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Your Introductory Guide to OA

Over the past few years, we have received many questions about the rationale, process, and management of OAs from participants in organizational assessment (OA) processes or training courses on OA, or from visitors to this website.  If you have a question that is not answered here, please write to us and we will answer it.

On this page:
What is an Organizational Assessment?
Why Conduct an Organizational Assessment?
Who Should Conduct Your Organizational Assessment?
What Are the Qualities of a Good Organizational Assessment Team?
How Long Will it Take to Conduct Your Organizational Assessment?
How Much Will Your Organizational Assessment Cost?
Who Will Use Your Organizational Assessment?
How to Manage Your Internally Conducted Organizational Assessment (a self-assessment)
How to Manage Your Externally Conducted Organizational Assessment
          - How to Write Terms of Reference (ToRs)
          - How to Review Workplans
          - How to Review Draft Reports
          - How to Review Management Responses
Download a Complete Guide on How to Manage an Organizational Assessment

What is an Organizational Assessment?

An organizational assessment (OA) can be defined as a systematic process for obtaining valid information about the performance of an organization and the factors that affect performance.  It is conducted in order to demonstrate areas of competence, areas for improvement, and possible risks, help support investment and restructuring decisions.

An OA differs from other types of evaluations (such as policy, program, and project evaluations) because the assessment aims to understand performance of a different unit of analysis, i.e. the performance of an organization, not the performance of a project, a program, or a policy.

Many organizations pose the question, "How are we doing?" OA serves as a tool that responds to this question - telling you how you are doing, what you are doing well and why you are perhaps not achieving what you would like.

In sum, an organizational assessment can be compared to a physical exam - in this case it is your organization undergoing a "physical" to identify strengths and weaknesses. We support the idea that organizational assessments should be a normal internal feedback process. Thus, we encourage organizations to build internal organizational assessment capabilities. In addition, we recognize that from time to time, external funders and\or Boards of Directors require external reviewers to assess organizations. In such cases, it is important to know how to manage these external processes.

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Why Conduct an Organizational Assessment?

There are a variety of reasons why organizations conduct organizational assessments:

1.  At any point in time, an OA can be useful in identifying an organization's strengths and weaknesses. OA may form part of a cycle that includes both planning and feedback mechanisms.  OA is often used to:

  • Provide stakeholders with information about the organization's performance
    e.g. to demonstrate organizational competence for funders
  • Generate information that will be useful in planning and decision-making
    e.g. to evaluate partnerships with other organizations
  • Identify resources (human and other) that the organization can use to effectively improve its performance
  • Identify needs that should be addressed through specific actions
  • Respond to a need or desire to change an organization's performance

    e.g. to diagnose areas of possible investments for change

2. At certain stages of development, when an organization is reaching a turning point in its history, an OA can provide the appropriate mechanism and process for reflecting about appropriate paths for the future.  For example, organizations may need help in making certain types of decisions, such as:

  • Strategic decisions: Should you grow? Merge? Shrink? Change your mission?
  • Program decisions: Should you expand your programs? Integrate two or more of them? Should you offer new services?
  • Financial feasibility decisions: Should new investors be sought? Should you diversify your funding sources and if so, how? Should new approaches to fundraising be identified?
  • Staffing decisions: Should you hire staff with different skills to support your mission? Should you let some staff go and if so, who?

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Who Should Conduct an Organizational Assessment?

There is no easy answer to this question. Organizations are complex systems that incorporate many areas of expertise. In general, we recommend that a team of at least two individuals from within the organization undertake the OA, or support the external team brought in to conduct an OA. These individuals should understand the context within which the organization is operating and should be able to generate systematic information on the programmatic performance of the organization, the efficiency of the management systems, and the norms and values that drive the organization.

