systems and structure that allows teams to communicate regularly and pivot rapidly based on continuous feedback. This culture leads to greater connection with stakeholders, end users, and program recipients by promoting greater self-reliance through a cycle of learning and adaptive management.

CLA and Agile