Capacity Development and Building
Abstract and Keywords
As a profession, social workers must understand and work well within the realms of capacity development. This understanding is important because it provides a foundation for working at the micro and macro levels to engage communities, organizations, systems, and individuals. However, the complexity of capacity development has made it difficult for social workers to fully engage from this stance. This entry discusses the historical development of capacity development and building while linking it to social justice. It also provides a theoretical perspective and methods for understanding and utilizing capacity development and building in social-work practice.
Capacity Development: Introduction and History
Capacity development is an emerging professional field (Ubels, Acquaye-Baddoo, & Fowler, 2010) that has developed in response to the plethora of challenges including, but not limited to, environmental change, agriculture, education, and physical and mental-health services. Although capacity development occurs on multiple levels from micro to macro (discussed later under theoretical approaches), both in its genesis and in its current state, the field has been shaped primarily by community development efforts. It has existed throughout history in the form of collective efforts of families, communities, and governments to improve not only economic circumstances but also individual, family, community, and societal quality of life.
Capacity Development: Origin and Definitions
The earliest roots of this field can be traced back to locally supported initiatives to address social needs and philanthropy in communities. During the early 1600s, the Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam established the first community-based welfare program in the current United States. It was a voluntary collection for distribution among the poor and needy (Brueggemann, 2012; Stern & Axinn, 2010). As early as the 17th century, workers began organizing themselves in unions to increase bargaining leverage for better work benefits and improved quality of life, which laid the foundation for locally organized community development (Brueggemann; Stern & Axinn).
The emergence of this field has occurred within the context of major economic and political changes, thereby complicating our ability to understand the nature and complexity of capacity development. The earliest formal capacity development projects can be found during the post–World War II period. During this time, industrialized countries responded to the far-reaching devastation and ruins left in the wake of the war by initiating assistance programs for less developed countries (Batten, 1957; Cary, 1983; Cawley, 1989; Sanders, 1970, as cited in Wise & Andrews, 1998). Similarly, Lingam (2012) points out that some colonial and precolonial writings seem to reflect writers’ ideas that developed societies possessed certain characteristics such as education (a micro-level capacity), extension of liberty, and a stable political system (Lingam). During this time period, some societies were considered more rational than others and those that were not considered rational were perceived to need assistance and guidance from more developed societies (Lingam). It is important to understand this specific aspect of the origins of capacity development because at the core of these beliefs lay the foundations and justifications for the colonization and control held over different people, cultures, and their societies. Historically, this belief has been subtly embedded in capacity development work. International capacity development efforts have often involved training or teaching knowledge and skills that developing countries were presumed to be lacking (Pearson, 2011b). Furthermore, aid relationships have brought with them a built-in level of discrepancy around resources and expertise (European Centre for Development Policy Management [ECDPM], 2008). Thus, capacity development as a field has emerged alongside a struggle between societal welfare causes and social justice struggles.
The global focus on capacity development has been expanding. Organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, and the World Bank have been key players in the global capacity development movement. Extensive research and community work has been conducted in an attempt to maximize utility of the money invested in development (ECDPM, 2008; Pearson, 2011b). Academic or university community outreach efforts and research have also aided in this process. Although previous conventions such as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) have brought forth the importance of capacity development, the Accra Third High Level Forum (2008) is what truly solidified the focus on capacity development. The Accra agenda for action references capacity in six different themes—namely technical cooperation, enabling environment constraints, capacity of country systems, capacity in sector strategies, the capacity development role of civil society, and capacity development in fragile situations (Pearson).
Capacity Development Defined
There has been much debate in recent years regarding the definition and purpose of capacity development, as is the case in any new area of work or study (Ubels et al., 2010). This uncertainty in the definition of capacity development is partly attributable to the fact that capacity development is both the process and the product (Goodman et al., 1998; Pearson, 2011a) and that it is often hidden under the umbrella of community development (for example, Weil, Reisch, & Ohmer, 2012), which forms a major portion of capacity development efforts, and that it is ever changing in nature (Wise & Andrews, 1998).
To understand capacity development, it is imperative to first clearly define and comprehend the concept of development and the construct it targets—namely “capacity.” Capacity can be seen as potential for output. Ubels et al. (2010) present a succinct and widely applicable definition of capacity: “Capacity is the ability of a human system to perform, sustain itself and self-renew” (p. 4). (For a more detailed explanation and a sampling of definitions of capacity presented by various authors, see Ubels et al.)
An element missing in this definition, but addressed almost everywhere else, is the contribution of the context in which human systems are able to develop and express self-sustenance. According to Chaskin (2001), community capacity building is “the interaction of human capital, organizational resources, and social capital existing within a given community that can be leveraged to solve collective problems, and improve or maintain the wellbeing of that community” (p. 295). Although Chaskin’s definition of community capacity building (here it has not been differentiated from capacity development) more accurately reflects an acknowledgement of environmental and personal resources in capacity development, it defines capacity building as the potential for development, or capacity. Otoo, Agapitova, and Behrens (2009) clarify the concept of capacity by distinguishing between capacity for development and capacity development. According to Otoo et al., “Capacity for development is the availability of resources and the efficiency and effectiveness with which societies deploy those resources to identify and pursue their development goals on a sustainable basis” (p. 3).
They identified the following three important subthemes in this definition:
1. The availability of resources: This refers to social capital, financial, and technical resources.
2. Effectiveness and efficiency (context): Embedded within this subtheme is the understanding that it is important to pay attention to the extent to which sociopolitical, organizational factors (donor, acting agencies as well as community), governmental policy, and cultural policy allow capacity development efforts to thrive (Otoo et al., 2009; World Bank, 2002). These intangible resources are also referred to as “capacity factors” (Otoo et al.).
3. Sustainability: This implies that capacity development efforts must be learning oriented (a foundational concept of the Capacity Development Results Framework [CDRF]), thereby allowing local actors to replicate, scale up, modify, and use their learning to assist them in solving other problems in the future. For example, there should have been a long-term gain in capacity and not a short-term solution to a problem. This also reflects a significant shift in theoretical views of capacity development, reflected later in the section on theoretical foundations.
