Internal Processes to Bolster Technical Assistance
Control and coordination
Tracking which TA providers were working with which Alliances, in what capacity (e.g., occasional conference calls, on-site meetings), and for what purpose was challenging. TA providers did not always make the NPO aware of when they started working with or finished working with Alliances. In response, the NPO found that assigning a designated staff member for TA coordination was essential. The team tasked to coordinating TA at the NPO functioned as content and community experts who understood the progress, challenges, and successes of each Alliance they oversaw. When an Alliance requested or made suggestions regarding potential TA, this team assessed the Alliance’s readiness and made suggestions regarding TA that could possibly assist. The team also on-boarded new TA providers, which alleviated the burden on Alliances to repeatedly explain their activities and marketplaces. This process allowed the NPO to provide essential information about the status of the Alliances’ work and the environment in which they operated before the TA provider started its work.
Frequent, structured communication between the NPO and TA providers occurred through a variety of vehicles. Communication channels included periodic calls (with either individual TA providers or groups of TA providers working in similar content areas), standardized tri-annual reports from TA providers that outlined how the provided TA was tied to Alliances’ specific measures of success, and e-newsletters.
Peer learning and cross-site sharing
Peer learning and cross-site sharing proved to be important mechanisms for advancing the Alliances’ progress. Informational webinars, interactive peer learning webinars, peer-to-peer meetings, and national meetings were successful cross-site and peer learning modes in AF4Q. National meetings in particular were a great opportunity to promote sharing between communities. National meetings allowed communities to share concerns and questions and receive feedback and guidance from Alliances who had expertise to share.
Third-party evaluator to TA
The NPO engaged an external, third-party evaluator to assess the Alliance’s experience with the TA providers (both in terms of substance and responsiveness), as well as the NPO’s performance. This annual quantitative and qualitative survey was invaluable to improving how TA was delivered. The NPO was able to provide candid feedback to the TA providers about how the grantees viewed them. It also enabled the NPO to make mid-course corrections to internal processes. Conducting this honest assessment signaled to the Alliances that the NPO was absolutely committed to delivering and deploying TA to meet their needs. The survey also engendered a level of trust in that the NPO, since the NPO was willing to assess its performance in a transparent manner and share that information with RWJF.
Build grantee skills and capacity
It would have been easy for communities to become reliant on TA as consultants could be seen as an “extra set of hands” rendering TA as a crutch, rather than a strategy to build capacity for success. The NPO recognized that the ongoing impact of AF4Q work was partially dependent on the ability of Alliances to demonstrate, produce, and articulate tangible value to stakeholders and create streams of revenue for sustainability once AF4Q ended. TA specifically focused on sustainability may seem unnecessary at the start of a program due to a focus on program expectations; however, investing in the capacity of a community, organization, or individual to continue the work started under a grant is an important consideration for any funder. Funders should consider whether to invest resources in building the capacity of the grantee (e.g., leadership training). Alternatively, a funder should consider requiring a grantee to develop a business plan indicating how the grantee will sustain activities when the grant funding ends. Sustainability, of an organization or its work, is a key consideration at the start of a program.