Evaluating Capacity Development

Unlike programs supporting health, livelihoods, and other impact areas, capacity development does not have stand-alone outcomes. Instead, capacity development supports a diverse set of goals in different sectors, at different levels, through different activities. Capacity development consequently presents multiple monitoring and evaluation opportunities and challenges for practitioners.  Some important issues surrounding capacity development and evaluation are:

  • Differing interpretations of what ‘capacity’ means - capacity of whom to do what and whether it is ‘adaptive capacity,’ which allows local organizations to remain resilient to change.
  • Defining long-term outcomes of CD rather than just short-term outputs. For example, what kinds of outcomes can we achieve by helping an organization  build a strategic plan?
  • Establishing causal links between particular CD activities, improvements in organizational performance, and the target development impact.
  • Articulating a clear and logical theory of change, accompanied by realistic, need-driven targets rather than donor-driven activities and programs.
  • Choosing appropriate evaluation tools on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to the specific information on evaluating capacity development which is presented below, the following guidance can be useful for evaluators and for those managing an evaluation and overseeing the development of a monitoring and evaluation system or an evaluation plan:

The Manager's Guide to Evaluation - this interactive guide goes through 9 steps in planning and managing an evaluation, including overseeing design and choice of methods and processes.  It includes the GeneraTOR - which supports development of a terms of reference for an evaluation.

The Rainbow Framework - this provides a brief description of more than 300 different methods, processes and approaches that can be used in evaluation, organised in terms of the different tasks involved in an evaluation or a monitoring system.  Further information about all of these can be found on the website - here is a guide to finding relevant resources.

Definitions of Capacity Development

The definition of Capacity Development, also referred to as Capacity Building, differs by source. Here are just a few examples:

  • The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defines CD as “the process through which individuals, organisations, and societies obtain, strengthen, and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time.”
  • The Organisation for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) defines CD as “the process whereby people, organisations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time.”
  • Global Affairs Canada (formerly Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA) defines CD as “the activities, approaches, strategies, and methodologies which help organizations, groups and individuals to improve their performance, generate development benefits and achieve their objectives.”
  • PACT defines CD as “a continuous process that fosters the abilities and agency of individuals, organizations, and communities to overcome challenges and contribute towards positive social change. Though often developed in response to an immediate and specific issue, capacities are adaptable to future opportunities and challenges.”

A Capacity Development Framework

Beyond a basic definition, Pact has developed a comprehensive CD framework. Pact’s framework breaks capacity down into three parts, which together form the universe of capacity development interventions.

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The first part of the capacity development framework describes the range of recipients for capacity development support. This includes individuals and organizations, networks and systems, and complex ecosystems of diverse actors engaged in development processes in multiple ways and with different perspectives on social change.  Traditionally, capacity development efforts have focused at the individual and organizational levels. Recently, however, capacity development practitioners are increasingly recognizing the importance of working at the system and network levels in order to bring multiple competencies to work on complex challenges.         

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The second part of the capacity development framework describes the range of methodologies for capacity development interventions. Capacity development interventions vary from expert-driven consultancy services and trainings to participant-driven peer-to-peer exchanges. The best capacity development programs employ a wide range of intervention types.  The interventions are chosen based on a deep understanding of an issue’s underlying causes and tailored to the local context. Traditionally, capacity development interventions have over-relied on big ticket events such as trainings and workshops.

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The third part of Pact’s capacity development framework describes the range of capacities that we seek to develop. These include:

  • Technical capacities related to the impact area of any given intervention.
  • Operational capacities needed to accomplish individual tasks.
  • Systemic capacities to ensure that key functions are performed continuously over time.
  • Adaptive capacities to respond to changes in their operating environment.
  • Influencing capacities enabling an entity to bring about change within its environment.         

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Any or all of these capacities may be necessary within a given program or country context.

Other Frameworks for Evaluating Capacity Development

There are many other ways and frameworks to look at capacity development from various angles, and the choice of the framework heavily depends on the scope and type of the intervention:

The above list is not exhaustive and many more approaches to capacity development exist.

Describe Capacity Development

Due to some of the challenges outlined in the “Definition” section above, most capacity development measurements today still rely on anecdotal evidence of change and assess effectiveness through outputs like numbers of people trained or strategic plans developed. Many international, regional, and national institutions have designed an Organizational Capacity Assessment tool to measure capacity development to address this issue.

However, such tools are typically limited to short-term results of concrete activities (for example, setting up a new M&E system). The tools also rarely take into account the influence of the external environment, i.e. change in political, economic, legislative, cultural, and social spheres, on the entity whose capacity is being developed. Such assessments cannot demonstrate capacity strengthening outcomes: changes in how the organization behaves and functions, and consequently how capacity development impacts the lives of its targeted beneficiaries.

In order to understand the longer-term influence of capacity development on an entity, practitioners need to be able to see whether the entity has improved its performance over time. Pact’s theory of change (see graphic) connects organizational change at the output level (change in the systems, skills, and policies of entities) to changes at the impact level (influence at the community level) through measuring growth in organizational performance. Pact has developed the Organizational Performance Index (OPI) to measure this growth in each individual partner entity, and to analyze trends by country, region, and around the world.

A good capacity development evaluation literature review can be found in the materials of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development and Cooperation.

Examples of New Approaches in CD Evaluation

There are a number of other organizations exploring new approaches to measuring and analyzing the outcomes of capacity development interventions: Root Change with its STAR approach, Global Giving and the Storytelling projectTCC Group and the Advocacy Capacity Assessment Tool, Foundation Strategy Group's (FSG) Shared Measurement systemDeloitte’s Maturity Model Assessment Tool, and the popular Outcome Mapping methodology.



Anonymous's picture
ana castaneda

This a very good reference material. Thanks

Anonymous's picture
James Afif Jaber

Thanks very much for this educative and useful information being shared. It is meaningful for reference material and sharpening the mind. I am grateful for this information in helping to improve my level of education on evaluation.

Anonymous's picture
Adebakin Afusat Iyabode

i what to know wether this can assist me for my project as i am writing on influence of cooperative society on capacity building  

Anonymous's picture
Chi Chantal Ngwelum

Very brief and straight to the point approach on evaluation of capacity. this is so helpful to students and organisations. Much appreciated