Learning and Adaptation Models

Different organizations have developed several models to advance learning and adaptation in their work. Here is an overview of two of these models and additional resources on each of them.

Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting  (CLA)

CLA is USAID’s framework for operationalizing adaptive management in the project cycle. CLA includes strategic collaboration and continuous learning for adaptive management and the conditions that enable these processes. The table below summarizes the components of the CLA framework and is adapted from Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting Framework & Key Concepts for civil society organizations.

CLA in the Program Cycle




Internal Collaboration
  1. Identify and prioritize other teams/offices for strategic collaboration.
  2. Decide how to engage those teams/offices.
  3. Collaborate with those teams/offices based on decisions reached.
Technical Evidence Base
  1. Track the technical evidence base.
  2. Apply the technical evidence base in planning and implementation.
  3. Contribute to/expand the technical evidence base.
Pause & Reflect
  1. Variety and purpose of pause & reflect opportunities
  2. Timeliness of pause & reflect opportunities to inform decision making
  3. Quality of pause & reflect opportunities
External Collaboration
  1. Identify and prioritize key stakeholders for strategic collaboration.
  2. Decide how to engage key stakeholders.
  3. Collaborate with key stakeholders based on decisions reached.
Theories of Change
  1. Quality of theories of change
  2. Testing and exploration of theories of change
  3. Awareness among stakeholders about theories of change and the learning that results from testing them
Adaptive Management
  1. Analyze learning from implementation and/or pause & reflect opportunities.
  2. Inform decision-making.
  3. Follow through on decisions reached to manage adaptively.
  Scenario Planning
  1. Identify risks and opportunities through scenario planning
  2. Monitor trends related to scenarios.
  3. Respond to and apply learning from monitoring.
  M&E for Learning
  1. Relevance of monitoring data to decision making.
  2. Design and conduct evaluations to inform ongoing and future programming.
  3. Align monitoring, evaluation, and learning efforts across the strategy, project, and activity levels.


Enabling Conditions




  1. Sense of comfort in sharing opinions and ideas
  2. Openness to hearing alternative perspectives
  3. Willingness to take action on new ideas
Knowledge Management
  1. Source various types of knowledge from stakeholders
  2. Distill knowledge
  3. Share knowledge with stakeholders.
Mission Resources
  1. Roles and responsibilities vis-a-vis CLA
  2. Professional development in CLA
  3. Procurement of CLA support
Relationships & Networks
  1. Development of trusting relationships
  2. Exchange of up-to-date information
  3. Use of networks across the system to expand situational awareness
Institutional Memory
  1. Access to institutional knowledge
  2. Staff transitions
  3. Contributions of Foreign Service Nationals to institutional memory
CLA in Implementing Mechanisms
  1. Mechanism type and scope enables CLA
  2. Budgeting
  3. Staff composition and skills
Continuous Learning & Improvement
  1. Staff take time for learning and reflection
  2. Motivation for learning
  3. Use of iterative approaches that enables continuous improvement
Decision Making
  1. Awareness of decision-making processes
  2. Autonomy to make decisions
  3. Appropriate stakeholder involvement in decision making


Are you interested in more resources on CLA?

  • CLA Toolkit: This website includes an overview to the CLA framework and links to key resources to guide users on how to apply it.
  • Discussion Note: Adaptive Management: This document explores USAID’s use of adaptive management and includes promising practices and practical approaches on how to operationalize adaptive management at each phase of the project cycle.
  • CLA Framework, Maturity, Tool and Spectrum Handouts: This website includes an overview and resources to assess current CLA practices and/or plan for applying CLA in the future. The tool is written for USAID missions but could be useful for other organizations seeking to apply CLA.
  • SCS Global’s Implementation Tips for USAID Partners on Integrating Learning into Projects (Resources not yet available): USAID’s CLA Framework and Integrating Adaptive Management into Projects: These tips provide overviews of USAID’s CLA and adaptive management approaches and related resources.
  • CLA and GESI: It is important to incorporate CLA into your project’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) approach. For more information on how a USAID project in Nepal applied CLA to its GESI action plans, refer to Using a CLA Approach in Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Action Planning. For more information on GESI and its importance for P/CVE projects, refer to the GESI Cross-Cutting Section.
Strategy Testing

Strategy Testing is a monitoring system that The Asia Foundation developed specifically to track programs that are addressing complex development problems. The system uses a highly iterative, adaptive approach. This model is designed to capture learning and inform adaptations related to program strategies.

The Strategy Testing resource describes the rationale for this model and how it can be applied. This quick reference document provides key tools that The Asia Foundation uses in the Strategy Testing process.

The Asia Foundation provides additional resources on its approach to adaptive management and how it has applied Strategy Testing.

What other M&E approaches are relevant for learning and adaptation?

Developmental Evaluation (DE)

The purpose of DE is to support the development of innovative projects in highly complex contexts or in response to changing conditions. In conducting a DE, evaluators use evaluation tools, empirical data, and critical thinking in frequent cycles, working in close collaboration with key stakeholders in a process of adaptive learning. Evaluators facilitate a process of conceptualizing, designing, and testing activities that are new or are adapting to major change.


Complexity-Aware Monitoring

Complexity-aware monitoring (CAM) is a type of complementary monitoring that is useful when results are difficult to predict due to dynamic contexts or unclear cause-and-effect relationships. When the ability to predict outcomes and causal pathways is decreased, complexity-aware monitoring data provides a fuller range of outcomes, causal factors, and pathways of contribution.


Refer also to the M&E Module for more information on when to use CAM and to the section on complexity in this module for more information on why complexity is relevant for P/CVE projects.