Maurice Adams

Apr 6, 2021, 1:00 PM

Capacity Development: what it really means and how to make if effective

“The ‘CD’ process should not be prescriptive, formulaic or a template for guaranteed success.”

Among the many volumes written about the subject there is probably not a precise or even agreed definition of ‘capacity development’ (CD). And there is debate whether the phrase should be capacity ‘building’ or ‘strengthening’. We find a range of comparable terms regularly employed throughout the charity sector when there is a need to explain an organisation’s approach – or how it interacts with partners (another term with mixed connotations!). There is a danger that the overused phrase and the understanding of CD itself has become confusing and possibly even meaningless.

Nevertheless, the idea of CD should not be ignored. Experience has shown it to be an effective tool: a process of helping people to assess their situation, affirm their purpose and establish clear objectives, taking account of environmental factors and available resources - to increase motivation, effectiveness and ultimately their success. This is applicable to individuals and groups alike. (This is as close as I get to a working definition of CD).

Even though there are some principles, the CD process should not be prescriptive, formulaic or a template for guaranteed success. It is ultimately about people engaging with people, caring about their concerns and drawing on collective wisdom, experience and being in collaboration for an effective outcome. And my involvement in many CD exercises has convinced me that unless leadership is genuinely committed to the process, it ends up going nowhere. (See my other blog on ‘The Crucial role of leadership in the CD process’).

Often people start a CD exercise with the question ‘do we have the capacity to do x, y, or z?’, thus focussing on the ‘what we do’. My advice is to first address the more fundamental reflections of ‘who we are’ and ‘how we relate to other’, and crucially ‘how we relate to ourselves’. Only after these elemental issues have been addressed can the task of CD and strategic planning make sense. 

If successful, the process of a CD initiative will result in the increased and sustainable impact of the organisation that should include:

  • Leaders who are supported through organisational change and growth
  • A reappraisal of, and re-commitment to, the vision, values and objectives
  • A clear sense of purpose, priorities and perspectives for all involved
  • An alignment of strategy, structure and behaviour
  • Increased motivation with a release of individual and collective potential
  • A better working environment with a reinvigorated and united corporate culture
  • The ability to respond and adapt innovatively at an individual and corporate level
  • Appropriate and relevant activities in line with an agreed strategy
  • Self-determination and self-sufficiency at organisational and operational levels
  • Success in terms of the organisation’s impact, resilience and sustainability.

Whatever term we choose to use, if the principles of CD are conducted effectively, there is potential for significant and life-changing results, positively affecting the skills and behaviours of individuals, and the culture and impact of organisations. 

If you would like to speak to Maurice about capacity development, please email info@actionplanning

Andrew Johnson

Maurice Adams is a not-for-profit leadership advisor who has been a CEO, Vice President and Programmes Director for a broad range of UK and global agencies, with more than 30 years of experience in different sectors, roles and countries. Maurice has successfully directed and supported multi-national and multi-functioning teams by innovative thinking, skilled communications and leadership support.