Practical Learning for international action.


collaborative learningadvisory services


CDA is an action research and advisory organization that bridges the gap between theory and practice to improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian organizations, and responsible businesses working in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. By strengthening the work of our partners, CDA contributes to positive, systematic, and lasting change for people and communities.  CDA applies a unique collaborative approach to learning that prioritizes local perspectives, rigorous analysis, and evidence-based methodologies to produce practical guidance for policymakers and practitioners alike.

Almost twenty years ago CDA articulated the principle of Do No Harm and developed a framework for analyzing the unintended impacts of aid on conflict, both negative and positive.  Do No Harm has been widely endorsed and adopted in the policies and practices of aid agencies, donors, and select corporations globally, and has made aid programs and business operations more effective and accountable to local populations.

For over twenty-five years CDA’s work has been driven by the same two fundamental beliefs:

  • The perspectives and capacities of people affected by conflict are essential to constructive engagements in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.
  • Context matters. Effectiveness depends on a deep understanding of, and adaptation to, complex local dynamics.


CDA’s trusted expertise on effective engagement in complex situations is more relevant today than ever. Addressing the cascade of crises, from Syria and South Sudan, to Yemen and Myanmar, along with increased global fragility and rapidly evolving forms of political violence, requires the context-specific analysis and practical tools CDA has honed over two decades.   This is particularly true in the face of increasingly precarious donor support for international engagement.

The deadly, unintended consequences of efforts to counter violent extremism highlight the critical need for a more sophisticated understanding of local contexts and key conflict drivers, and more broadly rethinking the fundamentals of international engagements in fragile and conflict-affected states. Our work is, and always has been, grounded in a local and systemic understanding of fragile and conflict-affected contexts, based on evidence and context specific theories of change.


December 14 – ALNAP “State of the Humanitarian System” Report Launch. The Boston launch of the 2018 ALNAP “State of the Humanitarian System” Report will be held from 3:00-5:00 pm at the ASEAN Auditorium at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. The sponsoring institutions include the Feinstein International Center at Tufts, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab at MIT, Oxfam America and CDA Collaborative Learning. The program will include a presentation of the report, responses to the report by several members of the Boston humanitarian community (both academic and practitioner), time for questions and discussion, and a small reception for networking afterwards. This event is open to the public.

December 7 – Presentation and Discussion of 2018 Humanitarian Accountability Report: “Change in the Humanitarian Sector” The CHS Alliance, in partnership with Oxfam America and CDA Collaborative Learning will present the 2018 edition of the Humanitarian Accountability Report from 12:00 – 2:00 pm at the Oxfam America office in Boston. The publication looks at the issue of change under the light of mainstream change theories, dissecting six topics to figure out what works (or doesn’t) and why, from cash transfer programming to localization and Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA). This event is open to the public. Register here.

November 6: Collective Impact on Peacebuilding – What’s New? The call for coordination in peacebuilding, where a myriad of efforts should “add up”, is not new. However, we are learning more about the reality of shared agenda setting, power dynamics, challenges to inclusion and sustainability that often get in the way. This expert workshop is an interactive reflection on the “nuts and bolts” of getting to collective peacebuilding impact. Building on case studies, models and insights from IPTI’s Impact Local Peace project and CDA Collaborative Learning Project’s ‘Framework for Collective Impact in Peacebuilding’, practitioners and funding partners will discuss enabling features, respective roles and support structures for collective action. See details.

October 24-26: Alliance for Peacebuilding PeaceCon 2018: Polly Byers, CDA Executive Director and Isabella Jean, CDA Director, will moderate and participate in several panel discussions on the future of peacebuilding funding, building an evaluation consortium, preventing violent extremism, improving peacebuilding partnerships, and partnering with the private sector. See details.

September 5: What Does it Mean to Take a Systems Approach to Social Change? Examples from the Field. Rob Ricigliano, Systems & Complexity coach at The Omidyar Group, will discuss the use of systems and complexity tools in peacebuilding and social change. See details.

June 15: Moving the Needle 2018. Polly Byers, CDA Executive Directorwill discuss the impact of Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid at this convening of USAID staff, implementing partners, and international development funders around practical examples of Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA). See details.

June 12-14: InterAction Forum 2018. Isabella Jean, Director at CDA, and Kiely Barnard-Webster, Program Manager at CDA, will discuss Stopping as Success (SAS) and present a new practical resource with the Peacebuilding Evaluation Consortium at the InterAction Forum 2018 in Washington, DC. See details.

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Supporting Partners

Global Affairs Canada


Total SA


Carnegie Corporation of New York


Norwegian MFA


World Vision UK




Humanity United


Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs


US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)




Paung Sie Facility


International Rescue Committee