Supporting Sustainable Human Development

Draft 1 15 May 1997




Two issues to do with the design and management of the UNDP's programme have gained in importance in the 1990s. The first has to do with the growing attention given to institutional and organizational issues in the development process. For most of the past four decades, the assumptions of economic and engineering have exerted a powerful influence on development thinking. Emphasis has been given to policy formulation especially resource allocations, costs and benefits - the 'what and why' questions to do with physical, financial and later, human and natural capital. Less attention had been given to the 'how' issues including functions to do with implementation and management. On the institutional side itself, the assumptions of classical organization theory, mainly imported from the west, have led to a preoccupation with 'building' formal organizational structures, mainly in the public sector and transferring management techniques in the form of institutional strengthening components on larger programmes.

Much of this thinking about the role of institutions in development is now changing. Conventional notions of organizational engineering are being supplemented by broader notions to do with the promotion of empowerment, an enabling environment, learning and social capital. Donors are using different 'intervention points' into capacity systems. The critical influence of informal patterns of personal and societal behavior - the 'rules of the game' - on individual and organizational performance is now better understood. And there is now more appreciation of the need to supplement rather than replace indigenous habit and practice. Many of these new assumptions are slowly combining into a body of concepts and practice called capacity development.

The second issue relates to the mandate of the UNDP in the 1990s and its own role in promoting capacity development. Like all donors, the UNDP must find ways to leverage increasingly scarce resources, react to the changing needs of its partners in developing countries, focus on specific activities where it has special skills and experience and coordinate its work with other UN agencies and other donors. Settling on this comparative advantage and reorienting the operations of the UNDP to pursue it remain an ongoing challenge.

This brief paper brings these two topics - capacity development and the role of the UNDP - together. It looks at the concept of capacity development - its evolution, content and current direction. It tries to highlight what, if anything, is new about the latest institutional thinking. And it looks at UNDP's role in promoting capacity development as part of its wider mandate in international development. The paper thus sets out broad directions. It is not intended as an operational guide to capacity development. Those interested in some of the more operational issues should consult some of the references in the bibliography.


One of the main ideas behind capacity development is that of the importance of contextual factors on personal and organizational behavior. The same idea holds true for development cooperation in the mid - 1990s. The work of international development organizations such as UNDP is being influenced by a series of contextual factors that need to be understood. The most important are the following:

This list of contextual factors gives a sense of the changing world in which donors and their developing country partners must now operate - less concessional financing, more pressure for cost effectiveness and performance, a shift in roles on the part of both developing countries and donors, more emphasis on knowledge management and dissemination, more partnerships and collaborative activities and perhaps most important, a growing realization of the need to focus on developing national capacities as the key to sustainable development.

    1. Definition
  1. Over the years, the development community has come up with a plethora of terms and definitions to apply to institutional issues.. The term used in this paper - 'capacity development' - can be seen as the latest stage in the evolution of institutional thinking in the development community. Box 1 gives a brief description of some of these terms and traces their evolution.

UNDP defines capacity development as the process by which individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, societies develop their abilities, individually and collectively, to perform functions, solve problems, and set and achieve objectives.

This definition has three key implications: first, it implies that capacity is not a passive state but is part of a continuing process; secondly, it emphasizes improved utilization and empowerment of individuals and organizations over building capacities from scratch; and, thirdly, it requires that the overall societal context be considered in devising capacity development strategies and programmes. These issues will be further elaborated in the next section.


  1. BOX 1 The Evolution of Institutional Thinking

The evolution of institutional thinking, much like its counterpart on the economic side, reflects the changing demands and perceptions of development cooperation:

In the 1950s and '60s, institutional building referred to the effort to equip developing countries with the basic inventory of public organizations that seemed required to manage the basic functions of a state. The focus here was on the design, establishment and functioning - the 'building' - of individual formal organizations in the public sector such as public service commissions, audit bureaus, planning commissions and the like;

In the 1960s and '70s, the approach of 'institutional strengthening' dealt with the improvement of existing organizations (e.g. improve financial systems, more staff training for counterparts) as opposed to the establishment of new ones as in the 'building' phase. Most donors included an 'strengthening' component within programmes that would supposedly lead to a smooth 'hand over' to local officials at the end of donor involvement;

