Assessing Your Internal Environment
A literacy agency exists to fulfill a particular mission and to provide particular services in a particular way. Its success greatly depends on certain strengths within the agency itself. To assess your agency’s strengths and weaknesses, you will need to look closely at the internal environment, i.e. everything contained within the walls of the organization. The objective is to gather information that describes the agency in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of its resources, its current practices and strategies, and its performance. You want to know what you do that affects the agency’s success and failure. To that end, you want good data on what you have in the way of resources, what the agency does, and how well it carries out day-to-day operations.
An agency’s internal resources include the people it hires, its revenue, the information it has access to and uses, its physical facility, the programs and services it offers, and the working environment or workplace culture.
Every agency has unique strategies and particular ways of operating its programs and services. Examples include: policies and procedures that guide decision-making, practices followed for daily operations, how program services are delivered, how planning occurs, how professional development takes place, how programs and services are marketed and how the agency connects with key stakeholders including the local community. All of these practices must also be examined with an eye to inherent strengths and weaknesses.
You will want to look at the agency’s record of achievement. An agency’s history is an important piece of the puzzle and continues to influence the agency’s current operations. You will want some data on the agency’s past record of success as well as information on challenges it continues to face year after year.
Be aware that some of the information that comes back to you will be very concrete in nature (for example, statistics) and easily verified (i.e., the number of computers available for learners) but other data will reflect the opinions, values, preferences and prejudices of the participants. Obviously, that information is much more subjective in nature and not so easily substantiated. Do not be dismayed by this as both forms of information have real value. Learning how the inner workings of your agency are actually perceived by stakeholders can let you see how certain changes could lead to significant improvements.
Specifically, you want to find out:
- What agency resources, skills and abilities help the agency accomplish its mission
- What gaps, deficiencies or weaknesses hold the agency back or have a detrimental effect on success
Basically, you will bring those two questions to bear on various aspects of your organization’s internal environment. For example:
Internal resources: You want to know about the strengths and weaknesses you have with regard to your staff (not their individual, personal strengths and weaknesses but professional competencies – what they as a resource bring to the agency), funding, access to and use of information, the location and design of the physical facility, other resources that are available to the program, and the overall workplace culture.
Current strategies: You want to learn about strengths and weaknesses with regard to how the agency operates in the day-to-day work of running the agency. You want to gather evidence of strengths and weaknesses in the agency’s policies and procedures, daily program delivery, practitioner support, local coordination of services, and program outreach and marketing. Much of this information is available from your agency program monitoring reports and visits.
Performance: You want to know what the measurements are for success and how you are doing in those areas. For example, how funders as well as the board of directors, the local community and other stakeholders recognize program success and how your agency measures up.
In short, you will discover:
- How these internal factors affect agency success
- What is having a positive impact
- What is having a detrimental effect
How you go about it
To gather information, we recommend conducting a SWOT analysis to look at your agency’s:
“SW” activities are used to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the internal environment. “OT” activities reveal opportunities and threats that exist in the external environment. There are a number of approaches you can use to gather this SWOT information.
For example, you could:
- Conduct personal interviews one-on-one
- Create a survey or questionnaire and send out by email
- Moderate a private online discussion
- Host a focus group discussion
- Use as a board meeting or professional development activity with everyone together working in pairs, in small groups, or in one large group
- Examine labour market reports, environmental scans and other reports
- Review information distributed by your regional network on local service coordination
For more information, click here to read a useful article called “How To Conduct a SWOT Analysis”:www.charityvillage.com/cv/research/rstrat19.html.
Internal Environment Scan – Sample Questions
The following questions are examples of the kinds of questions you might ask during the internal portion of your SWOT analysis. These sample questions have been effective for other literacy agencies; however, don’t be afraid to modify them for your own purposes. The better the fit in terms of questions you choose to ask, the more accurate the data will be for your agency. Also, remember you will not need to use all these questions but hopefully some will strike you as important for your information-gathering purposes. They can be used as questions for focus groups, for one-to-one interviews, for large group brainstorming, or for developing a survey or written questionnaire.
- What strengths do staff and volunteers bring to our literacy agency?
- What weaknesses related to staff or volunteers tend to hold the agency back?
- What programs and services can we successfully offer within current budgets?
- Are other funding opportunities available?
- Is our agency effective in making important information readily available and accessible to all stakeholders?
- What are the advantages of our program location?
- What are the disadvantages of our program location?
- What are the strengths of the working relationship between staff, volunteers and board members?
- What improvements are needed?
- What are our agency’s administrative strengths and weaknesses?
- What improvements in administrative practices are needed?
- What strengths does our agency have with regard to program delivery?
- What challenges do we face with regard to program delivery?
- What recommendations can you make with regard to these challenges?
Planning and Coordination
- How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses of our agency in identifying the literacy needs of our community?
- How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses of our agency in responding to changes in the local labour market or to other changes in the community?
- How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses of our agency with regard to collaborative planning and coordination with other stakeholders?
Marketing and Outreach
- How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses of our agency with regard to marketing to potential clients?
- How would you describe the strengths and weaknesses of our agency with regard to outreach in the local community?
- What improvements could be made?
- What do current statistics and data tell us about our agency’s current success and areas of challenge?
What do you do with the information?
Once you have collected feedback from stakeholders on your agency’s internal strengths and weaknesses, you need to collate, organize, and summarize the information concisely in writing for later use. Once your assessment of the internal environment is complete, you are ready to move on to the opportunities and threats that exist for your agency in the external environment.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- What is likely to be the best way to gather information on the internal environment in your agency (i.e. focus groups, surveys, large group session, etc.)?
- Who are the key stakeholders that need to be involved in assessing your internal environment and what is the best way to engage them in this process?
- Of the above sample questions, which ones are the most important questions for your agency to ask? Why?