Participatory Institutional Analysis

An Organizational Capacity Development Framework and Toolkit

What is Participatory Institutional Analysis?

World Learning's unique performance assessment tool, Participatory Institutional Analysis (PIA), has grown out of World Learning's extensive work with non-profit organizations worldwide. The PIA is used when it is important to understand the level of development or the capacity of an organization and the most important things that need attention to build capacity and increase effectiveness. The PIA works as a powerful diagnostic tool; by clearly indicating the gaps that exist, it can serve as a guide to what should be in place.

PIA is a facilitated self-assessment that culminates in a strategic action plan, which provides a roadmap for an organization’s journey toward enhanced capacity and performance. PIA contributes to the sustainability and sustainable impact of an organization. Using the PIA framework over time, users first establish baseline measures for later monitoring and evaluation – essential to show progress or trends over time. PIA involves a full spectrum of organizational stakeholders, directly or by proxy.

What does Participatory Institutional Analysis Examine?

PIA is rooted in the understanding that organizations have certain competency areas that they must maintain and develop in order to be strong, effective, efficient and ultimately sustainable. PIA analyzes an organization's state of development in seven major competency areas that support the eighth core area of service delivery to the organization’s constituents (please see image 1 below):

PIA Wheel-Service Delivery in center, surrounded by Governance; Operations; Human Resources; Financial Resources; External Relations & Advocady; Monitoring & Evaluation; Sub-grant Administration


The PIA is a flexible tool which can be adapted to different operating environments, types or sizes of organizations and their specific needs. For example, organizations may choose to focus only on some of the competency areas above, or may identify additional areas for analysis. In addition, the PIA process may be adapted to the subtlety of the organization and to include as many staff members and stakeholders as the organization deems needed for its performance analysis.

Why Conduct Participatory Institutional Analysis?

In addition to using PIA to determine strategies to build the capacity of an organization, the organization may also use PIA (or sections of it) for other purposes, such as: to organize scarce resources; to develop systems, procedures, and functional manuals; to prepare reports; to develop training plans; or to develop an organization monitoring and evaluation plan. PIA may also be used more than once to compare change over time, or to set baseline measures for later monitoring and evaluation.

In addition, the process of PIA itself helps organization staff develop skills and knowledge related to management and organizational development. Organizations have found that experiencing PIA can be a more effective form of learning for managers and decision-makers than some classroom trainings in management and organizational development. Classroom trainings are often generic and emphasize the development of individual skills rather than focusing on the institutional context within which new skills and knowledge are actually applied.

Finally, PIA, conducted with the involvement of a full range of stakeholders, can make a significant contribution to the sustainability of an organization. When a range of stakeholders are involved in the PIA process, the organization is shaped by and responsive to the clients it serves.

Attestation of PIA benefits:

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to World Learning for introducing us to your participatory approach/tool in organizational capacity assessment, PIA, which is very...very interesting and more practical as well as productive. The tool is simply a mirror which shows the real image/capacity as well as gaps of the organizations. We have got an amazing experiences and almost "on job training" from World Learning team. Moreover, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all your endeavor in enhancing the capacity of EHACA ahead more,” Teamer Misganaw, Executive Director, EHACA, Ethiopia, an organization that implemented PIA.

How Does Participatory Institutional Analysis Work?

The graphic below illustrates the core process of PIA. The five basic steps are conducted in full partnership with the organization, facilitated by external or internal facilitator(s).

PIA Chart-Step 1: Engagement; Step 2: Data Collection; Step 3: Data Analysis; Step 4: Prioritization & Planning; Step 5: Feedback & Reporting


Read full text of graphic


Levels of Organizational Capacity Development

PIA classifies the progress of organizations into four stages of development, from “early/start-up” to “mature:”

Early/Start-up: General characteristics of an organization at this stage may include: few individuals involved; not much history; small; not yet stable or rooted.

Developing: General characteristics of an organization at this stage may include: growing fast; high energy and enthusiasm; highly focused on delivering services and less concerned about administrative structure and functions; a lot of learning on the part of the key actors.

Integrating/Consolidating: General characteristics of an organization at this stage may include: High quality service delivery; increased focus on administrative structure and organizational development; integration of accumulated learning into the organization as standards, traditions and policies.

Mature: General characteristics of an organization at this stage may include: High performance in all basic competency areas; solid practices fully internalized/embedded.

PIA On-line Orientation

To learn more about the PIA principles and implementation process, you can take our PIA Orientation course.