A key part of the planning phase for organizational assessment is to determine if the assessment will be conducted internally (self-assessment), externally (by contracting an external assessment team), or through an approach that combines both internal and external resources. In all cases, you must determine the roles and responsibilities of the organization's stakeholders in the process. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these types of exercises:

If the assessment is conducted by members of the organization:

  • Advantage: There will be greater ownership of the process
  • Drawback: There will be a greater commitment of staff time: time to learn evaluation skills and time to conduct the evaluation

If the assessment is conducted with the aid of external evaluators and facilitators:

  • Advantages: Less use of staff resources; More organizational evaluation experience
  • Drawbacks: Higher financial cost; Less ownership within the organization

For more details on managing externally conducted organizational assessments, select one of the links below:
How to Manage Your Externally Conducted Organizational Assessment
          - How to Write Terms of Reference (ToRs)
          - How to Review Workplans
          - How to Review Draft Reports
          - How to Review Management Responses

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What are the Qualities of a Good Organizational Assessment Team?

Ideally the team - be it external, internal, or a mix of both - should have:

  • Credibility: Recognition from the main stakeholders and members of the organization, while having the right balance of authority, responsibility, insight and knowledge of the organization.
  • Technical know-how: Understanding of the OA approach, knowledge about the organization's programs and services, and data analysis skills.
  • Objectivity: Ability to balance the perspectives of different people.
  • Communication skills: Ability to communicate the results of the OA in a manner easily understood by all parties.
  • Interpersonal skills: Ability to interact with all parties in a sensitive and effective manner and ability to work as part of a team.
  • Availability: Availability to conduct the OA and willingness to commit time to working on it.

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How Long Will it Take to Conduct an Organizational Assessment?

An organizational assessment is a commitment of time and energy. It should provide you with the knowledge of how to improve the performance of your organization. However, it is difficult to estimate how long it should take, as the length of the process depends on a number of variables:

  • The number of strategic issues (such as the ongoing relevance of the organization's mission given recent changes in the external context) you wish to explore
  • The type of data you need and their accessibility
  • The availability of staff to be involved in the process
  • The type of report you wish to present

All of these factors will affect the duration of the process. In addition, you might want to consider the depth of the data collection that is possible within the time frame that you have to complete the OA.

The depth of the data collection refers to the quantity of information that you need to understand any one strategic issue. This may not be obvious at the planning stage. As you begin to collect data on an issue, you may identify the need for more information. The deeper you go, the more you will uncover. The process will need to be guided by considerations of time, resources, availability of new data and the importance of any new issues emerging during the process.

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How Much Will an Organizational Assessment Cost?

The cost of an organizational assessment is not strictly determined monetarily. The total cost also includes staff members' time (opportunity costs), the technology involved, and access to information.

Cost also depends on who conducts the assessment. An externally-conducted assessment will usually be more expensive. The cost of an assessment also depends on the number of issues that are included and how deep the assessment is supposed to go.

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Who Will Use the Organization Assessment?

Ideally, before conducting an OA you will have identified the audience for the Assessment.  The audience will determine the scope of the OA as well as the results expected. Once you have identified the audience, it will be easier for you to identify their needs and expectations. Essentially, you will know what they are looking for. You will need to communicate with the audience throughout the OA process so that they have opportunities to validate preliminary findings and conclusions.

There are two types of audiences that will use the results of an OA:

Inside your Organization: Your Board of Directors and/or other senior officials will find the results of your OA useful in their strategic management or organizational change efforts. In addition, the results of the OA may help your colleagues (professionals and staff) improve decisions or their understanding as it relates to their roles and responsibilities.

Outside your Organization: If your organization has donors or investors, the results of the OA allow them to better understand the effects of their investments on your organization. If you collaborate with other organizations or provide services to client groups or beneficiaries, the OA results allow them to better understand the relationship they have with your organization.

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How to Manage Your Internally Conducted Organizational Assessment (a Self-Assessment process)

You first need to form a self-assessment team to guide the process. Self-assessment teams have two major roles: strategic and operational. In some cases, you will need to have two separate teams; in other cases, one team with two distinct roles. Regardless of the structure, it is important to select team members carefully, according to the role to be fulfilled.

The strategic role will require people to provide guidelines and directions for the process and will oversee its overall quality. The operational role will require people to be more involved in the data collection, analysis and reporting.

The skills required for the roles are quite different, and several factors will influence your selection of team members: their availability, the complexity of the assessment questions, and the purpose and the scope of the self-assessment.