Thus, increasing the capacity for development involves multisystemic change that results in the increased availability of resources and an environment conducive to capacity development.
That brings us to the question—What is capacity development? According to Otoo et al. (2009, p. 3), “Capacity development is a locally driven process of learning by leaders, coalitions and other agents of change that brings about changes in sociopolitical, policy-related, and organizational factors to enhance local ownership for and the effectiveness and efficiency of efforts to achieve a development goal.” The key elements of this definition (addressed in greater detail under cross-cutting issues) are learning, coalitions and local ownership, and capacity factors promoting efficacy.
Having addressed capacity and capacity development as distinct but interrelated concepts, it is also important to note that the terms capacity and capacity development or building are nearly inseparable, with each being embedded within the other. The consistent threads in any definition of capacity and, therefore, of capacity development include acknowledgement of the following:
1. At a basic level, capacity involves the ability to perform but is also the ability to sustain the capacity to perform and the ability to expand that capacity in the face of stressors (capacity development) and thereby show resiliency.
2. Definitions of capacity itself have differed depending on whether the definition refers to the capacity of an organization, an individual, a group of people, a society, a family, etc., or, as Ubels et al. (2010) astutely observe, human systems of any kind. It also differs on the need or goal to be fulfilled.
3. Capacity is not static but dynamic. It is a potential for output that can grow or diminish depending on the resources, support, and obstacles encountered (Labonte & Laverack, 2001, as cited in Traverso-Yepez, Maddalena, Bavington, & Donovan, 2012).
4. Because every human system interacts with and exists in a mutually influential relationship with its environment, with larger human systems and subsystems, it is inherently relational.
5. As Jones and Silva (1991) accurately observe, a capacity development initiative not only assesses and addresses the problem but also builds the community’s own capacity to deal with the problem in the future (Wise & Andrews, 1998).
As reflected in the definition above, wherein both individual and relational learning and change are seen as the primary strategic instruments of change, capacity development can also be seen as an extension of human development itself. As previously noted, the concept of development can be traced as far back as the 17th century. The most notable point of emergence of the term “development” as it is used in the context relevant to this subject matter can be found in the writings of Saint-Simon in the early 1800s when intentional development was differentiated from and almost seems to have come into existence as a contradiction to prevalent ideas of the instinctive and natural process of growth (Lingam, 2012). A commonly accepted and widely influential definition of development in the context of individuals was proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1979):
Human development is the process through which the growing person acquires a more extended, differentiated and valid conception of the ecological environment, and becomes motivated and able to engage in activities that reveal the properties of, sustain, or restructure that environment at levels of similar or greater complexity in form and content. (p. 27, as cited in Leonard, 2011)
Bronfenbrenner referred to an ecological environment composed of multiple levels of systems surrounding an individual. One of the most important later additions to this model was the acknowledgement that none of these systems exhibits stagnancy or immobility. There is constant interaction between these systems and the individuals and consequently a dynamic nature to it all. This conceptualization has carried forward into our understanding of capacity development as well (Goodman et al., 1998).
Although the terms capacity development and capacity building have been used interchangeably, they carry different inferences. The word “building” implies that the target possesses no preexisting capacities from which to begin. Development, on the other hand, implies growth, honing, use, management, and retention of existing capacity assets (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2008).
The term capacity development occupies a space in the literature that is closely linked to other concepts including, but not limited to, community development, community, human development, and community building. For a more complete and nested understanding of capacity development, it is advisable to comprehend the commonalities and differences among these terms.
Social Justice in Capacity Development
It seems clear that capacity development also has roots in social justice and human rights paradigms. Social justice movements and capacity development can be seen as two sides of the same coin. Capacity development of any kind is seen to be most often used as a tool to bring about social justice—the impetus. The ever-increasing suffering (Solas, 2008) among certain people of the world that could no longer be ignored brought the concept of social justice to light. Social justice is concerned with the subtle perpetuation (Pascale, 2007) of inequalities, through the automatic assignment of unearned privileges and disadvantages (McIntosh, 1998), at all levels of society, that constrain people’s abilities to engage in activities and interactions that result in personal growth and betterment (Killian, 2001, as cited in Seedall, Holtrop, & Parra-Cardona, 2013). It is an idea, a philosophy, an opinion, not a fact (Donnison, 1991, as cited in Solas; O’Brien, 2011).
Social justice perspectives have, particularly since the beginning of the 21st century, become a guiding force in the work of social workers and other mental-health professionals. The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) emphasizes human rights and social justice as fundamental to social work (IFSW, n.d.; O’Brien, 2011). Accordingly, the Federation’s Code of Ethics (1999) delineates the following five ways in which social justice goals are to be incorporated into social work: (a) challenge discrimination that deprives people of growth opportunity and inherent rights; (b) recognize and respect diversity; (c) ensure that resources are distributed equitably; (d) challenge unjust policies and practices of societal structures that endow some people with unearned privileges at the expense of others; and (e) work in solidarity toward a more inclusive society (Solas, 2008).
The fundamental values of freedom, equality, and solidarity adopted by the United Nations as stated in the Millennium Development Goals declaration (United Nations General Assembly, 2000) form the basis of much of the world’s capacity development efforts and research in the early 21st century. That is, the shared responsibility of working to help reduce poverty, child mortality, hunger and malnutrition, violence, oppression, and injustice and to achieve equal access to opportunity have given rise to movements across the globe that focus on improving human capacity to achieve better quality of life (Mark & Nakabugo, 2011). Many community programs are driven by the goal of serving vulnerable populations and alleviating suffering in various forms. In the early 21st century, both governmental and private service organizations have helped communities establish grassroots efforts to address various social problems like poverty, AIDS, domestic violence, and women’s rights.
Although the field of capacity development has its roots in social justice, overt discussions and incorporation of concepts of inequalities, intersections, power, and privilege in this field seem to be inconsistent or primarily alluding to the importance of power relations to the extent that it contributes to behavior change, motivation, and outcomes (UNDP, 2008). The incorporation of explicit theories of social justice in guiding work buffers against the potential harm done by a misguided understanding of social justice (Solas, 2008). One such example, presented by Solas, illustrates a misguided understanding of social justice that led to the belief that one could do right by aboriginal children by having them be raised by White parents or families.
