Enabling Environment


There is growing recognition that context matters for capacity development. The enabling environment provides the institutional, political and social conditions for sustainable capacity development to take place. Any attempt to understand the factors that facilitate or constrain capacity development must necessarily take account of the enabling environment. This is no easy task, either for country partners themselves or for external development partners, but it is critical if CD is to be sustainable.

Many sector-specific and results-focused efforts have therefore failed or to lack sustainability because of broad, cross-cutting governance failures. Addressing these, often constitutes a difficult collective action problem leading to neglect and undermining many well intended CD efforts in sub-systems, organizations, or human resources. Successful efforts are usually associated with strong ownership, stakeholder participation, effective leadership, charismatic champions, demand-side pressures, accountability and incentives conducive to change.

In light of the above, greater efforts are being made to understand and determine the extent to which the enabling environment is conducive to CD. At one level, this can involve taking account of concrete issues such as staff motivation and incentives, as well as leadership and the policy framework. The issue of public sector pay and related issues of performance and accountability are factors that can impact positively or adversely on efforts to enhance sector level capabilities. The effect of fragmented and parallel donor financed projects on producing perverse incentives needs also to be recognised. But other less concrete aspects of the enabling environment also need to be taken account of. Examples include societal norms and values, power relations and the role of informal networks and relationships.

An increasing number of tools and methodologies are being developed to help better understand factors in the enabling environment. Political analyses, as well as governance assessment frameworks, are two such examples. There are also many analytical studies that try to better understand context.

The AAA acknowledges the importance of addressing the enabling environment but argues clearly that while donors can support countries in better understanding systemic constraints to capacity development, it is ultimately the responsibility of partner countries to take the lead in advancing this agenda. It suggests the need to:

  • Identify the systemic issues that undermine capacity development and agree on joint action to address them
  • Reform incentive systems for better acquisition, use and retention of capacities
  • Promote effective participation in the development process and accountability to domestic constituencies
  • Assess capacity and measure progress in CD in particular at country level with locally agreed measures

This series of Perspective Notes was prepared by a professional drafting team assembled by the OECD/DAC and LenCD. The team included James Hradsky, Nils Boesen, Anthony Land, Heather Baser, Silvia Guizzardi and Mia Sorgenfrei. Nils Boesen led in drafting this Note on The Enabling Environment for Capacity Development, which subsequently benefitted from comments from the rest of the team, from peer reviews by Soren Davidsen, Danida; Alan Hudson, DFID; Marc Lévy, ECDPM; Apollinaire Ndorukwigira, ACBF; Paul Rimbault, EC; and Jaap Jan Speelman, DGIS; as well as a wider electronic vetting process through the LenCD international network. We are grateful for the helpful comments from all involved.

These Perspectives Notes do not reflect an official position of either the OECD/DAC or LenCD. The many contributors may not endorse every viewpoint in the note and they bear no responsibility for any remaining errors or omissions.

The Key Resources section was compiled by Tony Land in 2009.