Capacity, Change and Performance

Heather Baser and Peter Morgan
European Centre for Development Policy Management
Year of publication: 

Capacity and capacity development have been pervasive concepts in international development cooperation since the late 1980s. But for most of the 1990s, both capacity as an outcome and capacity development as a process –what we call in this report capacity issues – attracted little in the way of serious research. This pattern began to change in 2001 with a major UNDP initiative entitled Reforming Technical Cooperation, which was critical of the weak contribution of technical assistance to capacity development. In late 2002, the Department for International Development (DFID) approached the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) to carry out a research programme that would build on the UNDP work, but would also focus on what could be done to improve the effectiveness of the capacity interventions of international development agencies (IDAs), the multilateral and bilateral organisations as well as the multinational NGOs providing support to developing countries.

This new study was to have a particular niche: to understand better the processes of capacity development and to provide some good practice to guide IDA programming, particularly at the operational level. The study was subsequently included in the workplan of the Network on Governance and Capacity Development (Govnet) of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). Funding came from the Govnet members (see Acknowledgments), the country organisations participating in the case work, and ECDPM itself. The agreed purposes of the study were:

  • to enhance understanding of the interrelationships among capacity, change and performance across a wide range of development experiences; and
  • to provide general recommendations and fr ameworks to support the effectiveness of external interventions aimed at improving capacity and performance.

The study was thus intended to provide some new perspectives on capacity issues. First, it was to use an endogenous perspective of capacity – how capacity develops from within – rather than looking only at what outsiders, usually international agencies, can do to induce it. This implied considering external contributions as only an influence rather than the entry point of the research. Second, the study was to bring in ideas from the capacity literature beyond that produced by the inte rnational development community. Third, the study was to provide evidence of good practice in developing capacity.