Social justice forms an ethical lens through which one views communities and their capacities. A social justice perspective or framework fosters greater awareness, respect, sensitivity, and compassion for those who are unfairly disadvantaged by discrimination as well as unearned privileges granted to others (Harley, Jolivette, McCormick, & Tice, 2002; Laszloffy & Hardy, 2000, as cited in Seedall et al., 2013). The experiences and beliefs of participants or target communities must be used in developing guidelines for working with that specific community or group. In this way, professionals are able to allow those at the margins to be heard (Seedall et al.). This perspective encourages communities or target groups to be empowered and become the primary agents of change (Doherty, 2000; Seedall et al.), the champions of their own problems and goals. External agents need only lend participants the assistance to be able to tap into their existing capacities and skills. The importance of participant engagement is discussed extensively in professional discourse on best practices in the field of capacity development and is summarized here in the section on methods in capacity development (UNDP, 2008).
Theoretical Foundations in Capacity Development
Theory serves the purpose of providing a lens to clearly see and understand certain phenomena, as well as to guard against unintended negative consequences of engaging with people in ways that may be oppressive or harmful (Weil & Ohmer, 2012). Specifically in the context of capacity development, theory proves most useful in helping us understand how we may be most effective in engaging participants, whether they be individuals, groups, organizations, or communities (Weil & Ohmer).
The field of social work has primarily focused on community development and little has been written on capacity development. Although in practice the overlap between the two may indeed be great, there is a great divide between the professional and theoretical discourse on capacity development between social workers and the multidisciplinary teams of capacity development professionals engaging in extensive work globally. The fact that capacity development as a field, like community development, has its origins in practice (Wise & Andrews, 1998) has resulted in two movements. The first movement seems to have arisen largely from global organizations funneling funds and professional expertise to communities for capacity development. This set of theoretical approaches seems to be primarily concerned with externally aided development processes. This is primarily done using theory to make design and process decisions for a capacity development program. In the second movement, professionals have attempted to adapt theoretical orientations from its constituting fields to capacity development. This set of theoretical approaches closely mimics the use of theory in the mental-health service fields. This is done using theory to understand a phenomenon and then to intervene. This entry attempts to provide an overview of these different but overlapping views on theoretical approaches to capacity development, both of which are relevant in their own way.
Practice Informed Theory in Capacity Development
The field of capacity development has been caught in a state of metamorphosis since the early 1990s with a struggle between objective, results-based approaches and subjective, contextual approaches.
The target of capacity development can be systemic functioning, behaviors, knowledge, and skills that are task specific, occupation specific, or response specific to a crisis. In the past, the focus of capacity development was on providing training that imparted or enhanced required responses, skills, and knowledge depending on the nature of the target problem or development goal. This was in line with the earliest form of the results-based management (RBM) approach, that is, an approach where specifying firm objectives becomes a prerequisite to planning, implementation, and assessment of impact and outcomes of a capacity development program. Here, the focus is on specific results and accountability for those results from the beginning. Hidden in this approach is the assumption that reality is objective and stable and that outcomes of learning can be predicted with a great deal of accuracy. Herein, development workers have found the downfall of such approaches. Indeed, some knowledge and skills may be transmitted easily through teaching or training with the simplicity of an RBM approach. However, successes and failures of capacity development efforts at various levels around the world have shown that this approach to development management based on goals and results works in certain situations but not others. In a working paper for the OECD, Pearson (2011b) provides the following apt example:
For example, RBM would work for a training programme for primary health providers to acquire the knowledge and skills to implement a new vaccination programme. Enabling a geographic region to rebuild its communities and livelihoods following an environmental disaster would, on the other hand, be much better supported by open learning processes that recognized the complexity of the situation and did not impose preconceived notions of the outcome. (p. 13)
Another (and often incorrect) assumption underlying this approach is that higher level objectives can be achieved solely by targeting interventions at individuals (Capacity Collective, 2008). Both these assumptions limit the applicability of this approach because it leaves programs of capacity development unprepared to handle and adapt to the barriers to capacity development imposed by contextual factors including individual learning capacity, overlapping dynamic influences of micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystems, cultural influences, and the often conflicting or misaligned goals of multiple stakeholders. Furthermore, RBM approaches run the risk of restricting capacity development to the realm of skills training. Although change agents may in fact benefit from technical training, this is not always true and is rarely, if ever, sufficient (Pearson, 2011b).
It is important to note that the complexity–predictability debate has resulted in the evolution of RBM approaches. A recent example of the manifestation of the RBM approach that incorporates greater complexity and acknowledgement of contextual factors is seen in the CDRF detailed by Otoo et al. (2009), which incorporates an ecological systems viewpoint by accounting for change actions by various agents of change as well as multiple layers of environmental resources that contribute to the success or failure of capacity development (addressed in greater detail under methods in capacity development). The CDRF was adopted by and incorporated extensively into much programming at the World Bank Institute (Otoo et al.), one of the major actors, donors, and producers of research in this field.
Complexity Theory and Approaches
The social sciences and specifically social work, family studies, and public health fields have long recognized that individual and social capacities are intricately tied to each other and are influenced by every systemic level from micro to macro systems (Poole, 1997). One pioneer of this system of interconnectedness that exists within human societies was Urie Bronfenbrenner. However, well before this, between the late 1800s and early 1900s, Karl Marx observed that mainstream conceptions of development at the time failed to recognize social barriers and the role of social relations at play in the development of productive forces (Lingam, 2012). Society and its well-being, as he pointed out, were composed not simply of transactions of commodities but also of social capital. Such social connections that possess the power to provide resources pertinent to physical, mental, and emotional health and safety are collectively referred to as social capital (Nawyn, Gjokaj, Agbényiga, & Grace, 2012). Thus, capacity is relational as well as political. Power, politics, and a system’s ability to work with and through differences in view and power to achieve effective collaboration are key factors in capacity development.
