The Quest for Capacity Development

Kattie Lussier


In the last decade, the practice of capacity development or capacity building has become a mainstreamed process of change at both organisational and international levels. Yet, the belief that an increase in knowledge and skills necessarily translate into improved practices and better results rest on very shaky assumptions. Based on 250 interviews with capacity development (CD) providers and participants, this article discusses the discrepancies between CD discourse and practice and present the main dimensions that CD actors should take into consideration in order for their activities to make a difference. Interviews suggest that some widely used interventions, such as training courses or models, often fail to translate into change after participants go back to their own environments. On the other hand, processes that engage learners over a longer period of time and provide follow-up activities appear to be more effective. This implies that there is a need to rethink the way CD processes are planned and implemented.Developing capacity means much more than providing training, material and technical assistance; it entails developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes, agency and affordances that are necessary for reaching individual goals, while linking activities to complementary interventions that can tackle other factors and barriers to change. This calls for an increased awareness of how people learn, the attitudes that are needed to foster such learning and the ability to analyse the reality in which they work; as well as the identification of tangible and intangible factors that constrain or enable people’s ability to change.

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