Trohanis TA Projects

Effective Technical Assistance Practices

February 2020


Our experience and evaluation data plus program improvement research tell us that effective TA is a collaborative, coordinated effort to facilitate change in systems, build capacity, improve practices, and reach agreed-upon outcomes1, 2. Specifically, effective TA provides a pathway to improvement through activities and materials that promote new behaviors, practices, beliefs, and understandings of staff in the systems served3.

Key Practices for Effective TA

We have identified nine key practices to ensure that TA is successful in supporting program leaders to bring about the desired changes in systems and practices. These include critical relationships on which trust is built; consistent communication; collaborative partnering; support that is differentiated according to strengths and needs; use of adult learning strategies for TA delivery; leadership of change activities; partnering with organizations to integrate resources; incorporation of implementation, improvement, and systems change frameworks; and ongoing evaluation.

1. Trusting relationships

Staff in systems seeking change must fully trust that their TA providers understand the context in which they work, will maintain confidentiality, and can give them the information they need. Providers must be available, supportive, and knowledgeable. Over time, effective TA providers gain trust, thereby increasing the likelihood that staff seeking change will use TA materials to inform decision making at the policy level4.

2. Consistent communication

Communication is the means through which TA providers build relationships and provide effective support for systems change. Effective TA providers communicate openly, regularly, and consistently with staff in the systems they serve. Doing so helps to identify, clarify, and address problems that stand in the way of improvement5, 6.

3. Collaborative partnering

Effective TA providers partner with staff in the systems they serve. As partners, they make collaborative decisions about how they will identify and address problems together. Collaboration ensures a common understanding of what is working and what needs to change, and increases the likelihood that staff will commit to change efforts1, 5, 7, 8.

4. Differentiated support

The support that effective TA provides can range from general and universal (webinars and conferences), to more specialized and targeted (on site planning and consultation), to intensive and sustained (ongoing involvement in scaling up practice change)9, 4. Effective providers adjust TA delivery according to each system’s strengths, needs, resources, and desired outcomes, as well as the level of skill, experience, knowledge, and desire staff in the system bring to the change effort.

5. Adult learning strategies

Effective TA providers incorporate strategies in their delivery that are likely to affect individual change, as shown in the literature on adult learning10, 11, 12, 13. Accordingly, effective TA is never provided in isolation but always with opportunities for follow up. Effective TA helps adult learners apply new information to their own real-world situations. Particularly for intensive and sustained TA, ongoing support can include coaching, mentoring, evaluation, and feedback loops between state and local leadership teams.

6. Leadership for change

Effective TA providers play a key leadership role in guiding activities required for systems change. A trusted person from outside the system can be a catalyst for change through deep understanding of and facilitation of the change process, understanding of key components of effective systems, promoting active participation and building consensus across a variety of stakeholder groups, including stakeholders who are not initially on board with the desired change7, 21, 22.

7. Partnerships and resource integration

Effective TA providers work across federal and state public agencies, with professional development organizations and TA partners, professional associations, and consumer groups. Partnerships help to leverage resources and, when working in tandem, can unify the support needed for the desired outcome23.

8. Use of implementation, improvement, and systems change frameworks

Recent research has expanded the understanding of factors that lead to successful implementation of new policies and practices for improved systems. Effective TA incorporates these frameworks into change efforts with a particular focus on sustainability of evidence-based practices (implementation science)10, 17, 18, ongoing evaluation and adjustment of change efforts (improvement science)19, and the effect of change on multiple levels of complex systems (systems change)7, 8, 14, 20.

9. Ongoing evaluation

A critical component of effective TA is the ongoing collection and use of evaluation data to guide the work of the TA provider. Evaluation data give the TA provider regular feedback on what’s working and not working and where course corrections can be made to more successfully achieve mutually agreed upon desired outcomes8, 14, 15, 16.


  1. Fixsen, D., Blase, K., Horner, R., & Sugai, G. (2009). Intensive technical assistance. Retrieved from
  2. Trohanis, P. L. (Ed.). (1982). Strategies for change. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, Technical Assistance Development System.
  3. Beale, B., & Luster, J. N. (2009). A framework for collaborative partnership in providing intensive technical assistance. Southeast Regional Resource Center and Data Accountability Center.
  4. Tseng, V. (2012). The uses of research in policy and practice. Social Policy Report, 26(2). Retrieved from
  5. Fixsen, D., Blase, K., Horner, R., & Sugai, G. (2009a). Readiness for change. Retrieved from
  6. Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
  7. Hurth, J. & Goode, S. (Eds.) (2009). Thinking points: A synthesis of ideas about the change process (Topics: An occasional paper on the literature and practice of Technical Assistance). Retrieved from
  8. Metz, A., & Bartley, L. (2012). Active implementation frameworks for program success: How to use implementation science to improve outcomes for children. Zero To Three, March 2012, 11-18.
  9. Office of Special Education Programs (2016). Results driven accountability: Differentiated monitoring and support engagement decisions – DMS Notices. Presentation. Retrieved from
  10. Fixsen, D., Naoom, S., Blase, K., Friedman, R. & Wallace, F. (2005). Implementation research: A synthesis of the literature. Retrieved from
  11. Trivette, C. (2009). Participatory adult learning professional development strategy: Evidence and examples. Presentation made at the Ninth National Early Childhood Inclusion Institute, Chapel Hill, NC July 15, 2009. Retrieved from
  12. Trivette, C., Dunst, C., Hamby, D., & O’Herin, C. (2009). Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods and strategies, Research Brief, Volume 3, Number 1. Tots n Tech Research Institute. Retreived from
  13. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Compassion Capital Fund National Resource Center. (2010). Delivering training and technical assistance. Retrieved from
  14. Kahn, L., Hurth, J., Kasprzak, C., Diefendorf, M., Goode, S., & Ringwalt, S. (2009). The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center model for long-term systems change. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 29(1), 24-39, 2009. doi: 10.1177/0271121409334039
  15. Fixsen, D., Blase, K., Horner, R., & Sugai, G. (2009b). Concept paper: Developing the capacity for scaling up the effective use of evidence based practices in state departments of education. Retrieved from
  16. Trohanis, P. (2001). Design considerations for state TA systems. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Center, National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System.
  17. Bertram, R., Blase, K. & Fixsen, D. (2015). Improving programs and outcomes: Implementation frameworks and organizational change. Research on Social Work Practice, 25(4), 477-48.
  18. Aarons, G., Hulbert, M. and Horwitz, S. (2011). Advancing a conceptual model for evidence practice implementation in public service sectors. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 38(1), 4-23.
  19. Langley, G., Moen, R., Nolan, K., Nolan, T., Norman, C. & Provost, L. (Eds.) (2009). The improvement guide: A practical approach to enhancing organizational performance (2nd Ed). San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.
  20. Kasprzak, C., Hebbeler, K., & Spiker, D. (2019). A state system framework for high-quality early intervention and early childhood special education. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. Retrieved from
  21. Fullan, M. (2002). The change leader. Retrieved from
  22. Kendrick, M., Jones, D., Bezanson, L., & Petty, R. (2006). Key components of systems change. Retrieved from
  23. Gross, B., Jochim, A. & Nafziger, D. (2013). New challenges, new mindsets, new disciplines: Transforming the SEA into a modern performance organization. Retrieved from