In 2017, Gap Inc. and USAID launched the Women + Water Global Development Alliance to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry. The initial program and monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) plans for the Women + Water Alliance were developed with limited collaboration among partners, resulting in some misalignment and gaps, for which the BalanceD-MERL consortium was engaged to provide longitudinal MERL support and to develop a learning agenda. The proposed Women + Water Alliance approach and management structure were complex, requiring systems thinking and integration of strategic collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptive management in a systematic way. We believed that the Collaborating, Adapting and Learning (CLA) approach would need to be built into the foundations of every aspect of the program. We used iterative, participatory pause and reflection sessions (virtual and in-person) to co-develop a Theory of Change and to inform the development of a MERL strategy, which intentionally included structured principles, processes and plans for embedding CLA in the Women + Water Alliance practice. In the process, partner openness and relationships were built. Eight months following the BalanceD-MERL technical assistance support, the Women + Water Alliance partners report regular use of the Theory of Change and MERL strategy to guide MERL decision-making and the active use of data for adaptive management.
USAID Global Development Lab published the CLA Case Study paper written by the Institute for Development impact (I4DI) documenting this experience.