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Organisational legitimacy, capacity and capacity development

June 2005

Brinkerhoff, D.W. 2005. Organisational legitimacy, capacity and capacity development. (ECDPM Discussion Paper 58A). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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A case study prepared for the project ‘Capacity, Change and Performance’ organised by ECDPM.

Issues of capacity and performance remain at the heart of debate in the field of international develop- ment and cooperation. What constitutes capacity, how to build it and make it last, with whom and where capacity resides, and how capacity translates into performance are all questions that continue to engage both academics and practitioners.

The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) has undertaken a study of capacity development, with a focus on organisational change and performance enhancement. Both individ- ual organisations and networks of organisations have been studied with the aim of identifying impor- tant relationships among endogenous change fac- tors (e.g. ownership, commitment and managerial style), key internal organisation variables (e.g. struc- tures, procedures, staffing and management sys- tems), performance and sustainability outcomes, and external environmental factors (e.g. policy frame- works, resource availability, politics, stakeholders, governance regimes, etc.).1

To date, the ECDPM study team has conducted 16 case studies (see Appendix). Among the findings that have emerged from several of the cases is the presence of an organisation’s legitimacy as a factor con- tributing to successful capacity and performance. To delve in more detail into the concept of legitimacy, and to identify the implications for capacity building, ECDPM commissioned a working paper on the topic. This exploratory paper reviews the relevant literature and examines: differing definitions, types and sources of legitimacy; the links between legitimacy and organisational capacity, performance and sustainability; and management strategies for building and maintaining legitimacy. It discusses a selected set of the ECDPM cases in terms of the legitimacy concept. 

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European external affairsDiscussion Papers (series)ResearchCapacity development

External authors

Derrick W. Brinkerhoff