In the field of capacity development, major stakeholders such as donors and organizations have been moving away from predictability and toward complexity and uncertainty, a view that imparts greater credence to the natural emergence of learning, adaptation, and self-organization (ECDPM, 2008; Pearson, 2011b). From this stance, capacity development programs are participant led and designed to align themselves with existing systemic working and complexities, the barriers of which societies are often inherently equipped to handle. This move toward complexity is comparable to the move toward community-based participatory practice and research found in the mental-health service delivery fields including social work, psychology, and therapy, largely driven by the debate in disparities in health service delivery (Kazdin, 2008). Community-based participatory research stresses the importance of participant-inclusive and participant-led community intervention practice (Burdine, McLeroy, Blakely, Wendel, & Felix, 2010). The key to successful design of capacity development efforts seems to lie in striking a situation-appropriate balance between a results management and a complexity approach such that work is guided by knowledge and theory and retains accountability but does not impose rigid preconceived structures upon participants.
One of the most important assumptions underlying a “complexity” view is that some capacity needs are tightly intertwined in multiple variables including culture and context of participants, thus making it difficult or impossible to predict the outcomes of predetermined development objectives. Any results of intervention will emerge organically as determined by the nature of the system itself (Pearson, 2011b). Certainly it is much more than the transfer of knowledge and skills to individuals. Effective capacity development under this view calls for strengthening the capacity of whole organizations, sectors, and systems and takes into account the culture and context within which they exist, including the political environment and system of governance (Pearson). Complexity-based approaches entail taking a long-term perspective to the process and outcome of capacity development. That is, it must be ascertained that short-term activities contribute to long-term learning and change that support the sustainability of the impact of capacity development. This is not to say that goals are not to be set under this view. Instead, as Pearson, points out, a broad goal provides the system with greater freedom to achieve positive outcome in its own interpretation.
Theoretical Approaches to Development in Social-Work Education
Theoretical approaches in community development and social-work education have referred to two major types of theory. First, there are the causal–explanatory theories, which, as described by Reed (2005), “help us to understand how things work, and anticipate and predict what to expect in general practice situations” (p. 88). Traditionally, explanatory theories were strongly grounded in positivist views such that reality is objective and discoverable (Weil & Ohmer, 2012). Postmodern views on explanatory theories operate on the assumption that reality is dynamic, subjective, and socially constructed and directs researchers toward exploring contextual factors underlying a given situation. In the field of capacity development, the tension between traditional explanatory and postmodern approaches in the social sciences is paralleled in the tension between RBM approaches and complexity approaches. Theories of change, yet another category of theories, address mechanisms and processes of change, context, and ways by which change occurs in people. For a more detailed discussion of principles of theorizing, please see Weil et al. (2012) and Reed.
Numerous theories may contribute to our understanding of a problem or phenomena, each from a different perspective (Gamble & Weil, 2010; Ife, 2008; Reed, 2005; Weil & Ohmer, 2012), some of which may be more in line with RBM views and others with complexity views. The challenge that capacity development efforts present lies in choosing the appropriate explanatory theories. However, without a good conceptual framework to organize theory, one may resort to limiting the scope of the work to the framework of one theory—certainly easier than attempting to make sense of the numerous theories available with no way to do so. This problem proves particularly salient for community development programs, possibly because community development in its genesis was built of localized community initiatives, often from within the community. It did not grow from a specific theoretical foundation (Wise & Andrews, 1998) but from community needs. For this reason, it proves useful to have a fourth kind of theory, a meta-theory. A simple yet systematic meta-theory applicable to capacity development is presented by McLeroy, Steckler, Goodman, and Burdine (1992). McLeroy et al. (1992, as cited in Poole, 1997) aptly addressed the complexity of capacity development with people entrenched in society by proposing a model that organizes our understanding of a problem and its solutions across levels of interventions and disciplines, thereby clarifying the kind of theory needed. The model observes accurately that, often, professionals from different disciplines must come together to address all aspects of capacity needs completely. In this model, the ecological levels at which this problem exists are first recognized. This is an important step because it is often found that capacity development must target individuals, families, societal systems such as schools, hospitals, and churches, and even macro-level policies that affect individual and group capacity to manage a problem or crises to be effective. Many of these systems are involved in assisting individuals in their development. Not all theories are applicable to all of these contexts. It may be that more than one theory or a composite theory of multiple smaller theories must be constructed.
Second, the change processes and consequently the professional realm most well equipped to explain the processes underlying the creation and existence of such a problem are identified and used to generate a theoretical explanation for the problem at hand. Multiple theories may exist to explain how a problem is maintained by a dearth of individual, family, group, and organizational-level capacity. In a detailed exploration of community development, Weil and Ohmer (2012) propose first recognizing the realm of applicability of various theories under consideration, their underlying assumptions, and the questions they may answer.
Third, the targets of change as well as the specific capacities that will enable targets in managing the problem are identified. Finally, decisions regarding interventions that may prove most effective in passing on such capacities at the levels identified are made. For example, for individuals to engage in change, psychological change must occur. A number of theories, depending on the problem, may drive an understanding of the psychological processes underlying the issue at hand. Psychological change may be targeted by influencing a change in values, attitudes, skills, behaviors, self-efficacy, etc. Numerous methods (psychotherapy, media, education, training, skill development, and so forth) may be used to effect such change (Poole, 1997). If one were to consider the example of domestic violence or sexual assault, interventions exist at the individual level in the form of self-defense training, identification of resources, and individual and group therapy and, at a meso and macro level, interventions in the form of public safety measures, awareness campaigns, social assistance programs, and community-based research are put in place. One of the main messages to take away from this model is that capacity development is an interdisciplinary field that exists by virtue of the fluidity between various health and social sciences. Flexibility, creativity, and openness to new information and methods are key to its success. However, as suggested by Weil and Gamble (2005), the most useful theories are those that emphasize change and promote social justice at all levels.
