Synthesis report on capacity development: Lessons learned and actions for Busan and beyond

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Publication Date: 
15 March 2011
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Capacity weaknesses are arguably one of the most challenging constraints not only to greater aid effectiveness but to the whole development effort as well. Past experience shows that development co-operation has not always been successful in helping to build human resource and institutional capacities despite the enormous volumes of Official Development Assistance disbursed over the past six decades.

This draft takes an analytical approach as it first examines the evidence of good/bad practice in relation to the Accra Agenda for Action priorities in capacity development, namely (i) the enabling environment, (ii) the sector context and related country systems, (iii) the role of civil society, (iv) technical co-operation issues, and (v) fragile situations.

Based on such analysis, the report then reviews the emerging south-north consensus that capacity development would serve as a useful guide for future capacity development policies and initiatives, moving away from the narrow perspective of focusing on such elements as training and ad hoc policy advice as stand-alone forms of assistance. The evolving framework for joint action stresses that effective capacity development is much more than skills transfer alone and that it should focus on supporting endogenous change to build skills and institutional capacities for locally managing development. Special attention is also paid to the particular needs of fragile situations in state capacity building. In all cases, country leadership is essential in building a conducive enabling environment, promoting a multi-stakeholder perspective and input, and in acknowledging the longer term dimension of developing capacities leading to gradually exiting from aid.

Operationally, the implications of the emerging approach suggest the need to pay greater attention to the following factors:

  • Acquiring a good understanding of the local context as a strategic starting point in mapping out country level action;
  • Focusing on sectors as the practical starting point in capacity development work;
  • Engaging in open dialogues among stakeholders and partners to assess priority needs and identify best options;
  • Dealing with political, technical and cultural aspects and processes of capacity development;
  • Starting small, assessing progress, learning and adapting approaches and methods;
  • Making use of aid as a catalyst while recognising its limitations as a means of coping with capacity development challenges;
  • Adopting a results-based approach which takes due note of short and longer term perspectives in assessing outcome.

The essence of future success lies in a change in mindset, which leads to behavioural change in terms of how to tackle capacity development challenges, develop a more coherent and inclusive vision about what needs to be done, and apply a Southern-led partnership modality for South-North joint actions.