As a premier development agency, USAID must make strategic choices that are informed by experience and cutting-edge evidence and analysis.
The Program Cycle
The USAID Program Cycle [PDF] embodies the guiding principles and reform efforts. It represents USAID’s efforts to link policy development, strategic planning, project design and implementation, monitoring, evaluation and learning into a cohesive process that builds in evidence-based decision-making at every stage.
Country Development Cooperation Strategy
USAID’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) is a multi-year, country-specific planning tool designed to make strategic choices based on evidence and analysis while encouraging innovative approaches to achieving development results.
The CDCS process results in a five-year documented strategy (shorter for countries in transition) that implements Agency policies and strategies, integrates U.S. Government assistance and Presidential initiatives, and sets the foundation for project design and evaluation.
Once approved, the CDCS informs assistance planning, budgeting, and resource allocation. The CDCS relies on thorough analysis and division of labor to set and achieve ambitious goals and objectives in close collaboration with host governments and citizens.
By the end of 2013, nearly all USAID Missions will have a completed CDCS.
As part of the USAID Forward reform effort, the Agency is changing the way it approaches project design.
The project design process is based on evidence and supported by analytic rigor. It raises management attention to the project level rather than post focus at the individual activity so that multiple activities work together to achieve higher-level results. The process also ensures that projects define a clear logic and purpose, are based on evidence of what works, and develops detailed plans for evaluation, monitoring, and learning.
Annual budgeting involves reconciling and prioritizing many objectives and constraints at multiple levels.
Given the fluidity of the process, CDCSs do not serve as final five-year budgets. Instead they serve as directives over the annual budget process by rationalizing judgments of the relative value of assistance options within a country and region and across operating units.
Bureaus continue to play a key role in the budget formulation process, taking into consideration key country and functional priorities. During budget formulation and allocation, Regional and Sector Bureaus highlight the links between resources and results, and provide a brief analysis of the degree to which their recommendations align with approved CDCSs and projects. This information is used in budget reviews to try to maximize development results within budget constraints.
With the release of the Evaluation Policy in 2011, USAID made an ambitious commitment as directed in USAID Forward for quality program evaluation - the systematic collection and analysis of information and evidence about program performance and impact. USAID uses these program evaluation findings to inform decisions, improve program effectiveness, be accountable to stakeholders, and support organizational learning.
The Agency is aggressively working to identify high-impact opportunities for evaluation that can make a meaningful contribution to the evidence based on important development questions, with a priority focus on impact evaluations and Presidential initiatives. The Agency seeks broad input from across USAID and from external stakeholders, and in most cases these evaluations are conducted in cooperation with other offices in the Agency.
In addition, the Agency sponsors evidence summits to connect empirical research for important policy or operational decisions facing the Agency. These summits bring members of the research and academic community together with development practitioners to consider the available research findings and evaluation results and identify how that evidence bears on front-burner questions facing USAID.
Performance monitoring tracks changes in indicators to see if desired results are occuring and whether implementation is going in the right direction.
- A Performance Management Plan that defines the monitoring plan, evaluation plan and performance measures to monitor progress at each level of the Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS)
- Detailed Monitoring and Evaluation Plans for each project at the design stage. These feed into the overall Performance Management Plan.
- A learning plan that uses evidence to adapt projects to improve performance
- Regular portfolio reviews to assess performance and make adjustments.
This process is an integral part of program reviews and influences decision making and resource allocation.
Last updated: September 27, 2013