Capacity Building: Why it Matters and How to Approach It

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According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) capacity refers to: “the ability of individuals and institutions to make and implement decisions and perform functions in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner.’’ Capacity building is often associated with skill development at an individual level, for example, training teams. However, capacity building is a much broader concept that should be considered from a systemic perspective encompassing the system, entity, and individual levels with capacity building initiatives catering to every level.

Level 1  – Systemic level

The overall policy framework in which individuals and organizations operate is a key level where capacity initiatives can be piloted, some of which include consultations, open dialogue, and reforms. Capacity assessment at this stage can be undertaken using a SWOT assessment and should address the following elements:

Policy: Systems should have a purpose; they exist to meet the specific needs of society or a group of entities and should include value structures that govern entities within the system

Legal/Regulatory: This includes the rules, laws, norms, and standards that govern the system within which a capacity initiative is to function.

Management and Accountability: This is related to oversight and from a capacity development perspective, includes: design, management and implementation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation, and other related capacities at a systems level.

Resources: These could be human, financial or information resources that may be available within the organization’s system to develop and implement the programme and/or the capacities.

Process Dimension: The interrelationships and interdependencies amongst the entities that may comprise subsystems within the overall system. This includes the flow of resources and information, formal and informal networks of people, and other supporting communication infrastructures.

Level 2 –  Institutional/Entity level

 Whether the institution is a governmental agency or within the private sector, there are several key elements that need to be developed to ensure constant momentum towards achieving agency objectives. At this level, the priority should be the development of internal policies including HR and organisational structures, but to be truly effective, capacity building should go beyond just those elements to examine every level of the organization including:

 Mission and Strategy: This involves defining services, clients/customers served,  interactions within the broader system e.g stakeholders, setting metrics for success and involving core strategic management capacities.

Culture/Structure and Competencies: This includes organizational values, management style, organisational structures and designs as well as core competencies.

Processes: Robust processes are vital to capacity development, and should support: planning, client management, relationships with other entities, research/policy development, monitoring and evaluation, performance/quality management and financial and human resources management.

Human Resources:  This is one of the most important aspects of capacity development, any changes or growth in this area revolves around the efficacy of the HR department.

 Information resources: How resources are managed to support the mission and strategies of the entity.

Infrastructure: Includes physical assets such as property, computer systems and telecommunication infrastructure.

Level 3- Individual

 Capacity initiatives ultimately depend on the individual.  This covers individuals within entities involved in the management and delivery of a capacity initiative, as well as those who are beneficiaries or are otherwise impacted by the initiative. Capacity assessments at this level are considered to be the most critical because they address the individual’s capacity to function efficiently and effectively within the entity and the broader system.

 Most often, capacity assessments of individuals are based on an established “job description that lays out the performance/ skills requirements of the position and the individual filling that position. This is combined with a skills assessment of the individual. The assessment will uncover any capacity gaps after which training that focuses on learning and skill development can be structured to address those gaps.

 The impact of these capacity-building strategies differs from country to country, institution to institution as well as from individual to individual. A capacity-building program should take into account the cultural, economic, and legal contexts in which the organization functions in order to be truly effective.

To learn more on how to conduct your own capacity assessment book an appointment here.

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