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NPI and Co-Creation: The Good, the Bad, and the Future at USAID

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USAID Lowering Barriers to Entry

USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative (NPI) is making it easier for partners to bring good ideas to the Agency by lowering barriers to entry. It also is targeting co-creation as a way to build stronger mutual partnerships from the outset and speed up the award process.

Now an Agency priority goal, co-creation brings together a variety of stakeholders—such as local governments, donors, civil society, private-sector companies, and faith-based organizations—to build solutions to development challenges. It has proven successful in regions and projects around the globe.

The Good

Using co-creation helps USAID to take advantage of the full marketplace of ideas, diversify the partner base, improve the quality of partnerships, and strengthen stakeholder relationships

“You can use co-creation through the entire life cycle of our work, from ideas through funding and implementation. Though NPI has concentrated mainly on using it in the procurement cycle, we need to co-create in everything we do.”

Joining a co-creation gives potential prime partners and sub-awardees an extra opportunity to understand what USAID is trying to achieve. And they can take advantage of the in-person interaction in these sessions to get a better sense of the Agency’s goals and approach.

“We have found that co-creation avoids problems, sets shared expectations, and preempts miscommunication,” Tasker said. “When you work together to figure out our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning [MEL] plan, for instance, it prevents future issues.”

When done well, co-creation increases capacity. After all, it is a knowledge exchange, and when stakeholders work together, the whole becomes stronger. There is an in-person, face-to-face expertise transfer that is normally hard to obtain.

This is true even if the interaction among participants is virtual—a necessity in a COVID-19 world. “Though you're no longer going to an in-person meeting, now you can have more people in the room,” Tasker said. “That’s very helpful for smaller and more local players.” In fact, Missions have exceeded their co-creation targets significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We're making slow and steady progress with co-creation,” Tasker added. “It has had an impact, and today we’re seeing better workflow results, which should lead to better development results.”

The Bad

Today, about 80 percent of USAID funding is directed to fewer than 70 organizations—an allocation that is not good, not smart, and not sustainable.

“We need to be more cognizant of our potential partners,” Tasker said. “When you submit a concept, join a co-creation, and don’t yet have an award, there can be a tendency to agree to whatever USAID says because you want the funding. Please don’t do that. Assert yourself, and don’t let your ideas get railroaded. You were invited because you did something right, and we need your expert perspective and good ideas. 

“One key point for our partners is that we want to do co-creations and we need that mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge, but we’re bad at it. Co-creation needs trained facilitators, and we haven’t got that many. So, whether a multi-stakeholder co-creation or one-on-one, if you have the skills, please bring your ‘A game’ and lead it­—to the extent we let you. You’re probably good at it, and we need your leadership.”

The Future

He also noted that “co-creating MEL plans is a great idea, and we want to do much more of this. That's one of my recommendations going forward.”

The ability to work together is also important. Often, collaboration is at the heart of a co-creation—figuring out if organizations can team up to solve a complex challenge. 

“Partners may resent a Broad Agency Announcement [BAA] co-creation because they may feel like they're giving away services, but few ideas in development are really new. It’s about putting the right pieces together,” Tasker said.

It can be a burden to partner directly with USAID, so NPI looks to sub-awards today and the new ideas of smaller NGOs. Through a co-creation, organizations can discover a potential sub-partner that has certain resources or specific technical expertise to bring to the team.

At its heart, co-creation nurtures openness and a shared opportunity for participants, resulting in better program design and execution. Bringing together disparate partners and diverse expertise to solve a common challenge often generates innovative solutions that no single organization could have developed on its own. 

USAID Co-Creation Field Guide (PDF)
USAID Acquisition and Assistance Strategy 

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