The Foreign Service Journal, September 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2022 57 AFSA NEWS USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Collaboration Through Co-Creation: Putting Policy into Practice USAID and other develop- ment stakeholders have long touted the value of “co- creation,” particularly as the agency advances its efforts to work more closely with local partners. According to USAID, “Co-creation brings people together to collectively design solutions to specific develop- ment challenges. Partners, potential implementers, and end-users define a problem collaboratively, identify solu- tions, build consensus around action, and refine plans to move forward with programs and projects.”This statement got me thinking. What if the agency applied the co-creation approach internally, treating AFSA and other federal unions as local partners with whom to co- create solutions? This shouldn’t be a radical idea—sound bases are already in place to build this approach on, not least the president’s executive order,“Protecting the Federal Workforce” (E.O. 14003). So, where to begin? Fortunately, USAID has issued a helpful “Co-creation Interactive Guide” (viewable at Creation) that includes def ini- tions, clarifications, charac- teristics and how-tos related to the co-creation process. It’s a great resource—so great that I am sharing the USAID schematic here: “Co-creation is an inten- tional, collaborative design approach that brings people together to collectively produce a mutually valued outcome, using a participa- tory process that assumes some degree of shared power and decision-making.” I found this distinction and progression well con- sidered but a bit depressing: AFSA-USAID relations are predominantly stuck at the consultation stage (if they are even on the chart); AFSA too often learns of concerns to the Foreign Service only after the fact. For example, if you’re like me, you were excited to read in the Administrator’s testi- mony on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request her mention of increasing the size and agility of the career workforce, and “the launch of the Global Development Partnership initiative, a workforce expan- sion program, that will focus on democracy and anti-cor- ruption, global health security, national security, climate change, operational manage- ment, and a more permanent humanitarian assistance workforce.” As positive as her plan sounds, this was the first AFSA had heard of “the Global Development Partnership Initiative.”As bureaucrats, we know that when initiatives get capitalized, they’re real! Strategically ambigu- ous words such as “more permanent humanitarian assistance workforce” raised my eyebrows, and rightly so: ASFA has since learned of the agency’s planned conversion of personal service contrac- tors and institutional support contractors to Foreign Service Limited appointees. By contrast, the co-cre- ation column of the schematic shared on this page contains phrases such as “shared power,”“mutually beneficial” and “a clearly defined, shared outcome.” These words remind me of the Biden-Harris administra- tion’s own body of support for employees and their unions, including the Febru- ary 2022White House Task Force onWorker Organizing and Empowerment, which declares: “When federal employees organize a union, they should have an effec- tive voice in workplace issues through their union, and federal management should work closely with these unions to solve workplace issues.” Of course there will not always be agreement, but surely collaborating on a com- mon challenge is not asking too much. Still, I am hopeful. AFSA and USAID are exploring the revival of the Labor Management Forum, a structure that met with some success during the Obama- Biden administration. Such a forum could prove to be a positive platform for AFSA- agency engagement and co-creation. In the meantime, I remain committed to engaging agency colleagues at all levels to advance mutually beneficial solutions to the glaring stra- tegic workforce challenges facing USAID; whether we call it “co-creation” or some other name, hopefully we agree that it is a “shared outcome.” n USAID’SCO-CREATION INTERACTIVEGUIDE