In the 1970s, the term development management referred to the management and implementation of development programmes particularly in the area of social development and basic human needs. It looked at the delivery systems of public programmes and the ability of governments to reach targets groups, especially the rural poor, that had been ignored by the centralized bureaucracies created in the colonial period and in the 1960s;

In the 1980s, institutional development referred to the broader process in which a society creates and maintains organizations to deliver value to citizens. As such, it applied to private sector organizations and NGOs as well as those in government as might be expected during a period of 'market friendly' development. Institutional development was seen as a longer-term process of restructuring and organizational change that went beyond a focus on any single organization. Public sector reform began to take on a new urgency; and capacity building is introduced emphasizing the building of new capacities and institutions with the support of external assistance.

In the 1990s, systemic approach to the process of change, institutional economics and governance have provided more insights. Change processes look at dynamic systems and the inter-related hierarchies of requirements for sustainable societal change to occur. Capacity development becomes a central goal of these change processes. Institutional economics emphasizes the importance of incentives and motivation of institutional actors especially under conditions of uncertain information. This perspective also looks at the impact of institutions defined as the rules of the game on organizational performance. Governance covers topics such as the impact of political economy on organizational and individual performance, democratization, legal systems, participation, accountability and legitimacy.


What, if anything, is new about the term 'capacity development' that the earlier concepts such as institutional strengthening, did not include? What are the implications for UNDP technical cooperation programmes in developing countries? UNDP's definition of capacity development has six implications:

2.1 Capacity development needs to be strategic, answering "capacity for what?"

The first challenge for national policy makers is to lead a consensus-building process that will articulate visions and goals, and then develop strategy for action that defines the roles of the state, private sector and civil society. The degree of stakeholders and beneficiaries involvement will determine their ownership and credibility. There are many ways of doing this: through existing political or planning processes, special studies and workshops that will lead to national consensus-building, conflict resolution approaches, etc.

2.2 Capacity development aims to better utilize people and organizations

Fully developing and utilizing the full potential of the individual is central to UNDP's approach to sustainable human development. Capacity development is thus both a means and an end for sustainable human development --it empowers people to realize their potential and to better utilize their capabilities, and assures ownership and sustainability of the development process.

What does this mean in terms of UNDP's technical cooperation approach? UNDP has developed a capacity development framework to help explain the roles and relelationships of the individual, organization and the overall environment. In summary, the framework has four inter-related dimensions (refer to Figure 1):

  1. Individual learning.Education , on-the-job training, formal and informal skills development to accomplish task and solve problems are important core requirements. This should be undertaken in a process where the individuals can participate in decisions, have a clear understanding of their roles and functions, are provided with adequate incentives and salary and accountability structures exist. But access to these services is no guarantee that that person will be productive or effective -- other dimensions are necessary.

Organizational structure. A well trained, productive individual needs access to financial and other resources, information, technology, and infrastructure, often working with-in or related to an entity that has an organizational structure with clear mission, goals, structures, functions, systems and resources (organization examples: a public body, a private business, an NGO or a community-based group);

Institutional context -- the overall required development policies, plans, legal frameworks, institutional support and structures, public sector and human resource policies, incentives, etc. ;

Socio-political context -- the formal and informal values, norms, power relationships, particularly the role of women, sources of consensus and conflict, and the special cases of countries in crises or transition that need to be taken into consideration; and,

Economic context -- the economic policies and incentives that are required, the management and distribution of resources and assets, and the impact of the external sector, particularly trade, investment, ODA, technology and debt management.

Natural resource management and environment -- the impact and the importance of the natural resource base and the sustainable management of the environment.


This framework provides a tool to define all the inter-related dimensions required to improve the utilization and sustainability of individual, organizational and societal capacities. The scope of the analysis will depend on the goals to be reached and the area of intervention. All countries, even at the early stage of development, have indigenous capacities that could, under certain circumstances, be empowered or harnessed for productive use. All countries also have informal institutions such as property rights, legal systems, values and beliefs and structured relationships amongst people that affect the development of formal institutions or organizations. The effectiveness of these indigenous approaches to capacity development depend on deeper dynamics in the society such as the degree of politicization, the level of social trust and collaboration amongst people and the administrative heritage that a society retains. Such processes shape the way in which a society adapts to outside interventions and changes its organizational performance.

