Measuring capacity

Year of publication: 

What is the measure of capacity? This paper on Measuring Capacity attempts to help development practitioners
unbundle this question. First, by defining the starting point: an institution’s ability to perform, sustain performance
over time, and manage change and shocks; second, by offering programmatic responses that can drive
improvement in these areas; and third, by presenting a framework for capturing the resulting change.

The strength of institutions is central to the achievement of national development goals. Increasingly, development
programmes aim to strengthen various aspects of national capacities so that they are better able to
fulfil their mandates and contribute to achievement of national goals. It has been difficult, however, to draw
an accurate picture of the contribution of these programmes to the strengthening of institutions, let alone to
achievement of development goals. A key obstacle to measuring the change in capacity has been the ambiguity
of what the results of capacity development are. This paper hopes to offer a common language with which
to articulate results and a common framework in which to capture them.

The framework for measuring change in capacity presented in this paper captures capacity at two levels: at
one level are capacities that enable an institution to perform effectively and efficiently, repeat good performance
over time, and manage change and shocks as they come. Change in capacities at this level is reflected
in outcomes. At another level are drivers of capacity, or levers of change: institutional arrangements and
incentives; strategic leadership; the knowledge and skills of human resources; and public interface or accountability
mechanisms. The results of activities at this level are reflected in outputs. For example, measurement
of a health system’s capacity could include a national university system’s ability to produce top-notch health
professionals (outcome), and by the existence of an education curriculum that addresses the specific health
needs of the country (output).

The results chain (activity-output-outcome-impact) can vary across circumstances (an outcome in one situation
may be an output, or even an activity or input in another) and needs to be adjusted in each context. The key to
building a logical results chain is maintaining the inherent flow from one level to the next for each intervention
and for each institution: what activities will produce what outputs, and how will they contribute to stronger
institutions. Understanding the linkage between outputs and outcomes allows development practitioners to
focus on those interventions that can actually have a long-lasting effect on institutions.

The conceptual framework presented in this paper is intended to be used by development practitioners in
measuring change in capacity of institutions. The framework can be applied equally to a variety of institutions:
national and sub-national institutions; state and non-state institutions; partner institutions as well as those
within the UN development system. Institutions can encompass organizations as well as the enabling environment
or the system larger than any specific organizational entity.1

The paper is divided into four parts. Section I introduces a framework for measuring capacity. Section II
provides details for measuring change in performance, stability and adaptability of institutions responsible
for contributing to development goals, along with sample outcomes and indicators. Section III contains an
illustrative list of programmatic responses used to drive transformation, with sample outputs and indicators.
Section IV discusses implications of the framework for programme formulation. Annex I provides examples
of impacts, outcomes, outputs and indicators; Annex II provides definitions of commonly used terms; and
Annex III lists additional resources. This paper should be read in conjunction with the UNDP Practice Notes on
Capacity Development and Capacity Assessment, as they provide explanations of terms and concepts
referenced herein.