SGC Catalyst Model Addressing Barriers to Access: Invest in Technical Assistance
Technical assistance, or TA, provides targeted support to an agency, organization, or community with a development need or resource gap. TA may be delivered in many ways, such as one-on-one consultation, small group facilitation, technical resources, and analysis, or through a web-based clearinghouse. TA is one of the most effective methods for building the capacity of an organization or jurisdiction.
Technical assistance is a broad term that encompasses various strategies that enhance a community’s ability to develop needs and projects, pursue funding, and implement new initiatives. TA is typically provided to communities through third-party organizations with the expertise, experience, and trust to help communities navigate often complicated processes. The TA providers are most effective when they are familiar with a community’s unique needs and challenges. TA is typically provided free of cost to maximize access to under-resourced communities. While funders have historically focused on contributing resources to projects and tangible outcomes, we believe that investment in technical assistance is a relatively low-cost strategy to ensure greater participation in funding programs, more effective implementation of projects, and the development of unique and effective solutions to complex challenges.
TA is often provided either before an application process to support communities in developing projects, scopes of work, and work plans or after a project award to support the implementation or evaluation of certain project elements. When moving further upstream to support communities in planning, project pipeline development, relationship building, and establishing other necessary factors to support collective action, we refer to this as capacity building. Investment in TA and capacity building ensures that funding agencies provide holistic support to the communities that often stand to benefit the most from transformative funding opportunities.
- Increased trust and stronger relationships with local communities
- More equitable processes for grant application and policy implementation
- Enables lower-capacity jurisdictions to develop transformational projects and implement critical policies
- Enable residents of the most disadvantaged communities to benefit from critical investments that they may never have been able to receive without TA –improving health and equity outcomes throughout the state and the nation
How to Do This
Design of technical assistance programs is best achieved through a three-step process that supports program staff in determining the key elements and structure of a TA program:
- Analyze and evaluate agency and community needs and gaps, including funding sources, past performance, program goals, and complementary TA efforts. This should ideally be carried out through an internal engagement process with individuals with knowledge of the policy or program that the TA aims to support and externally with communities to best determine how TA interventions can have tangible, lasting impacts.
Determine and set goals and intended outcomes for the technical assistance intervention based on identified needs. In other words, establish a theory of change – identify how and why a desired result is expected to happen through programmatic activities. Setting program goals early helps the TA development team:
- Identify expected and desired outcomes
- Ensure the TA program responds to State, agency, program, and community priorities
- Determine program structure
- Identify communities, populations, and stakeholders to engage
- Establish effective processes for selecting the right TA provider(s)
- Evaluate program successes and opportunities for refinement
- Consider the appropriate level of flexibility and adaptability within TA provision
Determine elements of the TA program structure, including the area of focus (e.g., application or implementation), provider, community engagement strategy, and metrics and evaluation plan. A critical determination that must be made is at the level the TA intervention will be made:
- “Capacity Building: Seeks to equip communities with tools, resources, knowledge, and connections that support developing strategies for meeting specific needs. Often occurs outside of the application window. Does not need to be specific to any single funding program.
- Application Assistance: Provides assistance to applications within an application window to help with challenging elements of grant application processes, such as: demonstrating robust partnerships and meaningful community engagement, developing data collection and evaluation methodologies, or pulling together data and other relevant information
- Implementation Assistance: Supports communities awarded projects to implement complex and unique aspects of a project or support tasks that an under-resourced agency or organization may not be able to implement fully.”
SOURCE: Technical Assistance Guidelines for State Agencies (p. 24)
In addition to the three-step program development process that is further explored in SGC’s Technical Assistance Guidelines, it is vital that practitioners identify ways to center social and racial equity in program goals and intended outcomes throughout the process.
- Embed equity in the mission, vision, and values of a TA program
- Build equity into the process by considering distributional equity targets, the make-up, and competencies of TA provider teams, etc.
- Ensure equity outcomes by ensuring that the TA is designed to incorporate the participation, input, and expertise of community organizations and vulnerable populations
- Measure and analyze for equity by establishing metrics and other strategies to ensure the program meets established equity goals.