2.3 Capacity development incorporates the characteristics of good governance

Capacity development is not a neutral concept . The process (the how) of identifying capacity requirements can determine their outcome and utilization. For example, if a team of foreign experts , supported by government counterpart, identify a capacity development programme, one design is achieved; while if , for the same programme, national experts and beneficiares design the programme and obtain technical inputs from external experts, the result may be a very different result. In another example, centralized government programmes often have less impact than decentralized participatory programmes.

How can these examples be explained? Since capacity development is the process by which individuals, organizations and society to set and achieve objectives, then governance can be seen as the relationship between the state, the civil society and the private sector that enables a society to set objectives and to achieve them (see Figure 2). Capacity development is thus a form of promoting governance. UNDP is particularly interested in promoting "good governance" which has a number of characteristics:

UNDP has adopted a "governance approach" to capacity development. This approach maintains that, to ensure ownership and sustainability, capacity development designs and processes need to incorporate key characteristics of good governance. This has become a cornerstone of UNDP's sustainable human development approach.

This approach has important ramifications for the institutions of the state. Traditional methods of 'building' formal organizations - supplying training, establishing administrative systems, restructuring organizations - are still necessary in many cases but they are no longer sufficient to enable countries to resolve complex constraints to capacity development. It is gradually being understood that the effective performance of many public management functions stems from a complex range of factors - the relationship between organizational and institutional behavior, the legitimacy of organizations, national traditions of accountability and transparency, and the state of a nation's governance. A series of new ideas, values, rules and behaviors must be learned, internalized and institutionalized, particularly those that shape the relationships amongst people in a society. Stakeholders must learn new ways of problem solving, team building, leadership and conflict resolution. Learning is not 'delivered' to participants but is acquired by experience and through inter-action.




2.4 Capacity development looks at the potential of the whole society

A number of past UNDP programme evaluations of state bodies have noted that capacities were not sustained or strengthened because government counterparts left for the private sector after receiving training. This was viewed as a net loss. The recommendations usually perscribed that careful attention be given to the institutional context and, in some cases, the continued use of external support was thus justified.

UNDP's capacity development approach no longer sees the loss of trained people to other parts of society as a net loss. In fact, everywhere the role of the state is being fundamentally reviewed and the private sector's and civil society's roles in development is gaining greater credibility. In some developing countries the private sector and civil society are seen as the primary engines of growth and change, while governments are strengthening their abilities to define policies, create an enabling and stable environment, and decentralize their services to be closer and more accountable to beneficiaries.

This has put many of the institution-building approaches on its head, as the focus shifts to national strategies to develop, sustain and properly utilize existing societal capacities. Developing capacities in government institutions from scratch becomes the least desirable option and development planners seek alternative capacities in other parts of society and look to improving and maintaining existing capacities.


  1. Box 2 - HIV/AIDS and UNDP -- a societal approach

Some governments have come up with conventional strategies to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Many have relied upon health officials at the federal and state level to design and deliver programmes. Little attention has been given to a broader approach - initiating preventative measures, ameliorating the social and economic impact, developing community-based responses and introducing legal protection for those affected. In its complex, multi-sectoral nature, the HIV/AIDS pandemic presents all governments with a classic 'capacity' issue that cannot be resolved by governments alone.

Rather than focus on simply improving the organizational performance of health ministries, the UNDP has also supported the work of community groups, human rights organizations, economic and legal institutions, the private sector and HIV/AIDS patient groups. More specifically, the intent of the support is to allow these groups to:

UNDP's work in HIV/AIDS is characteristic of the new approach to capacity development - promoting new knowledge and social capital, encouraging the collaboration of actors at all levels of the society, working on the demand as well as the supply side and creating a critical mass of indigenous actors with the commitment and ownership to come up with sustainable approaches. In the process, new processes of interaction and learning has resulted in effective capacities being mobilized and utilized in a comprehensive manner.


