Authors: Simone Staiger, Katherine Casey and Sophie Alvarez


SERVIR develops geospatial services with partners in over 46 countries through five regional Hubs. With hundreds of actors and thousands of end users, the magnitude of SERVIR’s scope provides ample opportunities to collaborate, learn, and adapt while using geospatial technology for environmental decision-making. To be effective, however, the Program requires the introduction of  frameworks, tools and methods to mobilize SERVIR’s global team around collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA).  

This blog post, adapted from SERVIR’s submission to the USAID 2021 CLA Case competition, presents the challenges SERVIR sought to address through CLA, how the initiative’s Service Planning toolkit institutionalized CLA approaches, and recommendations for other development initiatives based on SERVIR’s experience.




What is CLA?
Collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) is a set of practices designed to support better development outcomes by intentionally and systematically incorporating learning into USAID projects. The illustration shows the CLA Framework.
Learn more


The Challenges

SERVIR faced four challenges that required all actors to collaborate, learn, and adapt:

  1. Harmonize geospatial service planning approaches, terminologies and processes between the regional Hubs, USAID and NASA, which all have varying levels of expertise and capacity and distinct organizational cultures. 
  2. Ensure that regional Hubs effectively develop needs-based geospatial technologies with partners from design to delivery, centered on getting these technologies into use.
  3. Incorporate impact-enabling elements into a mostly technology-driven program, such as sustainability, social inclusion, communication to and with users, and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL). 
  4. Allow newer members of SERVIR Global to know and understand previous experiences and accelerate their learning curve.

Four Service Planning Tools 

To address these challenges, SERVIR started collecting best practices as the basis for a Service Planning toolkit that would articulate a collaborative vision for designing geospatial services. To begin defining the tools to be included in the toolkit, SERVIR used a consultative process with Hubs, USAID, and NASA – convening a Service Planning exchange in early 2017 to identify best practices and using those inputs to draft the toolkit. Essential to the success of consolidating the toolkit was strong buy-in from both USG partners USAID and NASA, who institutionalized the toolkit’s CLA approaches into the fabric of SERVIR. “The Toolkit promotes a collaborative and global effort to articulate the steps required to co-develop services”, say Pete Epanchin and Dan Irwin, respectively the Senior Resilience and Climate Adaptation Specialist at USAID Washington, and the NASA SERVIR Global Program Manager. “We identified four tools to walk service teams through an open consultation and planning process, as a “living” resource, updated as new solutions come to light, and in response to network needs.”

A more systemic approach to geospatial service development

The toolkit’s Service Planning Approach reoriented SERVIR’s work in a fundamental way. SERVIR went from focusing on delivering geospatial solutions, to first understanding the development challenge itself and the broader contextual landscape of who is impacted, what data is needed, and where to build capacity so that users can put those geospatial solutions into action. As summarized in the table below, most central to the Service Planning Approach is the users themselves (governmental agencies, INGO/NGOs, academia), who now join SERVIR, USAID, and NASA in co-developing their own geospatial services for their  communities.

Getting tools into use

Over forty services have or are using the toolkit to apply geospatial technology to development challenges, all of which are documented in the SERVIR Service Catalog. Each SERVIR service listed in the catalog includes the list of co-developers and users engaged, illustrating their prominent involvement in the service design and development process.

Below are use cases that document how specific users are applying skills and tools developed through the toolkit’s approach in their work:


  1. Don’t hesitate to adapt the CLA approach to your needs: While CLA includes the main components, it is only when SERVIR contextualized those within the service planning process that the initiative could relate to it, and use it comprehensively.
  2. Secure leadership commitment: USAID and NASA’s full commitment to institutionalize the toolkit’s CLA approaches into the fabric of SERVIR through providing a mandate to all members of the initiative proved key to getting the CLA approaches into use.
  3. Mobilize all actors: SERVIR involved colleagues from all Hubs and teams  within the initiative. The melting pot of technical perspectives and professional affiliations that contributed to the toolkit ensured that everyone learned something new, had their assumptions challenged, and/or was spurred to teach a skill to others. This diversity led to a stronger product that reflects the initiative’s thinking, with a joint commitment to collaborating, learning and adapting. 
  4. Put it in writing: After going through the Service Planning exchange in 2017, SERVIR took the extra step of articulating the best practices into what is now the toolkit. The resulting toolkit is not only a reference for SERVIR, but a contribution to the community of remote sensing practitioners working in development contexts.
  5. Keep it alive: The toolkit was designed to be a “living document”, so when colleagues asked for more concrete approaches to addressing gender and inclusion during the service planning/ implementation process, SERVIR listened and mobilized an effort to update the toolkit to address this gap. 

The toolkit is successful because it is adapted to the needs of SERVIR with secured commitment from leadership, and because all actors and their diversity of views are continuously mobilized to contribute to this living tool.