Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


I first posted this at The Broker Online - but felt that it was suitable for this site as well.


As international development practitioners and organisations, we should be more insistent on incorporating more underlying essential skills development that enables effective institutional development, sustainable capacity building, widespread community involvement and improved human wellbeing.

Are our capacity building models adequate for the task of improving human wellbeing? In all reality, they probably would be if donors would structure programs and assistance in a manner which recognises the definition of “capacity building” as outlined by UNDP some 20 years ago: “the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems". And yet in most of the developing world, the majority of capacity building is still no more than training in technical skills rather than building sustainable capacity in the so-called "soft" skills which are necessary to enable implementation of technical skills training. I call it the "learning the how".

Sustainable capacity building is much more than technical training in governance, transparency, financial management, ethics and anti-corruption. It includes concepts such as, equipping individuals with the understanding, the skills and the knowledge that enables them to not only perform their role/tasks effectively, but to know why they are doing their role/tasks, how to perform the role/tasks in their environment, how to integrate and interweave their skills and knowledge into the wider social and community framework, and how this all relates to the improvements in wellbeing that the capacity building is supposed to deliver.

It also includes developing understanding of organisational, community and social structures, processes and mores, not only within organisations but also in developing and managing the key relationships between the organisations and the wider community—thereby enabling all members of the community to participate and share in the capacity building. It is about developing organisational and individual communication and relationships skills, leadership and strategic thinking skills, and a host of "hard to measure" performance indicators. In a world where performance measurement is so important, these must be traded for "hard" output measures such as: the number of people trained, the number of courses developed or seminars conducted, whether or not a new procedure or process has been developed and implemented, or whether or not there has been an improvement in GDP and per capita income.

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Comment by Lucia Nass on September 26, 2011 at 5:25

Thanks Russel for sharing. I like that you underline the need to keep the goal of CD in the picture. Why are we doing it? Too often organisations get so bugged down with developing their project plans and reports that they forget that results require real interactions and muddling through tough strugggles toward making a difference for society.

I have recently been studying/working with the barefoot guide 2: Learning practices in organisations and social change. The barefoot initiative is really good at breaking CD down into day-to-day practices. Here's a quote from BFG2 that illustrates the effect of "hard output requirements".

- It is important that we are accountable for the money we spend and it is important that we are spending money on bringing about social change. But the culture of compliance and short-term, results orientated reporting means government development agencies are under ressure to perform. They pass these requirements on to big development organisations that often pass them on to smaller, local organisations. Administrative systems are therefore imposed on organisations. They take no account of the local context or of enabling learning in that context. The organisation still learns – but it learns how to meet donor requirements rather than how to be more effective in its work! And time for essential listening and reflection is lost. -

And what's good about the barefoot guide as well: they don't give quick fix solutions!

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