2.5 Capacity Development is about the process of change

Developing capacities also means that people, often working in groups, organizations and systems, have to change the way they do things and interaction. More specifically:

i. Change involves the institutionalization of participation and learning . At the level of the individual, change is best introduced when the individual is fully involved in the design, implementation and accountability of the process. The process itself becomes one of "learning-by-doing" and, over-time, incremental capacities are built through a combination of on-the-job learning and skills development, improved access to information, and both formal and non-formal training. The right organizational and environmental support must be one that allows this process to continue overtime. And particularly when technical cooperation support ends.

ii. Policy changes need leadership. Where major policies and major institutions are involved, change requires strong political commitment from the stakeholders to introduce policy changes. A successful change strategy usually has "champions" and leaders who are willing to take risk and opportunities and help identify ongoing national processes and new opportunities that can serve as entry-points for change (planning processes, national/local elections, annual budget reviews, new crises restructuring programmes, etc.). In some cases, these people help facilitate processes that build consensus, clarify goals and develop national frameworks in which change can occur. It is important that these "champions" be legitimate national leaders and not created through donor-assisted processes. However, once they are identified, people who lead change require resoruces, training and strategically placed technical support to implement the process of change.

iii. Change requires understanding of inter-relationships. Change needs a systemic understanding of processes and inter-relationship of actors in them. While it may be expedient to focus on an organization, institution, sector or theme, sustainable capacity development requires that you "zoom in", to understand the dynamics of people working in internal processes and systems within each programme, and then to "zoom out" , to observe the systems that form the "enabling environment" that either support or undermine capacities being developed. This is the underlying principle in the framework in Figure 1.

.This approach contrasts with the more 'closed systems' perspective of earlier institutional efforts that focused on the internal operations of individual organizations -- often ignoring that these internal operations may be linked to processes and systems that are external to the organization (for example information , human resource or budgetting systems) Capacity development thus needs to look at the dynamics and hierarchies of systems. Such systems are multi-faceted and function on a non-linear and interdependent basis. A variety of organizational actors (e.g. health ministries, finance departments, district hospitals, doctors' associations, community NGOs, nursing schools etc) play different roles such as mediation, programme delivery, regulation, strategic decision making and many others. Actors are at different levels position themselves to attract resources and operating autonomy. Approaches to capacity development that are mainly technocratic come up short in the face of the complex political, cultural, social and physical dynamics of the system.

The systems perspective is designed to aid participants in answering a series of key questions such as the following:

iv. Change requires resources. Developing capacities without adequate financial resources and physical infrastructure to do the job may result in trained people and improved organizations that do not have a budget to work with or adequate additional equipment or facilities to do their job effectively. Availability of coordinated resources for managing change, developing capacities, capital investment and recurrent costs are key to sustainable organizations.

2.6 Sustainable capacity development also requires new donor approachs

The demands of capacity development programmes are changing the role of donors. The promotion of national ownership and execution is diminishing the need for donors to be directly involved in program and project implementation. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Advisory Committee (DAC) Principles for Effective Aid has been instrumental in leading the way for a new role for donors. The emphasis now is for donors to shift slowly to more of a facilitating role in which advocacy, networking, training, technical support and monitoring are emphasized. This shift away from direct control has a second implication for the role of donors. They must now provide more access for programme participants to information and experience either through their own resources or through other global networks and pools of knowledge. Donors must now see themselves more as knowledge and learning organizations that are rich in information, ideas, communications and knowledge. This 'information' role will become a more important one for donors as their ability to finance a wide range of development activities declines.