Another aspect of the complexity of capacity development is that it occurs in the context of multiple capacity-building relationships between various stakeholders. Research has shown that capacity building occurs in the context of interactions that promote participation, self-interest, equity, participant leadership, citizen-driven action structures, participant leadership, and flexible resource mobilization (Hawe, King, Noort, Jordens, & Lloyd, 2000; Labonte & Laverack, 2001; Laverack, 2006; Poole, 1997; Traverso-Yepez et al., 2012). The building of such interactions depends not only on characteristics of individuals but also on the availability of infrastructure and supportive resources (Traverso-Yepez et al.). Mental-health professionals are now increasingly adopting such stances that promote greater equity among external actors and local participants, approaches that are collectively referred to as “participatory action frameworks.”
Methods and Steps in Capacity Development
Although a vast amount of literature on capacity development is available, identifying a consistent profile of methods, concepts, competencies, and common challenges applicable to the development of capacity development programs proves quite challenging for two reasons:
1. Divergent values and theoretical approaches to capacity development—Identifying a single universal model goes against the very fabric of some approaches to capacity development, particularly those that are complexity based, driven by the recognition of the fact that every community and society has its own unique configuration of sociopolitical, policy-related, organizational (Otoo et al., 2009), and cultural factors that may determine the conduciveness of the environment to the achievement of context-specific goals.
2. The novelty, unstructured, and dispersed nature of the field and its literature—A number of international and national organizations including the OECD, the UNDP, the World Bank, and USAID practice and publish their individual models and theoretical and methodological approaches to capacity development.
Therefore, this section will be used to review some guidelines for methods, steps, and processes from the viewpoint of planned as well as complexity approaches, including what is common to them and what is different.
The general structure of capacity development presented here will be primarily based on the CDRF perspective, a continuously evolving capacity development framework recently adopted by and incorporated extensively into programming at the World Bank Institute (Otoo et al., 2009), a major actor, donor, and producer of research in this field. The CDRF was founded on the principles of RBM but is characterized as evolving in recognition of the fact that concepts of complexity and ecological systems theories are increasingly being incorporated into this approach. However, the discussions below have also been heavily informed by the UNDP model for capacity development. The process of developing a capacity development program generally involves four stages:
Some professionals and organizations in the field emphasize the importance of the fourth activity/step—evaluation (Gorgens & Kusek, 2009; Horton et al, 2003; Otoo et al., 2009; UNDP, 2008). However, the assumption underlying such an approach is that there is a precise end point to the capacity development process. Complexity approaches, on the other hand, may attest to assessment, design, and implementation as types of activities, as opposed to stage or step, because complexity approaches are more likely to adhere to the ongoing use of assessments and adjustments that require the system to continuously engage in all three activities. Therefore, consistent with the emphasis on complexity, systems, learning, and participant-owned capacity development, evaluation may be more appropriately subsumed under ongoing assessment and adjustment of community response systems.
Capacity Development: Cross-cutting Issues
Participant Engagement and Ownership
The issue of engagement and ownership is one that cuts across all stages of the capacity development process and extends into assessment and design strategies. The owning of a development initiative is associated with greater motivation and commitment to bringing about change (UNDP, 2008). However, willingness by itself is rarely sufficient to bring about such a sense of ownership but rather requires the capacity to engage in such change as well as the power and freedom to act. The ECDPM policy brief (2008) elaborates on the importance of what is referred to as “operating space”—a protected physical, psychological, financial, intellectual, and political space within which the community members or primary agents of change possess the freedom and rights to make decisions based on their own systems, experiences, and resources as well as any new resources provided by external actors (Baser & Morgan, 2008; ECDPM). Thus, conversations about power, privilege, and harmonization are an inseparable part of participant engagement. Ideally, all stakeholders, be it donors, partners, organizations, and government, promoting global dialog and policy, organizations extending services to community, or individual service providers must own capacity development initiatives, but it is particularly important for local actors, community leaders, and members to claim ownership of capacity development. Each of these stakeholders may play an important role in helping participant groups maintain their operating space. For example, governments could act as a buffer to protect the autonomy of local systems from intrusion of development agencies and donors while promoting assistance. Thus, the key concern is one of striking a balance between providing space for learning and experimentation and providing energy and collaboration to maintain progress and accountability (ECDPM).
Power discrepancies between external actors and community members undermine their ability to claim ownership of capacity development efforts. It is important to recognize and emphasize the personal and cultural expertise as well as community resources brought to development efforts by participants themselves. The Improving the Results of Learning for Capacity Building Forum in Washington in June 2009 (World Bank Institute, 2009) pushed for a shift in perception of external organizations funneling donor funds into development: “from self-perception as expert providers of learning for others, and see themselves and their partners as embarking on a shared learning journey within the broader context of CD.” (Pearson, 2011b, p. 18). Ownership is not a point but a dynamic continuum where various relational processes alter the extent of ownership by various stakeholders. Therefore, comprehending the factors that retain community members as primary agents of change, as well as engaging in negotiations to accommodate all stakeholders, allows capacity development actors to promote local ownership and power, which then opens the door to other less tangible elements, including the framework of cultural values and practices within which capacity development is most likely to be successful. Soft skills including ability to form, maintain, and build on relationships, negotiate, balance power, problem solve collaboratively, and maintain some degree of detachment are essential tools in the assessment, design, and implementation of capacity development. External actors may need to provide support in the form of resources, connections, and opportunity. External actors, particularly those placed in salient positions of power, must adapt their leadership styles to the participants/local actors’ specific context and needs so as to give them the greatest support to be the primary leaders within their own communities (Pearson; UNDP, 2008).
The shift toward viewing capacity development in the context of people’s complex realities toward longer term, more sustainable results as well as increased participant engagement has been accompanied by a call for an increased focus on learning as opposed to training (Berlin Statement, 2008; Pearson, 2011b; Ramalingam, Jones, Reba, & Young, 2008; UNDP, 2008).
