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Engaging Private Sector Stakeholders with Pause and Reflects

This is the second of three blogs in our “Many Ways to Pause and Reflect” blog series, which explores how USAID’s Measuring Impact and Measuring Impact II have used pausing and reflecting as a tool to go beyond reporting and connect the dots between evidence use, adaptive management, and applied learning (read the first and third blogs in the series). Each blog considers how the benefits of pause and reflect practices can be realized at every scale, from local workshops to a global strategy—with the goal, as Administrator Power put it, of “progress beyond programs.”

We cannot meet the complex environmental challenges of our time without deeply and effectively engaging the private sector. However, making private sector engagement work for biodiversity objectives is about more than leveraging financial resources. When facilitated effectively, engaging the private sector is a powerful tool to transform economic systems and biodiversity conservation, providing a pathway to progress beyond the life of a program.

Making private sector engagement work for biodiversity objectives is an ongoing process of learning, adapting, integrating new information, and shared decision-making. Under the Measuring Impact II (MI2) project, we are supporting 13 of USAID’s cross-sectoral Health, Ecosystems and Agriculture for Resilient, Thriving Societies (HEARTH) activities through co-design, start-up, and now pausing to reflect on their first year of programming. Unlike previous MI2 engagements, the HEARTH initiative is specifically designed to bring together public and private sector partners to improve both the sustainable conservation of threatened landscapes and the economic well-being of communities that depend on them. 

The HEARTH activities span sectors from health and food security to climate and governance in seven countries across Asia and Africa. In providing support to this innovative initiative, we’ve gained insights about how adaptive management practices, like pause and reflect, can build productive private sector partnerships and support cross-sector learning.

Principles to Learn and Adapt with Private Sector

As with any adaptive management practice, success starts with keeping the intended audience in mind. Private companies enter into partnerships with the public sector with different motivations, timelines, and vocabularies than traditional implementing partners. During co-design and start-up, MI2 assisted HEARTH stakeholders to develop theories of change that serve as adaptive management roadmaps to balance the different context for each partner. Fostering these partnerships requires ongoing, thoughtful facilitation to create the enabling conditions for all parties to build on their strengths. As we deliver a series of pause and reflect sessions with HEARTH activity partners we identified the following key principles to guide the processes:

  • Remember that time is money: Be clear about the purpose of every hour you invite a partner to spend with you. Facilitate pause and reflect events in a results-oriented way and use the time between workshops to make progress anywhere you can. Depending on the activity, consider whether private-sector participation is needed throughout the entire process or whether they can focus on just the parts most relevant to them.
  • Build trust early: Include unstructured and structured time in workshops to allow the different partners to build relationships, understand where the other is coming from, and get to know each other as people. It is also helpful to establish clear rules of engagement and expectation-setting to encourage open and honest communication. Frame pause and reflect as an opportunity for all types of reflections, and to realign.
  • Be the interpreter: Each partner comes to the table with their own jargon, processes, and culture. Facilitators should act as a cross-sector interpreter and identify misunderstandings before they cause harm, helping develop a shared language.
  • Create learning spaces: Challenges will arise as the partnership evolves and partners implement the activities. A neutral facilitator can shape pause and reflect sessions to encourage the use of data and experiences in an open learning-focused environment. 
  • Identify the sweet spot: Private sector partnerships are the most productive and sustainable when they have a clear market incentive to participate. Pause and reflect practices can help keep the team aligned to the sweet spot where the private sector can achieve their market objectives and the activity’s biodiversity objectives. 

Building a Theory of Change for Cross-Sector Development

In addition to assessing individual activity implementation annually, the theories of change can be used in pause and reflect processes to facilitate learning across activities, unifying them under a shared knowledge-exchange umbrella and setting expectations for rigorous data collection. For example, the theories of change for the individual partnerships were brought together in a program-level theory of change which was used to develop a learning agenda with priorities to test assumptions and understand the results of the HEARTH model. The theories of change were also used to identify shared MEL priorities for which a cross-sectoral monitoring and evaluation toolkit was developed.

Pausing and reflecting on a program’s first year is an important opportunity to collect, synthesize and share learning across activities. We are thrilled to be part of this cross-sectoral and cross-country initiative, fostering learning and building evidence pathways at scale. We look forward to facilitating the upcoming Pause and Reflect season with HEARTH awardees and generating further insights and progress towards shared objectives.

About the Author

Eva Schiffer serves as Deputy Chief of Party for USAID’s Measuring Impact II, managing the project’s work in the Latin America and Caribbean region and contributing her facilitation and organizational change expertise across the activity.


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