Country Systems Strengthening: Beyond Human and Organizational Capacity Development

John Gillies, Felix Alvarado

This publication attempts to take a a more holistic and pragmatic approach to country systems strengthening. The central question of systems strengthening in international development has seldom been explicitly defined or operationalized, and is more subject to generic rhetorical assertions than to rigorous analysis based on a theory of change. This background paper explores USAID’s experience in human and organizational capacity in the context of systems strengthening, exploring the following issues:

  • How has human and institutional capacity building contributed to country system strengthening?
  • What are the primary factors that contribute to successful country systems strengthening?
  • What implementation modalities have proven effective for developing national capacity?
  • How do we know that interventions are actually improving systems?
  • What are the implications for donors, and USAID in particular, in the context of changing international assistance?

This paper focuses on one program (The Guatemala Dialogue for Social Investment Project) in detail to illustrate the challenges and practice of addressing systems issues: 1) the underlying thinking about a theory of change, 2) learning about the process as the programs develop, and 3) the operational issue of what it takes to be successful in the USAID structure

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Economic development
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Education and training
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Case story length: 
24 pages

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