Decision-Making Matrix for Technical Assistance

Beryl Levinger

The Decision-Making Matrix for Technical Assistance (DMTA) focuses on tasks associated with the management of technical assistance and is intended to assist support organizations that wish to sponsor technical assistance in support of organizational capacity building. It contains a listing (in column one) of the major decisions that have to be made in connection with the design and implementation of a technical assistance program, suggests some viable options with respect to each of these decisions (column two) and offers guiding principles for selecting among options (column three). A fourth column is included so that a support organization planning team can identify which option(s) it has selected. This tool is designed to help support organizations develop and manage scopes of work for technical assistance contractors. To use the tool effectively, it is not necessary to follow the decision-making sequence as presented. Blank boxes are provided for recording support organization decisions on TA options.

Decision-Making Matrix for Technical Assistance


Illustrative Options

Guiding Principles


Who should receive technical assistance?

Trainers; senior leadership; supervisors of frontline staff; frontline staff; anyone with a targeted type of need or organizational responsibility; anyone falling below a targeted level of performance; anyone surpassing a targeted level of performance; evaluators; or a mix of the above.

1. Technical assistance should be viewed from multiple perspectives: as a reward for promising performance, as a tool for sustaining the change momentum, and as an approach for addressing unsatisfactory performance.


How should technical assistance be delivered?

Provide technical assistance to individuals on a customized basis; provide technical assistance to small groups of individuals confronting similar problems on a customized basis; provide technical assistance to individuals using standardized tools and materials; provide technical assistance to small groups of individuals using standardized tools and materials.

1. Technical assistance is more costly and of more variable quality if customized than if built around the use of standardized tools and materials.

2. Where problems are likely to be unique or unanticipated, customized technical assistance is essential.

3.If standardized tools and materials allow for good organizational diagnosis and open-ended discussion, they can be extremely valuable in enhancing organizational capacity.


Who should design and provide technical assistance?

Internal consultants; external international consultants; external local consultants; or, a mix of these types.

1. Technical assistance is best designed and delivered by those closest to the organization who possess the requisite capacity building and diagnostic skills. In ascending order of preference, this means that priority is given to international facilitators; external local facilitators; internal facilitators.

2. Where international or external facilitators are used, their role should primarily focus on training in-house or locally available consultants and providing them with short-term backstopping.

3. In an environment characterized by high levels of threat, fearfulness and internal control, external consultants are preferable to internal consultants.


Where should the delivery of technical assistance take place?

On-site; off-site at a similar organization; off-site at a venue the ensures confidentiality and open communication.

1. In general, technical assistance is best delivered on-site.

2. Off-site technical assistance may be most appropriate in environments characterized by high levels of threat, fearfulness and internal control.


What should the relationship be between technical assistance and training?

To reinforce the skills imparted through training; to reinforce cultural changes imparted through training; to troubleshoot implementational difficulties; to extend concepts introduced through training; to gather information and build skills prior to introduction of formal training; to screen participants for subsequent training; or, a mix of the above.

1. Technical assistance should be viewed as a complement to training in any program of organizational development.

2. While there are many options for achieving this complementarity, it is essential that the relationship between training and technical assistance be made explicit and transparent.


What methodology should be employed for the provision of technical assistance?

Open-ended discussion designed to reinforce new attitudes and values; informal joint review of accomplishments and problems to date with emphasis on problem-solving; application of structured tools that can be used to assess progress, identify problems, and revise practices; a mix of types.

1. Technical assistance should include support for both the application of new skills or practices as well as for the cultural changes that underlie capacity building efforts. Whatever methodology is used must address both skills and cultural constraints to change.


What should the objective of technical assistance be?

Mastery of specific functional skills; changes in organizational culture; team-building; enhanced capacity for organizational learning; introduction of TQM or some other customer-focused change; new capabilities to respond to changes in the external environment.

1. Selection of objectives must be realistic. In general, technical assistance can, in concert with training, pave the way for fundamental organizational change, but is not, by itself, sufficient to accomplish such change. Overly ambitious objectives may turn people off when the expected results fail to materialize.

2. Technical assistance objectives should be focused on specific, relatively narrow yet observable changes in organizational capacity.


What should the timing of technical assistance be?

According to a pre-arranged scheduled (e.g., quarterly); when milestones or benchmarks are accomplished; on demand as problems are encountered; a mix of types.

1. The benefits derived from technical assistance are directly related to its timeliness and predictability.

2. Pre-arranged schedules augmented by "on demand" support are useful at the beginning of the technical assistance process. As organizations gain experience, scheduling by milestones or benchmark is more cost-effective.


How should technical assistance be evaluated?

Recipient feedback; organizational client feedback; observation of recipients; observation of services to clients; assessments of the organization's functional capacities; comparative assessments (before and after technical assistance) of the organization's effectiveness in achieving its mission; or, a mix of several of these options.

1. The ultimate purpose of technical assistance is to achieve a fundamental change in an organization's achievement of mission. Impact evaluation must address this issue.

2. Formative evaluation is critical to improving a technical assistance program and can be gathered from many difference sources including participants, clients, and observers.


How should technical assistance be funded?

Fully funded by the sponsor (e.g., the support organization); through a cost-sharing arrangement between the organization and the sponsor; fully funded by the organization.

1. Cost-sharing helps organizations to value the technical assistance they receive.

2. It is generally necessary to create a demand for technical assistance. One way to accomplish this is by gradually reducing the degree to which it is subsidized.


What should be the technical assistance exit strategy?

Provision of a fixed number of days of consulting that gets "drawn down"; achievement of agreed upon benchmarks or performance standards; "graduation" from technical assistance recipient to technical assistance provider; a mix of the above.

1. At the outset of technical assistance provision, recipients should know how much and what kinds of support can be available to them and under what circumstances such support will be forthcoming.

2. One outcome of technical assistance should be that an organization has a plan in place for meeting its future technical assistance needs.


What follow-up to technical assistance should there be?

None; infrequent follow-up assessment and "maintenance" visits; newsletters; networking former technical assistance recipients; provision of opportunities for former technical assistance recipients to serve as future technical assistance providers.

1. Organizational development is a never-ending process. The most important follow-up to technical assistance is support for an organization as it endeavors to meet future technical assistance needs on its own. Such support can take many different forms.