Co-Creation: USAID’s Innovative Approach to Program Design

Have you wondered what it is like to participate in one of USAID’s co-creation workshops?

IBI was recently invited to take part in a workshop for the Let Girls Learn initiative, which hopes to help address the problems facing adolescent girls in Liberia. As one of the 23 invited organizations, we wanted to share our experience so that others might pay more attention to this increasingly popular tool for program design.

Co-creation workshops make up Phase 2 of the Broad Agency Announcement process, which goes something like this:

The co-creation workshop in Phase 2 is an exciting, different, and sometimes awkward event. For three days, participants set aside competitive interests and work together to combine disparate ideas into a coherent concept. At some point in the process, but not in advance, USAID lets everyone know how much funding is available and gives an idea of the number of activities that USAID thinks it can fund. The only other guidance provided is a rough outline of what needs to be included in an acceptable concept paper, as well as reminders about how all work must be outcome-focused and measurable. The page limit for concept papers is only a recommendation, the scoring criteria are not provided, and the submission deadline can change overnight. USAID does not pay any of the participants’ travel expenses and you may only send one person per organization.

Our experience was that this format does indeed lend itself to a more creative approach to solving a complex problem. It was a refreshing change from the standard RFP/RFA process. It led us to team with partners we would not have otherwise identified, and to find new synergies between what we do well and what others bring to the table.

One challenging aspect of this approach is that each participating organization has to be able to make decisions – such as whether to prime or sub, and which partners to team with – quickly and without the ability to have much discussion internally. This goes against many of the standard new business procedures that contractors and grantees have in place. For that reason, one suggestion we made for future workshops was to allow participating organizations to send two people.

As USAID experiments with this approach over time, it will undoubtedly change. For now, we encourage organizations to watch for these BAA’s, submit an EOI, and be prepared to dive into a new way of addressing the complex problems USAID and its partners take on.

David Colvin is IBI's President and CEO, and is based in Accra, Ghana.

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