Although the same individuals may play both strategic and operational roles on the self-assessment team, it is important to recognize that certain responsibilities will be more important at some stages of the process and less important at others. The strategic responsibilities are more conceptual; the operational responsibilities, more hands-on.

The size of the self-assessment team will also be important. Enough people should be present to provide a range of views, but not so many that it becomes difficult to make decisions. How decisions will be made and who will make them should be agreed on early in the process and will depend on the types of decisions to be made.

We invite you to consult our Self-Assessment Tools database to find a tool that will help you manage your internally conducted OA.

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How to Manage an Externally Conducted Organizational Assessment

In this section:
- How to Write Terms of Reference (ToRs)
- How to Review Workplans
- How to Review Draft Reports
- How to Review Management Responses


                                                 How to Write Terms of Reference (ToRs)

TORs are expected to:

  1. Profile the organization being assessed and the types of investments that have been made by it;
  2. Identify reasons for the OA;
  3. Establish scope and focus;
  4. Determine accountabilities and responsibilities; and
  5. Set out the process to be followed and the deliverables.

They also identify consultant qualifications, set scheduling and time frames, and provide a budget for conducting the OA.

The easiest way to develop TORs is to develop an outline like the one shown below and then fill it in as you proceed.

TOR outline



1. Title

  • The title should be short and descriptive and include the name of the organization being assessed (i.e., not a project).
  • Examples of title: Organizational Review of the University ABC

2. Background

  • Provide a profile of the organization including the following components: mandate, history, framework for gender equality, operational framework, targeted beneficiaries, major changes, reach, funding and results achieved.
  • It should also specify the type of investment made in the organization (grant, contribution agreement) and how long it has supported the organization.

3. Context

  • Describe the major contextual forces (global, regional, national) and any recent or current developments in the external context that affect the work of the organization or are likely to do so.

4. Reasons for Review

  • Describe the organization's interest in and rationale for the assessment (e.g., risk management, learning opportunity, accountability, program cycle).

5. Scope and Focus

  • Clearly indicate the scope and focus of the OA. These can vary tremendously, depending on the needs, the reasons for the review, and the resources available.
  • The Scope is the broad areas that the OA will examine, and typically includes one or more of the following: the organization's external context, motivation, capacity, performance, gaps or challenges, rationale for the organization's support.
  • Within the performance and capacity areas, special attention should be given to the organization crosscutting themes of gender equality and environmental sustainability.
  • The Focus comprises questions central to the issues identified in the scope, and should include specific evaluation questions.

6. Stakeholder participation

  • Identify stakeholders and how they will participate in the OA (beneficiaries, ministries in recipient countries, other donors, partners). Indicate if a Steering Committee will be established for the OA, and, if so, who will participate on that committee.

7. Accountabilities, roles & responsibilities

  • Outline the OA roles and responsibilities for: the organization staff, the organization, the consultant(s) and, if applicable, the Steering Committee.

8. OA process

  • Indicate how the overall assessment will be carried out and provide adequate detail to inform the workplan (should include, for example, the development of a workplan, reporting requirements, and field missions, if any are planned).

9. Deliverables and Milestones

  • Indicate the timeframes for the workplan, ongoing progress reports throughout the OA, and specify the dates when reports are due.

10. Consultant Qualifications

  • Outline the experience, expertise, and language capacities that are desired in the consultants who will carry out the OA.

11. Cost parameters for the OA

  • Provide an estimate of the total cost (or a range) for the OA. This is a figure that includes all fees, travel, expenses, and incidentals.

Source: Adapted from the "Guide for Developing Terms of Reference for Organizational Assessment of CEE Branch Partners" Revised June 29, 2001.

Please click on the link below to see examples of OA questions:

Please click on the links below to see examples of TORs:

Here is also an example of joint evaluation TORs:

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                                             How to Review Workplans

It is important to have a basic understanding of the process of developing a workplan and the key elements in a typical OA workplan.

Workplans often take several weeks to develop. The consultant will need to collect preliminary information, review documents, consult with key organizational members and funders, and identify the best data available to answer the questions identified in the TORs.