  1. The challenge to donors is to develop coherent capacity development programmes supported by multi-donor consortium which are nationally led and follow the DAC Principles. The current project-by-project financing and differnet approaches to long-term expert utilization, national renumeration, contracting and accountability makes it difficult for developing countries to formulate and implement coherent strategies. Multi-donor programmes could support thematic or sectoral strategies, with capacity development targets to help meet national goals.
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  3. BOX 3

The record and key issues related to technical cooperation can be briefly summarized as follows:

- technical cooperation programmes have been often effective provided direct, operation support, and can be a reliable tool for 'getting the job done';

- however, the record is poor when it comes to training and transfer of know how and building sustainable capacity for managing development. Most of these criticisms are leveled at the resident expatriate personnel element of technical cooperation , a concept which seems fundamentally flawed because it tends to discourage 'learning by doing'. The 'expert counterpart model' is used only in technical cooperation and is not a generally applied method for developing professional expertise and for enhancing the productivity and skill level of staff;

- the magnitude of resources involved in technical cooperation is large. In the context of the resources available at the national level, this is often a huge amount of resources, often similar in magnitude to the entire public sector wage bill or the total export earnings. There is a need to strengthen management in the use of these resources by a system of rational allocation within the context of programming development resources in the country;

- many involved in technical cooperation on both the recipient and donor sides, find many aspects of the phenomenon disturbing in their political, and social implications. In particular , the resident expert component of technical cooperation can have a perverse effect on capacity development, it sends a strong message against empowerment and ownership. It is often seen as donor driven, and motivated particularly by concerns for financial accountability. The widening gap between salaries and conditions for expatriate technical cooperation personnel and civil servants can cause resentment and frustration, contributing to demoralizing the civil service. The impact on motivating national personnel can be perverse. On the recipient side, the demand for technical cooperation comes less from the need for technology transfer and more from the need for operating materials, as TC provides a disguised form of budget support. The recipients have little control over TC resources and are not able to manage it well;

- much of the reasons for poor impact of technical cooperation programmes lies in the overall environment. When national institutions do not function well, donors are tempted to pump technical cooperation into the situation. But the civil service in many countries in Africa is in a crisis situation. They are experiencing severe budgetary constraints leading to reduced pay, retrenchment, reduced operating budgets. The fluid political environment of a transition process tends to increasing politicization of the civil service and weakens it. Political crises and weak administration, combined with economic decline have deterioration of governance. Positive experiences in technical cooperation tend to be in countries where the overall environment has not deteriorated and may not be replicable in situations where the minimum conditions of good governance do not prevail.

Source: Beyond Rethinking Technical Cooperation; New International Cooperation for Capacity Building in Africa. UNDP/Regional Bureau for Africa , June 1994


In conclusion, the full utilization of existing capacities and their sustainability over time, requires a comprehensive, integrated approach.

A broader, more complex view is thus emerging of the concept of capacity development. It goes far beyond training or the systems and structural improvement of formal organizations, important though these continue to be . A societal-based approach, building consensus around national goals and programmes, utilizing existing capaciteis, focusing on people, while taking the larger policy-related "enabling environment" into consideration, and placing technical cooperation and ODA in a supportive role - these all underpin UNDP's approach for the development and improved utilization of exising capacities.

The unforgiving policy environments in many countries have not made it easy for capacities - mainly in the form of young organizations - to sustain themselves. Some of the remedies for this lack of sustainability are now clear. Good governance must provide an operating space within which organizations can function and be free from undue politicization. Participation and democratization must allow citizen consumers to demand better performance and accountability from organizations that are supposed to serve them. Efforts at developing capacity must try to supplement and enhance indigenous practice rather simply replace it. And development organizations themselves must be focused more on mission and performance. Individuals must be given the incentives, the information, the resources and the skills to learn and to carry out their work.


How does UNDP operationalize capacity development. Given the breadth and scope of the needs for greater capacity, which extends across the range of development activities, the issue for the UNDP has been one of crafting a useful role that will get support from its many constituents, leverage its scarce resources and achieve results on the ground. What special contribution to capacity development can UNDP make, given its history, corporate strengths and assets, organizational structure and perceived impartiality? How can it link its interventions together, both at the global and the national levels, to produce a coherent impact?

3.1 Overall UNDP Policy Context

In the early 1990s UNDP undertook case studies of six countries-Bolivia, Cnetral African Republic, Ghana, Morocoo, Sri Lanka and Tanzania -- as part of a research programme on how sustainable capacities are developed. Furthermore, in 1993, the Regional Bureau for Africa, prepared a study based on the results of numerous National Technical Cooperation Assessments and Programmes (NaTCAP) titled "Rethinking Technical Cooperation-Reforms for Capacity Building in Africa".

