Addressing Capacity Development in Danish Development Cooperation: Guiding Principles and Operational Steps

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Sometimes the well-supported observation that donor-supplied technical assistance and training have overall not been effective for capacity development (CD) is taken to mean that technical assistance and training do not work. Or, the emphasis on ownership is taken to imply that donors can do nothing on their own, except waiting for partners to approach them – which partners may do, but asking for support that donors are unwilling to provide. 

The message in this note is different. It does not discard traditional donor support, nor does it employ a simplistic notion of ownership. But it does include much more emphasis on the quality and depth of dialogue around capacity development, as a precondition for providing effective support. This includes more emphasis on:

  • Change readiness. Where CD approaches have traditionally focused on “what needs to be done?”, this note adds a strong focus on “who are ready and able to do what?”.
  • Ownership in practice. CD is demanding, most of all for the partners. Ownership implies a concrete investment of resources by the partners. Otherwise external support from Denmark and other donors will not be effective.
  • Results – at the right level. This is not new in theory – but more work is still needed to focus attention on service delivery and regulatory outputs, and the capacities needed to deliver these – and not only on what Danish support can deliver on its own.
  • Dilemmas. Operational staff in donor organisations feels the burden of dilemmas and trade-offs every day. They have to balance a long list of concerns and objectives, and CD is – despite its centrality for sustainability – only one of them. Acknowledging the dilemmas and bringing them out in the open will help reaching pragmatic answers to the CD challenges.

Advisors, training and other donor support to CD can at one extreme be wonderfully effective and important. And it can be woefully ineffective, and in some cases even do harm. This note advocates a strong focus on the structural, institutional and human enablers and constraints in the environment that determines if CD processes and CD support will be effective. It advocates means to make this focus operational, recognising that it will not always be possible to go all the way.

Full document available from Danida.