Community-based organizations receive technical assistance (TA) for a variety of needs, such as board development, leadership skills and evaluation. Nearly all organizations are open to the idea of additional help and expertise. However, many community-based organizations (CBOs) have had little experience working with technical assistance providers and often come to us with questions about how to get the most out of TA. In this post we’re consolidating more than a decade of expertise providing technical assistance with hundreds of CBOs to demystify the TA process.
Technical assistance (TA) is the process of providing targeted support to an organization to address a specific need. Direct TA is usually delivered through a combination of trainings/ workshops (in large or small groups) and individualized coaching. Our approach to TA involves tailoring and customization to meet the specific needs of the organization; delivery over a period of time to provide support as the organization is learning and applying the new skills; responsiveness to changing dynamics and conditions; and reflection of our social justice values and commitment to community priorities.
These are eight key actions community based organizations can take to maximize the impact of TA.
1) Identify specific goals for TA. Determine the specific needs your organization has and expected outcomes of TA. Clarify how you anticipate the organization will be different as a result of TA.
2) Assess timing. Working with a TA provider requires and investment of staff time and fiscal resources. Consider if your organization has time and staff to collaborate with the provider and whether anticipated organizational changes (i.e., leadership change, strategic planning) may have an impact on the direction of TA.
3) Obtain buy-in from leadership and staff. Be sure that leadership and staff understand the organization’s needs and how TA can address these. Seek agreement at your organization about why TA is needed and how TA will benefit you before engaging a TA provider.
4) Dedicate a team to work the TA Provider. TA has the most impact when a specific team can dedicate time to work the TA provider to learn and apply new skills/techniques. Ensure that the team understands that collaborating with the TA provider is an essential component of their work. Prepare the team to do work between TA training/coaching sessions to maximize time with the TA provider.
5) Communicate honestly and clearly. The more transparent you can be about your needs, concerns and expectations, the more TA can be modified to address these. Establish clear communication and feedback mechanisms early in the TA process. Be explicit about who has the authority to make key decisions related to TA and organizational changes.
6) Apply what you learn. Create a practice of applying what is learned through TA in immediate and concrete ways. Engage your staff to identify specific action steps after each TA interaction. Work with the TA provider to trouble-shoot and adapt as you apply new skills and techniques acquired through the TA process.
7) Lean into change. Technical assistance facilitates an organizational change process. Be open to change and have specific conversations with your team/leadership about how planned changes will benefit the organization. Seek help from the TA provider when you anticipate resistance to certain changes to ensure that TA can be responsive to these dynamics.
8) Plan for organization retention of knowledge. Community-based organizations often have staff turnover that can be difficult to anticipate. Develop processes and protocols to ensure that skills and knowledge gained from TA are shared across multiple team members. This can include sharing materials from workshops across the organization and peer learning sessions to allow staff who receive TA to share their knowledge with the rest of the organization.
“Assuring Technical Assistance” from the Community Toolbox