Cover: Building Organizational and Individual Capacities in State and Local Education Agencies

Building Organizational and Individual Capacities in State and Local Education Agencies

The First Five Years of the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety

Published Sep 27, 2023

by Susan Bush-Mecenas, Ashley Woo, Stephani L. Wrabel, Sabrina Lee, Brian Kim

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Research Questions

  1. How did CISELSS develop and modify its structures for technical assistance to build the capacity of SEAs and LEAs?
  2. How and to what extent did CISELSS's support build the organizational and individual capacities of SEA and LEA technical assistance recipients?

Providing and using technical assistance for capacity building within educational agencies is a complex endeavor. The U.S. Department of Education funds technical assistance centers to support state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) in the capacity-building process. Established in 2018, the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety (CISELSS) was charged with providing support to and building the capacity of SEAs and LEAs to implement social and emotional learning and school safety–related policies, programs, and practices. 

In this report, the authors review the literature on organizational and individual capacities and develop a conceptual framework that ties these capacities with common aspects of technical assistance provision. Using this framework, they describe how CISELSS designed and implemented its technical assistance, as well as the technical assistance recipients' existing, desired, and built organizational and individual capacities and capacity-building experiences. The analyses presented in this report reveal important insights and implications for technical assistance providers.

Key Findings

  • CISELSS made purposeful efforts to define and organize supports for SEAs and LEAs around five focal areas. Clearly identifying focal areas and differentiating methods of capacity building within those focal areas was a beneficial strategy to improve coherence across technical assistance offerings.
  • CISELSS's efforts to assess needed capacities and readiness for change among prospective technical assistance recipients were underdeveloped. Pre-identifying target capacities and ensuring recipients have the prerequisite capacities to fully engage with the planned support may improve the effectiveness of technical assistance.
  • CISELSS was responsive to the needs of its technical assistance recipients and sought to integrate elements of co-design in its work. While co-design allowed for greater input from recipients on preferred activities, this approach to technical assistance led to limited clarity among recipients. Technical assistance co-design, when used, may be best suited as a component of the planning phase rather than the implementation phase of support.
  • Technical assistance recipients identified individual capacities and access to expertise as existing strengths. They desired additional support in developing organizational capacities. CISELSS's support helped technical assistance participants develop individual capacity, organizational skills, access to expertise, shared goals, organizational culture, and organizational alignment. Focusing on organizational skills rather than just individual skills may provide for more-sustainable capacity within organizations, particularly those facing the intractable challenge of staff turnover.

Research conducted by

This report was sponsored by WestEd and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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