Strategy and Planning

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Strategic planning and policy improvement is a top priority at USAID.

Our day-to-day activities are informed and guided by these and other guidance frameworks:

All of our efforts are aimed at modernizing and strengthening USAID so that it can meet the most pressing development challenges and work more efficiently towards our ultimate goal—creating the conditions where our work is no longer needed.

Evidence-Based Approach

As the premier U.S. development agency, USAID must make strategic choices that are informed by evidence to support countries in leading their own development journeys.

The Program Cycle

The Program Cycle is USAID’s operational model for planning, delivering, assessing, and adapting development programming in a given region or country to achieve more effective and sustainable results in order to advance U.S. foreign policy, while supporting countries on their journey to self-reliance.

The Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning introduced the Program Cycle in 2011 as a framework to link together the fundamental components of the Agency’s programming:

  • Country/Regional Strategic Planning
  • Project Design & Implementation
  • Activity Design & Implementation
  • Monitoring & Evaluation
  • Collaborating, Learning & Adapting

To ensure that USAID is learning from the implementation of the Program Cycle and filling in knowledge gaps around what can be improved in the Program Cycle Operational Policy, the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning has developed a Program Cycle Learning Agenda. Click here to learn more.

USAID Program Cycle
The Program Cycle is USAID’s operational framework for achieving effective and sustainable results in the field.

A Principles-Based Approach

The following principles serve as the foundation for ADS 201. They encourage programs that are evidence-based, take innovative approaches, respond to local priorities, leverage local resources, and work through local actors to promote sustainability.  

  • Utilize a range of approaches: to harness the most creative, innovative ideas available and diversify and expand our partner-base where possible.
  • Promote sustainability through local ownership: to build our partner self-reliance and capacity to finance and implement solutions to their own development challenges.
  • Manage adaptively through continuous learning: to ensure programs are responsive to new information.
  • Gather evidence: to learn what works and maintain accountability to the American people and our partners.

Country Development Cooperation Strategy

Strategic planning is the process to determine the best strategic approach in a given country or region. It is based on U.S. development policy priorities, including promoting self-reliance, partner country and/or regional priorities, and USAID’s comparative advantage and available foreign assistance resources. The strategic planning process results in a Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS).

Project Design


Project design is the process for defining how to achieve results to ensure that efforts are complementary and aligned in support of a strategy. Each project design typically incorporates multiple activities organized around, and implemented to achieve, a common purpose. The process also ensures that projects define a clear logic and purpose, are based on evidence of what works, and develops detailed plans for evaluation, monitoring and learning.


Monitoring is the ongoing and systematic tracking of information relevant to USAID strategies, projects and activities to support adaptive management and accountability structures at the Agency. Monitoring tells us whether implementation is on track and whether results are being achieved.

Monitoring Plans for strategies, projects and activities guide the efforts of USAID staff and implementing partners to ensure relevant information is available when needed to make adjustments to programs as well as to report to stakeholders.


USAID has made an ambitious commitment to quality program evaluation - the systematic collection and analysis of information as a basis for judgements to improve effectiveness and timed to inform decisions about current and future programming. USAID uses these program evaluation findings to inform decisions, improve program effectiveness, be accountable to stakeholders and support organizational learning.

Collaborating, Learning and Adapting

Strategic collaboration, continuous learning and adaptive management link together all components of the Program Cycle. Sources for learning include data from monitoring, portfolio reviews, findings of research, evaluations, analyses conducted by USAID or third parties, knowledge gained from experience and other sources. These sources should be used to develop plans, implement projects, manage adaptively and contribute to USAID’s knowledge base in order to improve development outcomes. A Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) focus helps ensure that programming is coordinated together, grounded in evidence and adjusted as necessary to remain relevant and effective throughout implementation.

Budget Management

Annual budgeting involves reconciling and prioritizing many objectives and constraints at multiple levels.

Given the fluidity of the process, CDCSs do not serve as final budgets. Instead they serve as directives over the annual budget process by rationalizing judgments of the relative value of assistance options within a country and region and across operating units.

Bureaus continue to play a key role in the budget formulation process, taking into consideration key country and functional priorities. During budget formulation and allocation, Regional and Sector Bureaus highlight the links between resources and results, and provide a brief analysis of the degree to which their recommendations align with approved CDCSs and projects. This information is used in budget reviews to try to maximize development results within budget constraints.

Learn More About the Program Cycle

Additional resources on Program Cycle implementation, including How-To Notes, Technical Notes, Discussion Notes and online trainings are available on USAID’s Learning Lab website.