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Capacity Change and Performance: Insights and Implications for Development Cooperation

Policy Management Brief 21

December 2008

Land, T., Hauck, V. (et al.). 2008. Capacity change and performance: Insights and implications for development cooperation. (Policy Management Brief 21). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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ECDPM recently published the final report of a five year research program on capacity, change and performance. This research provides fresh perspectives on the topic of capacity and its development. It does so by highlighting endogenous perspectives: how capacity develops from within, rather than focusing on what outsiders do to induce it. The research also embraces ideas on capacity development drawn from literature outside the context of development cooperation.

Key Messages

The balance of issues in development cooperation is shifting against predictability and control towards complexity and uncertainty. Capacity development itself has shifted from a focus on implementing discrete projects aimed at skills enhancement or organizational strengthening, to addressing much broader societal and systemic challenges.

The study contends that finding ways to develop and sustain capacity is a fundamental development challenge to which country partners and external agencies need to give greater attention. Poor performance is often attributed to a lack of capacity. The final report highlights the many ways that organizations and systems go about developing capacity.

Background

There has been an upsurge of interest in capacity development over recent years. The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness recognizes the centrality of core state capabilities to the effective management of domestic and international resources for development. The Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) endorsed in Accra at the HLF in September 2008 has further raised the profile of capacity development as a fundamental ingredient of development effectiveness.

ECDPM’s research offers insights into the distinction of  capacity as an outcome, capacity development as a process and support for capacity development as the contribution that external actors can make to country processes.

In total, 16 case studies were prepared that embrace a wide spectrum of capacity situations covering different sectors, objectives, geographic locations and organizational histories, from churches in Papua New Guinea to a tax office in Rwanda to nation-wide networks in Brazil. The case studies are complemented by seven thematic papers, and five workshop reports.

Conclusion

Formal planning models and technocratic approaches in such uncertain circumstances are not necessarily appropriate. More experimental and incremental approaches are required. The article identifies five core capabilities, which enable an organization or system to perform and survive.

There is a diversity of leadership styles that can influence collective action, the appropriateness of which varies according to organizational context. It follows that ownership is key to building and sustaining capacity. It is a function of both the willingness and ability of stakeholders to engage in and lead change. But ownership can be elusive, ebbing and flowing over the life of any intervention.

The notion of operating space suggests that capacity is more likely to develop where organizational actors are given sufficient space to shape their own destiny. Thus some degree of detachment can in fact benefit capacity development. Creating and maintaining spaces therefore requires a complex and delicate balance.

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Cross-cutting TopicsPolicy Management Briefs (series)Capacity development