Despite its increasing use in development, capacity building (CB) remains a vague concept revolving around the notion of change and transformation at different levels.
There is no consensus on:
- the CB concept (different schools of thought);
- on what the best approach for CB is, what triggers successful results and what good practice means in this field (these are concepts which are still very little understood).
Traditionally, organisations that have been delivering capacity building have paid little attention to monitoring and evaluating the impact of their work. This is mainly because capacity building is often embedded in other programmes and difficult to track down and because outcomes produced by capacity building are long term and not easily attributable to one intervention or intervener.
However, all recent definitions of CB share a number of aspects, centered around the understanding that capacity building efforts need to be considered from a systems perspective that recognizes the dynamics and connections among various actors and issues at the different levels, as part of a broader unit rather than as loosely connected factors.
- The importance of understanding the context in which the capacity building efforts take place (avoid the blueprint approach)
- CB encompasses a hierarchy of levels - to be successful, capacity building efforts must respond to the relationship among these levels, all of which are systemically interlinked
- Environmental factors should be factored in as conditioners (both positive and negative) of institutional strengthening possibilities and, also, as elements to be transformed
- CB entails a time dimension that needs to be factored in (CB needs a long-term consistent approach and capacities need to be built gradually, on a “learn-by-doing” basis)
- CB programmes require enough flexibility and cooperation with a broad spectrum of actors and stakeholders (CSO, service providers and related support services, the administration, international NGOs, etc.)
- For CB efforts to be sustainable, interventions need to adopt a participatory approach (they need to be designed and implemented with the direct engagement from the people and organisations involved).