The results from these efforts were distilled in the 1994 UNDP document " Capacity Development: Lessons of Experience and Guiding Principles", providing guidance to UNDP country offices that were designing and implementing capacity development programmes.

In 1995 a global UNDP workshop on Capacity Development, endorsed the new definition of capacity development and recommended that UNDP take on three core functions for sustainable human development: advocacy, capacity development and coordination. It recommended that new tools and methodologies, particularly for assessing capacity development requirements, be developed. This was endoresed by UNDP senior management in the same year. A new methodology for capacity assessment has been developed and a design aid for improved capacity development-related projects, called CAPBUILD, is now being field-tested.

3.2 UNDP Areas of Focus

Over the last few years, the UNDP has focused its activities on development that promotes people's choices, welfare and capabilities. Several dimensions of this approach have been articulated in the UNDP's annual Human Development Report since 1990. By 1993, the UNDP had pulled the different strands together under the broad rubric of sustainable human development (SHD). The strategic focus of the UNDP's work can thus be simply stated - capacity development for sustainable human development or helping to give countries, organizations, groups and people themselves the capabilities to make choices and improve their lives. In this sense, poverty eradication is the ultimate end and capacity development is the primary means.

This approach gives support to the creation of an enabling environment, namely combining equity and growth in national development policies, putting in place an appropriate institutional structure that can formulate and design SHD policies, and developing capacities for good governance and participation at all levels. Furthermore, UNDP's thematic support for SHD focuses on four integrated, multi-sectoral areas: poverty eradication, , advancement of women, employment and sustainable livelihoods and the management of natural resources and the environment. Figure 3 illustrates UNDP's areas of focus and summarizes the organization's level of involvement.


Box - Capacity Development and Poverty Eradication

Issues to do with poverty and underdevelopment can be seen as ones of capacity deprivation. Individuals, groups and organizations do not have, for a variety of reasons, the resources, skills and operating space to make and implement choices in pursuit of their own well-being. Part of the reason for this deprivation is the lack an 'enabling environment' within people can live and function. More attention is thus being paid to the ways in which both national participants and donors can combine their efforts to create a more supportive environment. Policies can be adopted that provide more resources to particular groups. The institutional framework can be improved at both the central and local levels through decentralization, public sector reforms and greater accountability and democratization. Laws can be passed to improve gender equity and access to assets. Groups can be given more opportunity to network and develop their capacity to 'demand' performance from government agencies . The impact of powerful constraints, especially those imposed by governments, can be diminished. People, in effect, can be given more opportunities to acquire the skills, resources, power and information they need to lead productive lives.


3.3 Support to Key Processes

Given UNDP's focus, how does UNDP actually programme and utilize its resources? This is done at three levels: i. advocacy and policy dialogue, ii. support to key capacity development requirments; and, iii. coordination of resources to maximize impact.

A key role for the UNDP is that of policy advocacy for social change and capacity development in support of sustainable human development. This means working with programme countries to answer the questions - capacity development for what? And for whom? And why? Such advocacy can take place at a variety of levels. At the global level, the UNDP is involved in forging international consensus on key human development issues through international fora, such as the World Conference on Social Development in 1995, and then helping to translate them into national policies and action plans. It is also influencing the international debate through the annual Human Development Report and, in programme countries, national debates, through national versions of the Report and other instruments, such as long-term perspective studies.

At the national level, UNDP is also supporting national processes to reach consensus on key societal goals and visions in support of sustainable human development. Such consensus can be used to serve as national frameworks and priorities for government resource allocation and implemenation. These processes can take many guises, such as supporting long-term visioning and planning processes, facilitating the development of strategies and action plans for change and development in areas such as governance, employment, gender, natural resources ,etc., assessing national capacity requirements through participatory methodologies and supporting electoral processes which help debate development issues.

In these national processes, UNDP is an impartial broker that aims to build broad-based consensus amongst national stakeholders. While being an impartial development partner, it also provides technical cooperation -- UNDP brings to these processes its global knowledge and experiences in sustainable human development.