Learning, an organic and inherent capacity to acquire, expand, or adapt behaviors, skills, knowledge, information, attitudes, values, and beliefs based on experience, drives all other aspects of sustainable capacity development and is therefore also a necessary capacity independent of all others (ECDPM, 2008; Pearson, 2011b; UNDP, 2008). Pearson cites Foley (2001), who provides a definition of learning that is seated in the context of adult education, a parent field of capacity development, as follows:
[learning] enables people to make sense of and act on their environment, and to come to understand themselves as knowledge-creating, acting beings. . . . a capacity to analyse situations contextually and act on them strategically, and an ability to examine and act on their own values and goals. (Foley, p.15)
The rigid preconceived nature of training as a transfer of information or knowledge from an expert external source to a less knowledgeable local actor perpetuates power differences that not only prove detrimental to participant engagement and ownership, but also often conflict with peoples’ natural learning mechanisms. Because learning is often unplanned and tacit, it becomes counterintuitive to structured results-based capacity development. Thus, although the specific focus on acquisition and expansion of a well-designed training method may result in strong, measurable short-term outcomes for some aspects of capacity development, such outcomes tend to be localized in time and space, thereby failing to produce long-term sustainable outcomes. The flexibility and responsiveness of learning, on the other hand, emphasizes not only acquisition and expansion but also adaptability to complex situations, thereby increasing the potential for sustainable emergence of responses to a wider array of situations and problems in the future (Ramalingam et al., 2008). This process closely aligns itself with the cross-cutting issue of participant engagement and ownership and requires a hands-off approach, where an external actor’s primary role is to provide support and consequently ensure participant investment in the process and outcomes. Because learning can be technical, social, cultural, and political (Foley, 2001), it becomes the foundational process for all other processes following it, including relational processes and externally supported capacity development processes.
Desjardins and Tuijnman (2005) identify two types of learning outcomes described in the adult learning literature. The first is individual or group-level (internal) gain in one or more of the various facets identified above, and the other is relational gains within and between organizations and the social environment (Otoo et al., 2009). Thus, for the first time, there is now an acknowledgement of the need for process-oriented soft skills that “influence how people interact with each other and include such abilities as communication and listening, creativity, analytical thinking, empathy, flexibility, and problem solving” (Pearson, 2011b, p. 14).
The first stage of capacity development, assessment, most often begins with the observation of underperformance believed to be associated with inadequate capacity (UNDP, 2008), or the lack of an adequate response to a crises. Complexity theory framework (Pearson, 2011b) classifies these problems under three categories:
1. Messes: They exist when a complex multisystemic response system lacks coherent structure and fails to respond adequately to or adjust to one or more demands made of the community or other form of system. The nature of the problem remains ambiguous, thereby requiring further assessment and expansion of capacity for development to arrive at a plausible broad development goal and subsequent steps.
2. Problems: They exist when systems are seen to have some form and structure and the relevant dimensions and variables are clear but the nature of interactions faced is unclear and many alternative solutions may be possible.
3. Puzzles: They are clearly defined problems held within a clear structure of multisystemic relationships, thus making the identification of a goal and subsequent steps relatively straightforward (Pearson).
Although there has been a push for complexity-based approaches in the field of capacity development, the goal and outcome-centered views of results-based approaches cannot be shunned. The interference of external actors, especially professionals possessing the power to influence change, in the absence of evidence of efficacy and effectiveness of proposed programs is seen as unethical. Furthermore, the large sums of money from donors funneled into capacity development efforts worldwide demand a structure and outcome-based planning of programs. Social justice and ethics also demand that such accountability not result in the exertion of power in favor of obtaining expected results. Therefore, assessment is a crucial aspect of the capacity development process and is focused on collaboratively taking stock of existing capacities, both tangible and intangible, issue specific as well as contextual, and assessing developmental capacity needs (Pearson, 2011b).
Assessment itself may take one of two directions—assessment of contextual capacities for development and assessment of problem- or goal-specific capacities—both of which are often necessary. The first component is the evaluation of the system’s ability to harness resources and provide an environment conducive to change. The CDRF, adopted by the World Bank (Otoo et al., 2009), identifies three major contextual capacities: (a) the conduciveness of the sociopolitical environment, (b) efficiency of policy instruments, and (c) effectiveness of organizational structures in supporting and paving the way for capacity development. However, these broad categories are better used as a guide for collaborative identification of contextual capacities that prove important for participants and other stakeholders and that may either exist separately from or be subsumed within one of these categories. For example, financial resources, power, and gender inequalities may be key contextual aspects in the process. Enhancing contextual capacities increases the likelihood that a development goal will be achieved. Enhancement of contextual capacities occurs when agents of change engaging in actions within their respective systems alter the system itself (Otoo et al.). Addressing this component at the design stage requires stimulating learning at all levels of the system among organizational structures influencing dialog and policy, organizations extending services to community, individual service providers, community leaders, and participant members who have the most at stake. One important goal that might emerge from the results of such an assessment would be to enhance capacity factors through learning, so as to achieve optimum potential for development.
The second component, namely situation-specific capacities, is more closely aligned with skills, knowledge, and information required to comprehend, engage in, and execute capacity development activities. Provided participants are engaged and contextual capacities prove conducive to development, this component may be appropriately addressed with well-designed training and linear knowledge transfer approaches. However, sustainability of such training outcomes relies heavily on alignment of training with participant learning mechanisms and contextual capacities. It is important to note that these capacities, like contextual capacities, may be tangible or intangible. Tangible contextual capacities like financial resources are easier to assess. Intangible capacities, on the other hand, prove difficult not only to assess but also even to identify. In a study for the ECDPM (2008), Baser and Morgan identify and elaborate upon five major intangible capacities (primarily capacities required to carry out capacity development tasks/activities and indicated in the capacity development activities themselves) that make up capacity needs for development:
1. Commit and engage—The capacity to engage and commit to development and change is a necessary precursor to any successful capacity development venture. People’s ability to engage in and sustain change depends on their vested interest, motivation, empowerment, and total attitude toward such change.
2. Carry out technical, service delivery, and logistical tasks—This capacity proves important for implementation of capacity development tasks and relies on participants possessing the necessary skills or the training resources to obtain those skills and knowledge.
3. Relate and attract resources and support—This capacity includes the ability to form, retain, and manage relationships as a source of social capital for access and mobilization of resources.
4. Adapt and self-renew—This capacity encompasses a community or system’s ability to learn and revise responses and adapt to and manage change. This seems to be the core capacity most closely related to sustainability of capacity building.
