Capacity Development in Fragile Situations


Participants at the Accra High Level Forum acknowledged the challenge of CD in fragile situations as an issue warranting special attention. Some of the key ideas emerging from the debate leading to Accra include:

  • safeguarding existing capacity;
  • engaging quickly to support capacity development;
  • sustaining support when the immediate crisis is over;
  • establishing temporary mechanisms for coordination and accountability for capacity development;
  • investing in knowledge acquisition by country agents;
  • integrating refugees and displaced people as well as involving the diaspora.

Despite the interest shown in Accra, the study of capacity in fragile situations is still embryonic and the literature is much less extensive than for capacity and capacity development more generally. Knowledge to date suggests that capacity issues in fragile situations are different from those in low-income countries more generally, as Peter Morgan contends in an article for the World Bank on Liberia and Sierra Leone.  He identifies the following capacity challenges in fragile situations which are less present in low income countries more generally:  

  • A greater range, complexity and interconnections of capacity issues, both ‘hard’ such as infrastructure and ‘soft’ such as human relationships and trust among people.
  • The collapse of many of the formal capacity systems such as government ministries, the police and the judiciary;
  • The effects of psychosocial trauma which leaves people with distrust of others, lingering fear and an overriding concern about survival. This may affect their willingness to cooperate across societal groups and to give others the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
  • A more pervasive and operationally effective shadow state than the formal and modern one. Capacity mapping and analysis must thus include this as well as the formal systems.
  • Uncertain dynamics of country and donor ownership. It is challenging to identify what ownership means in a fragile context and indeed whose ownership is at play and what allows a country to commit to change and action. What can donors do?
  • Significant potential for the emergence of dilemmas and traps. Capacity development efforts face competing objectives and trade-offs and need to be undertaken on a ‘systems’ basis in order to take account of the diverse factors which make a difference, including organizational, political, logistical and psychological.
  • The challenge of transitions, schedules and deadlines. Domestic priorities in donor countries often set the demands and schedules for capacity development with little attention to intervention needs in the field.

These issues argue for the need, acknowledged generally by both country stakeholders and donors, to use a tailored and phased approach to CD and to find a balance between the long term need to develop sustainable capacity and short-term pressures to provide basic services including health, education and security.