At the country level, support to capacity development programmes is provided at two inter-related levels:


  1. Box 3 - Addressing the Enabling Environment -- Uganda's Capacity Development Plan

Uganda's capacity development plan, prepared by the Capacity Building Secretariat of the Economic Planning Department of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is designed to develop an overall institutional framework that will guide both Ugandan organizations and the donor community in their contributions towards capacity building initiatives. The priority areas identified in the plan are the following:

This national strategy now forms the basis for a number of donor investments in Ugandan capacity development.


Coordination of external and internal resources

UNDP is also concerned that development resources are well coordinated, so that they are more effectively utilized and have greater impact. To this end, UNDP is supporting a number of processes:

Tools and Frameworks

UNDP has introduced a number of innovations and instruments to make capacity development operational and technical cooperation more sustainable. Five tools and frameworks that, when integrated and used together, provide a potent approach to sustainable technical cooperation, are described below are: the programme approach, national execution, assessment of capacity requirements methodology, participatory planning and learning methodologies and the use of information and communication systems.

  1. The Programme Approach

The capacity development programmes of the UNDP depend for their effectiveness on a key principle: that UNDP support must be integrated into the national development plans and programmes of programme countries. The UNDP programme approach methodology is both an implementation tool and legal document to do just this -- now quickly replacing the "project document" format. It is a process of defining and providing external assistance through a cohesive national programme framework. As a process, it helps governments to articulate national priorities and realize sustainable human development objectives through a coherent and participatory national programme framework. It also provides a logical approach that integrates the processes of macro, meso and micro planning and management of any national development effort.

Although the right conditions and commitments need to be in-place, the programme approach to capacity development has a number of proven advantages and helps to operationalize UNDP's approach to capacity development:

The programme approach methodology is becoming quickly becoming the main UNDP instrument for the delivery of its resources and is always implemented through "national execution"

  1. National execution
  1. Capacity development depends for its effectiveness on the assumption of accountability, ownership, learning-by-doing and the accumulation of operational experience by national participants. Over the last twenty years, the UNDP has shifted from 'agency' execution -- i.e. implementation and management of projects by UN technical agencies -- to 'national' execution in an effort to encourage these trends. National execution (NEX) has now emerged as the main modality for the implementation of UNDP-assisted programmes covering over 75% of all activities. Through NEX, national authorities are responsible for the management and the implementation of UNDP-supported projects and programmes . Implementation can be undertaken by government, civil society or private sector bodies. UN-funded experts can be contracted to provide discrete technical support for short periods of time.
  2. The advantages of the NEX approach vary from country to country but can be summed up as follows: first, it also contributes to an enhanced sense of national ownership. It continues the trend to the 'de-projectizing' of development cooperation by integrating implementation arrangements into the national institutional context. NEX allows for a greater technical continuity after the departure of foreign technical staff. And it opens more opportunities for national experts to gain experience. And finally, its decentralized approach to management provides for more responsiveness to local conditions. It cannot, however, be seen as guaranteeing capacity development and sustainability. As in all programmes, the impact of broader factors in the institutional environment - salary levels, administrative traditions, the availability of financial resources, political conditions - are the more influential on organizational effectiveness than the method of implementation.
    1. Capacity mapping and needs assessments

Techniques to carry out institutional assessments of individual organizations have been in common use for many years. What is now required are techniques or frameworks that can assess and map capacity systems as part of the programme approach. The purpose of such assessments is the following:


Box 5 - Assessing capacity requirements in Sierra Leone.

In 1994, UNDP supported Sierra Leone to assess capacity assessment requirements for a public sector reform and decentralization programme. In brief terms, the assessment exercise found that the public sector in Sierra Leone is suffering from constraints at all levels including the absence of a training plan, few financial resources, inadequate incentives for staff performance, lack of responsiveness to citizen concerns, non-functioning financial systems and many others. Decentralization was seen as a worthy policy goal by many groups in the country but was difficult to implement given the overall lack of capacity in the government to take effective action. To begin the process of resolving these problems, the mission recommended a reduced role for government, immediate attention to staff incentives, performance and attitudes, more effective aid coordination, the introduction of more modern management techniques, the decentralization of selected government functions and the use of the many indigenous organizations and institutions that still function in Sierra Leone.