5. Balance coherence and diversity—This capacity acknowledges the complexity of systems and therefore of the challenges encountered as a result of multiple parties with differing agendas and vested interests (Baser & Morgan, 2008; ECDPM, 2008).
Consistent with the two-stage identification of contextual and situation-specific capacities, as well as tangible and intangible ones, the 2008 ECDPM document contends that each of these capacities is necessary but not sufficient by itself to enable systems to perform and sustain. Balancing all five core capacities as well as systemic complexity to keep moving forward is a key capacity in itself.
Measurement in Assessment
A key question that presents itself at the assessment stage is that of measurability of capacities, both contextual and specific. Both contextual and situation-specific capacities manifest themselves in the form of measureable capacity indicators (Otoo et al., 2009; World Bank Institute, 2011). Progress to the design, implementation, and evaluation relies on determining what indicators will be used to measure various capacities. An example of the manifestation of capacities as capacity indicators can be seen in the manifestation of the capacity to commit and engage in participants’ interest, motivation, empowerment, and attitudes toward change. Another example is that the capacity to relate and attract resources and support can be assessed as social capital, social network analysis, resource distribution, and access.
Research suggests that it is not enough to simply have an implicit shared vision among stakeholders. Implicit information results in assumptions and unseen agenda, which may lead to misalignment of goals and miscommunication among stakeholders. For capacity development to work, open and explicit discussion of needs, goals, preexisting attitudes and beliefs, and methods of operating reduce opportunity for conflict and increase shared vision—a common baseline from which to begin capacity assessment work (Otoo et al., 2009; World Bank Institute, 2011). For the same reasons, joint and collaborative engagement of both local and external actors in the assessment process allows the development of a shared view of the capacity challenges facing the community and the negotiation of points of difference. Further, it also takes into account the cross-cutting issues of participant ownership and power as factors in sustainable development. The resultant goals form the foundation for the conception of intervention design and implementation. Ironically, with the increasing emphasis on complexity and learning, setting goals has gained importance. Unlike RBM, learning and complexity outcomes are less clear and must therefore be tracked more creatively and vigilantly to monitor the overall effectiveness of learning activities.
In developing goals, the UNDP (2008) recommends that greater attention be given to the multilevel integration of capacity development variables. These variables may be categorized as follows: individual-level variables (internal motivation, attitudes, and job-specific skills), organization-level variables (internal reform policies, restructuring, senior management commitment), and environment-level variables (contextual capacities, national policies, incentive structures, availability of financial resources) (Pearson, 2011b; UNDP, 2008). Thus, goal setting involves breaking down a broad development goal into smaller, short-term individual, organizational, and environmental goals that support each other toward achieving the broad development goal. In setting individual learning goals, it is first important to identify the broad learning outcomes desired, identify how they would manifest themselves in observable behavior, and then target activities and assessments to meet those behavioral goals (Otoo et al., 2009). This is similar to the process of identifying capacity indicators by which environmental capacities manifest themselves.
Setting goals is a balancing act. It requires that a balance be struck between the following:
1. Short-term goals and long-term sustainable outcomes: Aiming for long-term outcomes without smaller, more attainable goals along the way poses the risk of reducing participant motivation as well as not recognizing the pitfalls and failures of a design till later in the process, thereby wasting time and resources.
2. Large-scale comprehensive design and small-scale niche interventions: Small-scale interventions provide sustainable learning opportunities. Small interventions allow participants to focus their energies, have their sights on a clear short-term goal, build skills and confidence, and gain familiarity with the process, including relational and negotiation skills needed to succeed (Baser & Morgan, 2008; ECDPM, 2008).
The increased focus on harmonization and alignment of activities to the best interests of communities as well as concerns of exploitation has resulted in the push for community-owned self-assessment and goal setting. Ideally then, donors and development aid agencies would use country or community-run self-assessments as a guide for their own objectives and outcomes, thereby not thrusting external agendas on participants’ operating space and increase ownership.
Interestingly, Pearson (2011b) described participatory self-assessment as “capacity building exercises in their own right” (p. 21). Participatory self-assessment exercises all stakeholders’ relational connections, self-organization, and other intangible skills such as negotiation. Furthermore, it provides the actors’ their first sense for the power dynamics in the capacity development process and can therefore prove to be an invaluable opportunity to engage all participants.
Good design does not imply having to have a fully worked out implementation strategy.
—ECDPM (2008, p. 4)
Three common strategies have been identified in designing capacity development programs.
1. Planned approaches, commonly possessing the theoretical foundations of RBM, are founded on the values of structure, definitiveness of goals, predictability of results and outcomes, and often, top-down strategies (Baser and Morgan, 2008). These are most useful when confronted with certain kinds of challenges or development issues. Success with planned approaches is usually associated with the last category of problems—those that are clearly defined (ECDPM, 2008). The assumption here is that the situation will respond in a predictable way to the disciplined, systematic approach. Often, clear planning such as this instills a hierarchy among interventions specialists, organizations, donors, and the participants and local stakeholders. Donors, professionals, and organizations intervening in communities may come to be seen as the agents of change, whereas local participants may be seen as actors.
2. Incremental approaches, on the other hand, operate on the foundational principles of individual, community, and organizational learning and adaptation. Incremental approaches are described as those that are optimally suited to help systems address or confront situations of ambiguity in stakeholders’ performance capacities and engagement and perhaps require quick systemic responses with little information. Objectives then become more tentative and exploratory, as with guidelines, but not as targets written in stone. Incremental approaches use smaller goals and steps with regular reassessment and redirection as a natural part of learning “what works” in their specific context.
3. Emergent approaches to capacity development are driven by systemic, relational concepts focusing on the natural emergence of change in the presence of adequate social capital. Connections, interactions, and exchanges within and between individuals, groups, and organizations at all levels of the ecological systems result in the emergence of functional capacities of the whole system, including the ability to derive solutions to problems and to grow and expand in a sustainable manner. These approaches are highly unstructured and seem to be best suited to “messes” or very complex problems with multidimensional solutions that require community ownership and cooperation. Embedded in these approaches is the goal of sustainable learning and change.
