The concept of capacity building emerged in the 1980s and became the central purpose of technical assistance in the 1990s. It is most commonly defined as the process by which individuals, groups, institutions and organizations improve their ability to perform functions, identify and solve problems efficiently and to understand and deal with their development need in a broader context and in a sustainable manner.
Capacity Building is the process by which an organisation obtains, retains and improves the skills and knowledge crucial to accomplishing a set of strategic objectives- which are most often to build a scalable and sustainable NGO. It focuses on understanding obstacles that inhibit the organisation, for realising the goals that will allow them to achieve sustainable results. Capacity building is understood as the process of strengthening an organisation in order to increase its effectiveness and social impact, and achieve its goals over time.
It stands to reason that to improve, one must first measure existing ability and know-how. Such an evaluation is of particular importance if financial, political, or other reasons contribute a strong rationale for utilizing and strengthening existing capabilities rather than starting from scratch.
A capacity assessment is an exercise undertaken to appraise the existing capacity of an individual or collective entity to perform key functions and deliver expected results. Thus, a capacity assessment links latent capacity with performance. A capacity assessment is an integral and indispensable part of any capacity development process. It may be conducted by an external assessor or be internalized as standard management practice. It can be an ad-hoc event or can (and should) be part of ongoing management and programming processes.
Depending on the context of the problem and the resources available, a capacity assessment can be conducted at one or more levels-organization, sector, or individual. But regardless of the entry point, a capacity assessment must take account of the interconnectedness of capacity issues between the targeted level(s) and the enabling environment.
Capacity measures are useful in several ways. They serve to:
Technical cooperation was the most common approach to development cooperation in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, priority was given to technical training and the introduction of models and systems from the North. A foreign ‘technical expert’ would come into a country for a short period to provide expertise and technology. This would frequently be followed by financial resources. Little attention was paid to the transfer of skills or the sustainability of interventions.
Figure 6. From Technical Cooperation to Capacity building
In the early 1990s, the thinking on the role of technical cooperation began to shift and the idea of capacity development began to evolve. The appropriateness of using short-term ‘technical experts’ was questioned. Issues of sustainability and the ‘fit’ of a solution became more important. The provision of training, support to training-of-trainers and the organization of study trips became the norm.
Experience has shown, however, that such stand-alone training activities are not enough. This recognition has led to a shift in perspective. External support is no longer seen as the sole vehicle through which capacity building takes place. Instead, capacity building is seen as a long-term effort that needs to be embedded in broader, endogenous change processes that are owned by those involved, that are context-specific and that are as much about changing values and mindsets through incentives, as they are about acquiring new skills and knowledge.
While external actors may be able to facilitate and promote local processes, they can also serve to undermine ownership and local capacity. The focus is therefore on adapting support processes, so that they are well-tailored to the capacity building challenges they aim to address. This requires playing a more facilitative role related to the management of change processes, rather than the more interventionist roles that were played in the past.
Sustainable Development Goal 17: Revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, the United Nations is committed to transformation from within. Goal 17 includes targets for capacity-building, including increasing technology and innovation in least developed countries and improving data collection and monitoring for the achievement of the SDGs themselves. It supports countries to develop their capacities to effectively access and manage the resources required to deliver on the SDGs, which involves the formulation, implementation and review of relevant policies, strategies and programmes. On a related note, while needs assessments focus on what needs to improve (interventions) and how much it will cost, capacity assessments focus on how the improvements will occur.
The need to strengthen the ability of NGOs and civil society organisations to fulﬁl multiple and increasingly complex roles has been identiﬁed time and again by NGOs themselves, by donor agencies and by governments. Capacity building is a process of strengthening an organisation in order to increase its effectiveness and social impact, and achieve its goals and sustainability over time.
Capacity building includes everything that is needed to bring a non-profit to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future. It is not a one-time effort to improve short-term effectiveness, but a continuous improvement strategy toward the creation of a sustainable and effective organization.
The definition of capacity building/development reflects the viewpoint that capacity resides within individuals, as well as at the level of organizations and within the enabling environment. In the literature on capacity building/development, these three levels are sometimes referred to differently. For example, the organizational level is occasionally called the institutional level and the enabling environment is sometimes called the institutional or societal level3.
These differences in language can reflect nuances in how capacity is understood, but they do not challenge the idea that capacity exists at different levels, which form an integrated system. This inter- relatedness implies that any effort to assess or develop capacity necessarily needs to take into account capacity at each level, otherwise it becomes skewed or ineffective. For example, a department head may have sufficient capacities to run her department, but she may be unable to meet its output targets if procedures and processes for working with other departments are lacking. Often attention also needs to be paid to global trends and new developments that may influence the need for and deployment of capacities, such as migration patterns or new international trade agreements.
The three levels of capacity are the following:
The enabling environment is the term used to describe the broader system within which individuals and organizations function and one that facilitates or hampers their existence and performance. This level of capacity is not easy to grasp tangibly, but it is central to the understanding of capacity issues.
They determine the ‘rules of the game’ for interaction between and among organizations. Capacities at the level of the enabling environment include policies, legislation, power relations and social norms, all of which govern the mandates, priorities, modes of operation and civic engagement across different parts of society.
As shown in Figure 1, the three levels of capacity are mutually interactive and each level influences the other through complex co-dependency relationships.
In India, Capacity building lacks a fully articulated framework for assessing capacity needs, designing and sequencing appropriate interventions, and determining results.
Our resources and tool kits will help your NGO in understanding, how capacity-building could aid your organisation’s growth towards accomplishment of your objectives.