How to Get What You Need from an Organizational Assessment
Organizational assessment is a critical component of capacity building, but different approaches present different advantages and limitations. Before investing time and resources, it is important to consider these relative to your specific needs. Here, we compare three common types of organizational assessment to help you in your decision making.
Organizational assessment is a critical component of capacity building. It is a diagnostic tool and an educational process, identifying organizational strengths and areas for improvement.
But different approaches to assessment present different advantages and limitations, so before investing time and resources, it is important to consider these relative to your specific needs.
Organizational assessment is typically approached in one of three primary ways:
Organizations may take stock of their own performance, with or without a tool developed for or adapted to this purpose, such as a staff and board survey or questionnaire. Advantages of this approach are that it can be done at any time at the organization’s convenience, and the cost is generally limited to staff time. Disadvantages include the bias of relying solely on self-reported information. In the end, organizations only benefit to the degree that they are comfortable being self-critical, and may not come away from the process with a clear vision of what next steps to take to capitalize on strengths or address weaknesses.
Third-party assessment is often conducted by a consultant, may be guided by a formal tool, and typically includes document review (including financials) and stakeholder interviews. This is a preferred option for funders seeking to assess grantee capacity, a use which presents unique challenges, as it may put the organization on the defensive, which can in turn influence both participation and the spirit in which results are received. To be effective, it is essential that the funder, the organization, and the consultant all be clear about the assessment’s purpose as well as how, and with whom, the findings will be shared. Often, agreeing to not share findings with the funder, except perhaps in an aggregate report on a cohort of grantees, can reduce organizational anxiety and ensure candid participation in the process.
This approach leverages the advantages of the self-assessment and third-party assessment, while mitigating the disadvantages of each. In this case, a consultant uses a systematic tool or methodology to capture the organization’s view of itself, then conducts additional information gathering and analysis to lend external perspective. This approach offers arguably the most complete view of organizational capacity, drawing up on internal stakeholders’ own wisdom as well as the fresh perspective a consultant can bring. It also enables the assessment process to be a part of the organizational capacity-building intervention, rather than merely a precursor to it.
At La Piana Consulting, we believe strongly in the value of organizational assessment as a capacity-building tool. When we build it into our engagements, the results always yield insights into where we can have the greatest impact for the client. We also find that assessments add the most value when we share the results in a discussion with the organization where we can help them use the information to identify their own organizational development goals and a plan for achieving them.