Successes and Challenges of Project Co-Creation in Guatemala
Increasing Youth Employment in the Western Highlands
Co-creation to Increase Youth Employment
In 2014, the USAID mission in Guatemala issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) to develop a project addressing out-of-school, unemployed youth in Guatemala. This innovative procurement vehicle is one way the Agency is encouraging co-creation in the design phase. Through the BAA process, the mission co-created and co-designed Bridges (Puentes), a flagship project that expects to help 25,000 young people across 25 municipalities in the Western Highlands of Guatemala gain workforce readiness skills and better position themselves to secure job opportunities identified by the private sector.
But a positive impact on Guatemalan youth isn’t the only marker of success here. The design process has come to exemplify a best practice for deeper collaboration across offices and with external partners. In choosing a co-creation approach, USAID quickly cultivated trusted relationships between and among the Agency and its implementing partners, and established its convening power with external partners and across mission teams. Collective buy-in and shared results were the desired—and achieved—outcome.
Understanding the Broad Agency Announcement Process
In the fall of 2015, USAID’s mission in Guatemala published its BAA on Opportunities for Youth in the Western Highlands. A BAA convenes a group of implementing partners early in the course of a project’s design in order to pool expertise, debate options and ideas and collectively propose an approach for the challenge at hand.
In this instance, nearly 100 partner organizations responded with an expression of interest (EOI), and a select group was invited to collaborate. By June 2017, they had produced a concept note from which the project, Bridges (Puentes), was designed and launched.
The collaborative process involved both successes and challenges, which are outlined below, and ultimately led USAID/Guatemala to achieve a stronger approach to design, earning recognition as a winner of the 2017 Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Case Competition.
Embracing Collaboration and Transparency in the BAA Process
Throughout the design process, establishing a culture of transparency, openness, and collaboration was critical. Once the EOIs were selected, the USAID team met with each set of partners to become acquainted with and to discuss the process going forward. They then shared contact information across all partners to seed initial relationships.
The BAA team, composed of mission staff from different offices, then shepherded the process from a set of promising proposals to a unified team of partners with a jointly developed concept note. From the start, the team understood how crucial building trust and cultivating an integrated team would be to the success of co-creation. After all, the BAA process asks that partners be open to the ideas of others and put forth their own, while setting aside competitive interests—all without guarantees of an award. As a result, the planning team organized a series of activities to establish relationships, build trust, and facilitate external collaboration.
A Win-Win Approach to BAA
According to one partner, participation in the Identifying Opportunities for Youth BAA generated new experience, knowledge and strategies for her organization. As a whole, the BAA helped individual partners bring together a variety of thematic areas and ideas into a consolidated project. They also established valuable partnerships, opening windows of opportunity for future collaboration on new projects or proposals.
The mission experienced significant benefits as well. For starters, staff have become more adaptable in their approaches. While the Contracts Office used to design only contracts or agreements, they now consider whether non-traditional mechanisms might provide the best fit. What’s more, the BAA has also highlighted the importance of considering ideas originating from outside the Agency.
For the BAA team, the mission’s flexibility and openness to collaborating across sectors and with partners was key. The partners echoed this sentiment, noting that it spurred their creativity and led to synergies that otherwise would have been missed in a project developed in isolation. The BAA also benefited from having a mission champion who supported, and at times defended, the process.
Facing Challenges in BAA Head On
The BAA is a relatively new process at USAID and it took extra time to learn, socialize and work through this collaborative approach. This was magnified by changes in USAID staff, which required socializing the process to new leadership.
During the co-creation workshops, the lack of a defined budget was a hurdle for both USAID and its partners alike. While the BAA team communicated their openness to all ideas, scoping the proposed activities without parameters was tricky for partners; they repeatedly questioned what the budget or internal agenda “really” was. The USAID team’s transparency and consistently open communication finally won the partners’ trust.
Lastly, having so many voices in the room made it difficult at times for partners to focus. However, over time and via collaboration outside the workshops, partners ultimately built a single strategy with a unified vision and objectives.
Implementation of the Bridges (Puentes) project started in April 2017. The project operates on the theory that if youth have better opportunities to learn basic life and workplace skills, receive workplace training tailored toward in-demand skills, and are connected to employers, they will have increased employment options. In the first months of programming, the program found that its successes and challenges from the design phase continued into implementation. For example, the curriculum developed benefited from the different perspectives of consortium members and partnerships with outside entities are stronger and more varied due to the nature of the collaborative process. However, implementation continues to be slower with a more participatory approach of project management.
The Puentes project aims to achieve the results outlined below.
Puentes Project Results Framework
Lessons Learned and Tips for Co-Creation
- Cultivate buy-in internally and, because it’s an innovative approach, find a champion in the mission with a high enough rank to defend the BAA, but humble enough to support the process.
- Identify a budget range and share the ceiling with BAA partners. As a parameter, it will help guide their concept development.
- As the facilitating mission, shepherd partners through the BAA process, raising their awareness of what to expect with co-creation and setting a tone of collaboration and the freedom to ideate.
- Establish communication and transparency as the guiding principle and be consistent with it.
- As co-creation and co-design need face-to-face contact between the BAA team and partners in the form of workshops or meetings, prepare to devote time and staff to the BAA process and seek specialized support for facilitation and knowledge capture.
- As a BAA partner, join the process not as a representative of your organization, but as a member of the BAA team.
- Bring a willingness to work and an openness to the initiatives of others.
- During co-creation workshops, consider addressing not just the technical content of the project but the details of project implementation as well. Left to the partners alone, decision-making on the roles of prime and subcontractor can be challenging.
- Conduct pre-award surveys early on, once organizations are being proposed as primes.