Technical Assistance Guidelines Core Principles

This section highlights the central values that should ground TA and capacity building activities implemented by the State of California. Developed in collaboration with an interagency working group from 13 different State agencies, each with deep expertise in TA and capacity building, these core principles should inform every stage of the process of a TA project – goal-setting, contracting, evaluation, and communications. Approaching the TA initiatives with these core principles in mind will ensure that the TA results in long-term capacity building and equitable outcomes in the state’s most under-resourced communities.

 Social Equity

Each community in California has a distinct history and unique assets and challenges. However, it is critical to understand that some communities and individuals have suffered from historic injustices and continue to carry disproportionate burdens that others do not. Communities of color, low-income communities, Tribes, and communities that have experienced disproportionate environmental burdens do not benefit from the same opportunities as more privileged communities. As a result, they experience additional barriers to applying for State funding, which often keep the communities that most need funding in a vicious cycle of resource scarcity. Therefore, it is necessary to prioritize social and racial equity in both process and outcome. Equity is distinct from equality in that it does not seek to offer the same services to everyone, but instead prioritizes the most under-resourced and disadvantaged communities in the state. Racial, gender, income, and other disparities that disadvantage certain groups of Californians should be taken into account when designing and implementing TA programs. By ensuring that equity is central to TA and capacity building efforts, the State gives under-resourced communities a fairer chance to compete for funds or to implement policies that not only benefit their residents, but also contribute to statewide goals.

  Building Community Capacity

TA should not simply be about contractors doing work on behalf of communities, but about building long-term capacity within communities to sustain and expand successful practices into the future. Capacity building is the process by which individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions grow, enhance, and organize their systems, resources, and knowledge. [ 1 ] TA should build recipients’ resilience by identifying and augmenting communities’ existing assets and strengths with the goal of reaching a level of autonomy in which outside TA is no longer needed. While not all TA programs are explicitly focused on capacity building activities such as workshops, educational trainings, or building social capital through partnership development, all TA should support relationship building, knowledge transmission, and sustainability of activities once the TA project term has ended.


As one of the most direct ways the State can support local communities, effective TA can build stronger relationships between State and local entities. It can also cultivate partnerships and trust within communities. This is especially the case when TA not only supports local governments, but also includes meaningful engagement and partnership with residents and community-based organizations. Residents of under-resourced communities may distrust State and local agencies based on experiences of discrimination or neglect. Histories of redlining [ 2 ] and other forms of systemic discrimination have understandably compromised trust in government for many communities of color. In addition, it is important to recognize the violence, maltreatment, and neglect the State has inflicted on California Native American Tribes. Governor Newsom’s 2019 apology [ 3 ] for the State’s “historical wrongs tolerated, encouraged, subsidized, and committed by State actors against California Native Americans” was an important step toward building a stronger relationship with Tribes (See the Tribal TA Guidance page for more information and guidance on providing TA for Tribes). Other populations that may not trust government include immigrants – specifically those with undocumented status – certain rural communities, and other historically under-represented groups. TA is an opportunity to build trust slowly and incrementally within these communities by partnering with trusted local organizations and institutions and maintaining frequent two-way communication.

  Community Engagement

Community engagement is the process of working collaboratively with a diverse group of stakeholders to address issues affecting their well-being. It involves sharing information, building relationships and partnerships, and involving stakeholders in planning and making decisions with the goal of improving the outcomes of policies and programs. [ 4 ] This type of engagement is a powerful vehicle for improving the legitimacy, relevance, and overall success of any project that aims to improve conditions within a community. Community engagement should be a central element of every step of the TA process, from conducting a gap analysis, to designing a TA program, implementing TA, and evaluating and communicating results. Building partnerships on the ground with trusted community-based organizations and other local entities with a recognized commitment to equity is critical to ensure a representative and meaningful engagement process. If community engagement is included in the scope of a TA or capacity building effort, it is important to budget for compensating the community partners that help with outreach, material development, translation, and/or facilitation of workshops or other engagement events. Additional guidance about community engagement practices is referenced throughout this document, and more in-depth resources on the topic are listed on the Resources page.

  Community Relevance

Under-resourced communities face multi-faceted challenges, covering a wide range of basic needs related to clean air and water, natural resources, adequate city services, and availability of parks and open spaces. For this reason, State agencies must work closely with TA recipients and devote adequate time and resources to ensuring that the scope of the TA responds to the priorities and needs of the community it is meant to serve. When the scope of the TA offering is not broad enough to respond to the recipient’s priorities, providers must set clear and realistic expectations about available services and, whenever possible, connect the community to other types of TA that can address its priority issues. This early engagement can help build trust and avoid wasting resources on support that will not ultimately have the desired impact.

TA and capacity building initiatives must also be adaptable to changes that may arise during the project term to maintain local relevance. Under-resourced local governments and organizations are often juggling a number of different issues with very little staff capacity. When crises arise, these communities are often the hardest hit, and the local agencies, community-based organizations, and anchor institutions (such as universities, hospitals, and foundations) that serve them may need to shift focus to meet urgent needs. A lack of adaptability can result in wasted time and money, compromise hard-won trust, and miss opportunities to provide relevant and timely assistance. Many unexpected scenarios may arise during the project, so adding buffers to timelines and ensuring that agreements allow for adaptability can go a long way.

  Cultural Awareness

To truly build trust through capacity building, the State should hire TA contractors and tailor TA activities to fit the cultural context of the communities served. This may include:

  • Providing translation and interpretation services or hiring TA contractors who can provide service in the language of TA recipients
  • Respecting cultural norms and traditions, acknowledging past and current injustices
  • Hiring TA providers who come from the communities served
  • Ensuring TA providers have experience working with under-resourced communities in California and can demonstrate cultural awareness and humility in their approach

Recognizing that miscommunications and mistakes happen in any program provided for diverse stakeholders, agencies should actively seek feedback and always strive to improve TA offerings, ensuring that they become increasingly responsive to cultural differences.

  Mutual Learning

TA and capacity building efforts can help State agencies better understand how to support local communities and improve State policies and programs to ensure better and more meaningful implementation at the local level. For example, application assistance TA may bring to light that certain communities face barriers to applying or competing for funding through a particular program. It may also reveal certain parts of an application process that are unclear or onerous. Policy implementation TA might help an agency identify complexities or a need for a more context-specific approach than originally expected. In contrast, viewing TA as one-way service provision rather than an opportunity for mutual learning and growth is a missed opportunity to improve State programs and policies and can ultimately slow the advancement of State goals.

In many cases, TA recipients can also benefit from hearing about each other’s experiences through peer-to-peer learning. While this may not be appropriate when communities are competing for the same grant, connecting past grantees with current applicants or creating opportunities for capacity building or implementation TA recipients to share information can be remarkably fruitful.

  1. Adapted from Khan, Mizan R, et al. The Paris Framework for Climate Change Capacity Building. 1st ed., Routledge, 2018.  
  2. In the 1930s, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency, created color-coded maps of every metropolitan area in the country with ratings for each neighborhood to guide investment. The ratings were in large part based on racial demographics. Neighborhoods that HOLC colored red and ranked as “hazardous” were predominantly communities of color, making it more difficult for people of color to access home loans. These discriminatory practices were outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968, but this history has a profound impact on wealth inequality and housing segregation today. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law (2017) provides a detailed account of this history.  
  3. Executive Order N-15-19  
  4. California Air Resources Board. Best Practices for Community Engagement and Building Successful Projects.