As mentioned previously, although assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation have been identified as separate steps, they merely serve the purpose of tracking the progress of a project in time. In reality, steps bleed into each other and share common issues to be considered at each stage. For example, during this process, goal setting and learning considerations may be conducted early in the process, perhaps as part of assessment or as the early part of the design process.
Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation
Increasing Cultural and Individual Relevance
Issues of cultural relevance (language and translation as well as cultural adaptation of concepts) pose a major challenge for implementation and must be considered at the assessment and design stages to engage in ethical implementation and evaluation. Further, constant and ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of the design of the implemented intervention is necessary. Therefore, if cultural and linguistic translations were not considered in the early stages, it is expected that evaluation during implementation will reveal this flaw in the design. Ideally, the act of actively and ethically engaging participants and encouraging ownership should automatically reveal good design. The essence of these important considerations is that every aspect of the capacity development process must be relevant to and hold meaning for those directly affected—the participants. Pearson (2011b) provides a good example:
For instance, the work done in recent years on good governance includes a focus on citizenship and social accountability. While these concepts make perfect sense in countries that have long histories of democratic government, they are not fully relevant for all societies. In a country where an individual’s primary loyalty is to tribe or clan the notion of national citizenship has little meaning, so attempts to engage the population in social accountability projects need alternative entry points. (p. 39)
Concepts and language also function as clear signs of power and create a hierarchy that can be detrimental to successful outcomes. The use of complex academic and value-laden terms that clearly reflect the differential experiences of donor and development agencies and experts often proves hard to translate and is irrelevant to the realities of the people for whom the development project is in place. The example above also introduces the important concept of entry points—a key aspect of design and implementation. Identifying relevant points of coalition and common ground with the local actors is of key importance when attempting to enter and introduce a change within the system. It proves easier but more dangerous and unethical to use power and politics alone to make an entry into the system and exert change as opposed to inspiring change. Relationship building is a critical tool at this stage, particularly to increase engagement. The International Development Research Center maintains that trust built from mutually respectful relationships forms the foundation for positive change (International Development Research Center, 2009 as cited in Pearson, 2011b). Furthermore, a stronger relationship between external and local actors increases participant endurance in the face of implementation difficulties and barriers to development.
Another issue that cuts across all stages of capacity development is that of individual relevance of content and goals. The collaborative specification of each individual’s contribution and role in a joint development effort not only provides structure, but also increases commitment and motivation and allows for clarity in individual learning and training goals in the context of community and organizational goals. Accordingly, at the design and implementation stage, learning and training activities must be tailored to suit the specific role, needs, and motivations of any individual. For such in-depth customization to occur, multilevel, collaborative leadership must be cultivated within the participant group. Internal leadership increases sustainability, accountability, and ownership of the capacity development efforts by local communities. At the 2010 “Capacity Is Development” global event on “Smart Strategies and Capable Institutions for 2015 and Beyond,” transformative leadership is identified as a core component of sustainable change (UNDP, 2010). It provides a way by which local actors can support each other in the transfer of training and learning to situations outside the context of the program.
The concept of delivery is one that continues to perpetuate clear power and ownership gaps between agencies and local actors. Generally, the term delivery refers to “any form of contact in which the provider is facilitating a learning experience for the participant” (Pearson, 2011b, p. 40). From a complexity and social justice perspective it would be better for external and internal actors to engage in jointly designed and mutually beneficial activities of learning and skill enhancement. One commonly encountered difficulty in delivery is that the teacher-centered experiences of local as well as organizational and governmental actors may prove detrimental to development if nontraditional methods of collaborative learning go against local expectations. Thus, a cross-cutting issue that proves particularly relevant to implementation and delivery is that of addressing and clarifying participant expectations of the process and introducing greater flexibility and creativity early in the process.
With sustainability of development as the guiding concept, identifying and vocalizing an exit strategy proves useful throughout the assessment, design, and implementation stages. The inclusion of local organizations and groups, assisting local governance in leading the capacity development process, and designing the program with reference to local policies and goals for development ensures that the development will continue when the external actors have left. (UNDP, 2008).
Ongoing Assessment and Monitoring
According to Horton et al. (2003), “Evaluation is an assessment . . . that determines the worth, value, or quality of an activity, project, program, or policy” (p. 33). Evaluation in capacity development must be an ongoing process (Pearson, 2011b; UNDP, 2008). The foundations for this form of continuous evaluation are laid at the assessment and design stages. Setting smaller short-term goals and designing activities to meet those goals allow for the continuous tracking of outcomes and progress toward long-term development goals. Again, this method is put in place not only to applaud successes and increase motivation but also to allow this assessment to function as a feedback mechanism whereby design and implementation can be reevaluated if necessary (Otoo et al., 2009). Such a revision of the program can result in rearticulation of goals, contextual assets, and negotiations within aid relationships and identification of new or modified capacity indicators and learning outcomes. Monitoring and evaluation is an extensive topic with context-specific considerations, particularly in the case of organizational capacity building. Additional references are provided at the end of this document for the benefit of the reader.
Support for Capacity Development
The ECDPM recommends six approaches that prove useful for external actors who wish to effectively support sustainable local development. This six-point recommendation (direct quotes from ECDPM, 2008, p. 7–8) effectively summarizes the role of external actors and mirrors the content of the discussion on capacity development methods thus far provided in this document.
1. Pay more attention to unleashing the potential for capacity development (p. 7).
2. Encourage effective leadership to help groups to work together (p.8).
3. Emphasize learning and adaptation (p. 8).
4. Be more wide-ranging and creative about capacity development (p. 8).
5. Put more emphasis on understanding country context, identifying appropriate partners and building relationships (p. 8).
6. Develop the capabilities required to address capacity issues (p. 8).
Combined, these aspects illustrate the complexity of capacity development in any context. As noted in this entry, capacity development is an essential part of global development. However, the ability to perform the various roles and expectations that are linked to capacity development requires a commitment to defining, understanding, implementing, assessing, and evaluating all aspects of the process to ensure that the process is fair and true. By giving adequate attention to the various components outlined in this entry, one can be assured that they are engaging in ethical practice with respect to capacity development in a global context.
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