About CDA

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA) is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  CDA improves the effectiveness of peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian organizations and corporations working in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Through its unique collaborative learning approach, CDA combines rigorous analysis and evidence-based methodologies to produce useful tools and guidance for practitioners and policymakers alike.  In strengthening the work of its partners, CDA contributes to positive, systematic, and lasting change for people and communities, while also influencing policy and practice across the sectors in which it works.

CDA’s work is driven by the same two fundamental beliefs it was founded on twenty-five years ago:

– The perspectives and abilities 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 the range of complex local dynamics of communities engaged with social change.

Providing evidence-based approaches to today’s complex challenges is what CDA does best: it creates opportunities to identify good practices, reflects on learning from fragile and conflict contexts, documents the evidence, and develops practical tools. One of CDA’s newest collaborative learning projects, for instance, examines successful and responsible exits of international NGOs, in support of locally-led development and peacebuilding.

CDA’S Theory of Change

CDA is a signatory on, and supports, the Doing Development Differently Manifesto.

Our Vision

Our vision is a future where communities and nations demonstrate resilience, drive their own development, and resolve conflicts without resorting to armed violence.

Our Mission

CDA’s mission is to support the application of lessons from collaborative learning processes to improve effective and accountable engagements that result in significant, positive, lasting change for people and societies.

What we are known for

CDA is best known for the principle of Do No Harm, a framework for analyzing the impacts of aid on conflict which has been widely endorsed and adopted in the policies and practices of operational aid agencies and donors.  Do No Harm has not only made aid programs and business practices more effective and accountable to local populations, but also affected the policy and strategic level.  CDA’s work supporting a multi-donor conflict-sensitivity resource facility in South Sudan, is a current example of influencing the policy and practice of donors and implementing partners.

Lessons from CDA’s ‘Listening Project’ and subsequent research have been integrated into key global aid effectiveness processes, such as the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan and the World Humanitarian Summit.  The criteria for effective peacebuilding, and approaches to rigorous theories of change that CDA developed through the ‘Reflecting on Peace Practice’ program, provided key contributions to influential policy guidance, such as the OECD/DAC Guidance on Evaluating Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities.

Foundational books

Our expertise

Throughout the years we have worked in more than seventy conflict-affected and fragile contexts. CDA’s established expertise in the below practice areas is rooted in evidence-based collaborative learning projects, and in the extensive advisory work, that we have completed and continue to perform. CDA’s core staff has extensive experience in zones of conflict. They have worked in over ninety countries and travel regularly to field locations. They have worked with several hundred international and local organizations, including governments, United Nations agencies, the World Bank, universities, training centers, corporations and non-governmental organizations.

What’s next

Although CDA’s foundational work on conflict analysis, Do No Harm, and Reflecting on Peace have been widely adopted, significant challenges remain in delivering effective and accountable aid programs, often with far-reaching effects.   Indeed, the deadly unintended consequences of efforts to counter violent extremism highlight the critical need, not only for a much more sophisticated understanding of local contexts, but to rethink the fundamentals of international engagements in fragile and conflict-affected states, beginning with a much more sophisticated understanding of local context.

CDA’s unique expertise in this area positions it to continue to play a catalytic role in advancing policy and practice.  Maintaining a sharp focus on today’s emerging and evolving challenges, CDA remains committed to ensuring that increasingly constrained resources are used as effectively as possible to support positive and durable change in people’s lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CDA stand for?

The Collaborative for Development Action 1985 – 2003. CDA used to stand for the acronym of our legal name between 1985-2003: The Collaborative for Development Action. The Collaborative for Development Action, Inc. was founded as a small consulting agency by Mary B. Anderson (the founder of the Do No Harm approach) and Catherine A. Overholt. CDA, Inc. was active in health policy, primary and secondary education, rural development, alternative technologies and evaluations, and gender dimensions of international assistance.

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, Est. 2003. As CDA, Inc. increasingly raised its funds from government donors, it became clear that a non-profit entity would provide a better base for its work. Consequently, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects was created as the continuing non-profit home for these efforts. While the “CDA” in our name no longer stands for the acronym, it is kept to symbolize the connection to the foundational learning projects that took place under CDA, Inc. In similar fashion, since 2003, our legal name is: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.

How is CDA structured?

Until December 2014 CDA worked through four discrete programs: The Do No Harm Program (DNH), the Reflecting on Peace Practice Program (RPP), the Corporate Engagement Program (CEP), and the Listening Program (LP). Each program conducted its own collaborative learning processes and also engaged in accompaniment and advisory work in partnership with local and international NGOs, private sector companies, donors, bilateral agencies, and multilateral institutions.

Since January 2015 CDA has been operating under a staff structure including an Advisory Services “wing” and a Collaborative Learning Projects “wing.”  The change from programs to wings enabled CDA to take a more deliberate and focused approach to both collaborative learning and implementation of learning through advisory services.

How does CDA invest unrestricted funds?

1. Guaranteeing accountability, transparency, and wellbeing

CDA has a highly motivated administrative staff that forms the backbone of the organization. They ensure CDA’s work is transparent and accountable by navigating reporting requirements, and supporting our audits. Our administrative staff make our Cambridge, MA headquarters and Yangon, Myanmar field office productive, healthy, working environments for program staff.  Frequent travel enables us to keep our learning and advisory processes grounded in field experiences and responsive to changing realities and needs.  CDA’s administrative team ensures staff are safe, informed, and connected when traveling – whether to conflict-affected regions or to partners in capital cities. 

2. Developing seed funding for emerging Collaborative Learning Processes

The collaborative learning process is at the heart of CDA’s mission. It requires dedicated staff time for identifying emerging issues with partners and constituencies, determining the questions to guide our learning processes, convening initial consultations, scoping the field to affirm the relevance and urgency of the topic among practitioners and policy makers, identifying appropriate learning partners, and securing full funding.

3. Closing the organizational feedback loop

We practice what we preach by engaging in our own internal learning processes. CDA focuses on the effectiveness and accountability of international engagements. Monitoring and evaluation keep our collaborative learning and advisory engagements true to our mission. We apply the lessons from our constantly growing experience to improve future engagements and ensure that our learning and advisory functions enrich one-another.

4. Ensuring access to collaborative lessons learned

We are committed to sharing the lessons from CDA’s collaborative learning at no cost through our website. Over the years CDA has developed a wealth of knowledge, practical tools and guidance for policymakers and practitioners alike. Our Communications Associate maintains CDA’s resource library, makes sure resources are accessible, and helps to disseminate them to practitioners and policymakers. As leaders in our respective fields, our staff are honored to be invited to share their expertise at conferences, seminars, and workshops and to support different learning communities.


If you, or someone you know, is the trustee of a grant-making body we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our work and how you or they might become involved. Please contact Executive Director Polly Byers at pbyers@cdacollaborative.org or call 617 661 6310.

Memberships and Consortia

International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)
InterAction
European Evaluation Society (EES)
American Evaluation Association (AEA)
Feedback Labs
Peacebuilding Evaluation Consortium (PEC)
Conflict Sensitivity Community Hub