Workplans, like TORs, generally follow a relatively standard outline, as shown in the table below. Not all the requirements will be applicable in all cases - less formal OAs may take a more abbreviated approach.

OA Workplan Outline


Content Description

1. Introduction

  • OA Purpose
  • Organization profile: mandate, mission, policies, history, programming, strategies, operational framework, beneficiaries, linkages to other organizations
  • Performance: results achieved to date, reach of programming
  • Funding: the organization and/or other donors
  • Identification of stakeholders and audiences for the OA

2. Objectives

  • Scope and Foci / Key issues to be addressed (developed from TORs)
  • Intended uses of the OA by both the organization and its partners

3. Methodology

  • Overall Approach
  • OA Framework or Matrix
  • Data Sources, Methods of Data Collection, Methods of Data Analysis, Indicators
  • Risks and/or Limitations

4. OA Management

  • OA Team Members
  • Responsibilities and Accountabilities: organization's staff, consultant, organization, government ministries, other donors
  • Work Schedule
  • Level of Effort
  • Budget

5. Reporting Requirements

  • Progress Updates
  • Draft Report
  • Final Report

6. Appendices

  • Appendix I - Terms of Reference
  • Appendix II - OA Framework/Matrix
  • Appendix III - CVs of OA Team
  • Appendix IV - Proposed Field Mission Itinerary

Once the consultant has completed the workplan and submitted a draft to you, you will need to review it and determine if it meets the needs outlined in the TORs.

Please click on the links below to see examples of workplans prepared by Universalia:

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                                          How to Review Draft Reports

The draft OA report constitutes an important milestone in the OA process. Reviewing and responding to the draft report is not only an obligation for the organization officer, it is also an important opportunity to identify factual errors and gaps, as well as areas that require clarification or modification.

When phrasing a response to an OA report it is important to keep in mind that the OA is an independent process, and that the OA team is free to make its own judgments, so long as they are based on accurate and transparent data.

This checklist can be a helpful tool for reviewing both the draft and final OA reports and assessing the extent to which they meet the organization's needs and expectations. Please note that the categories provided in the checklist are suggestions - not all of them may be relevant or applicable in each case.  Click here to access the OA report checklist.  Other report outlines are available here.

Please find below some examples of final reports:

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                                   How to Review Management Responses

Although a "management response" to the OA is optional, current management practice suggests that organizations should formally document their response to an organizational assessment.

The management response should include a narrative overview of the organization's perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the OA, the methodology, the OA process, and the overall findings. It could also identify how the organization intends to follow up on each of the OA recommendations, and provide both a rationale for the decision and the potential organizational implications of such a decision.

It is recommended that the management response be presented in a table format such as the one suggested below, as this will facilitate subsequent monitoring by both you and the organization.

OA Recommendation

Management Response

Commitments / Actions

Responsibility Centre

Target Completion date

Recommendation 1

Accept/do not accept OR agree/disagree? Why?

What is organization going to do about it?  What are the organizational implications?

Who will do it?

By when?

Recommendation 2





Monitoring follow-up

Although it is not a requirement, it is good practice for the officer to monitor the organization's follow up on its commitments to implement the OA recommendations, as presented in the management response.

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Complete Guide on How to Manage Organizational Assessment

For more details on how to manage an Organizational Assessment (OA), you can download the "Organizational Assessment Guide" (2006) of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  Prepared by CIDA's Evaluation Division Performance and Knowledge Management Branch and by Universalia, this guide intends to guide and facilitate carrying OAs. It provides a "common framework for consistent application and guidelines for achieving an organization's capacities, its 'track record' in demonstrating performance, its ability to function effectively within its external environment, [...]." (CIDA, 2006)


"The CIDA Organizational Assessment Guide serves as an ideal companion piece to CIDA's guide on 'How to perform evaluations'. It is intended for use by Agency staff and consultants involved in the performance of organizational assessments. This easy-to-follow reference sets out a consistent and comprehensive approach to organizational assessment planning and design, implementation, reporting and the sharing of results." CIDA, 2006

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