The actual assessment should be carried out as part of a process of participatory consultation. Key stakeholders participate including senior managers, beneficiaries, national experts, resource suppliers and other groups and individuals that have a direct interest in the outcomes of the assessment.

The UNDP approach to capacity assessment methodology and undertakes the following:

For the Africa region, UNDP is developing a national capacity assessment methodology, which will be applied in a participatory manner in 15 African countries and will result in capacity development programmes for their enabling environments, particularly in the area of good governance.

  1. Participatory consultation processes
  1. If the processes for capacity development planning in themselves help define the outcome and impact, then how can one ensure that the processes are people-centred ? How are participation of stakeholders and beneficiaries, social innovation, organizational learning, changes to ideas and patterns of collective behavior to be realized through these processes? UNDP has adopted a number of participatory methods that help facilitate group analysis, learning and consensus-based decision making. Some are for community-based programmes, while others are designed for organizational change or for countries facing complex emergencies and social dislocations.
  2. One promising approach , adopted by UNDP particularly for governance-related programmes, is that of process consultation (PC), defined as a practice of management consultation in which the UNDP facilitates national stakeholders to initiate and sustain a process of organizational change and continuous learning for systemic improvement. The role of outside assistance is not to supply direction or leadership or to prescribe a detailed course of action. Its prime purpose is to assist others to develop their abilities to manage change. National ownership and accountability remain at the heart of process consultation. This contrasts with the more traditional orientation of donor technical cooperation towards implementation and the delivery of technical advice. The methodology is particularly helpful in supporting the assessment of capacity requirements and the preparation of a programme framework for implementation.
    1. The information revolution and capacity development
  3. Traditional methods of technical cooperation have relied upon training and expert assistance as the main ways to transmit and management technical information. The global information and communications revolution is now altering the ways in which knowledge can be accessed, services provided and organizations created and managed. In many cases the hierarchies of the industrial era are giving way to networks - local, national, regional and global - that are becoming the organizational structure of the information age.

These trends promise to alter profoundly the traditional approaches to technical cooperation and capacity development. Small NGOs and other non-state actors can now compete with governments in developing countries in gaining access to information. Global networks will be able to provide advice, in the form of expert systems and examples of 'best practice' in capacity development, at a fraction of the cost of traditional technical cooperation and with less conditionally. 'Virtual' capacity can be developed in poorer countries in an effort to by-pass large formal bureaucracies that can no longer perform. And organizations in developing countries will be able to become part of larger transnational capacity systems in other areas of the world through communication linkages. Led by civil society institutions and the private sector, many developing countries are able to access knowledge sources which provide them with a wide variety of options and approaches. This is leading to speedier access to information at much lower costs and given the beneficiaries more control over how information is accessed and used. This allows for capacity development to be continuos and much more flexible -- allowing people and institutions to respond to dynamic national and global systems.

The information revolution also has important implications for governance; more informed citizens and institutions are better able to engage in the institutions of governance and administration. Public sector institutions not only have to improve their effectiveness, they under increasing pressure to be more open and accountable to the citizen they serve. With more options and information available to citizens, the private sector too are moving to improve the quality of their products and becoming more sensitive to the impact they have on people's lives and the environment.

The UNDP is taking advantage of this global phenomena and responding to the new opportunities. It is establishing networks of people and institutions involved in sustainable human development at the national, regional and global levels. The networks are assisting programme countries to help learn from each other, share resources and inter-act both locally and globally. UNDP's Sustainable Development Network Programme is developing the capacities of developing countries to have access to the internet and providing connectivity to civil society organizations. In all regions initiatives are supporting support to and establishment of specialized networks. And at the global level, a number of thematic networks are being established. For example, the Management and Governance Network (MAGNET) is the global hub for national and regional networks involved in governance.

The UNDP approach to monitoring and evaluation ( M&E) is dependent on ensuring that an objective basis for performance assessment is established at the planning and design phases. More specifically this implies:

A participatory, consultative approach to designing programmes, will also require that monitoring and evaluation involve the key stakeholders and itself becoming a learning and capacity development exercise.

Evaluating programme impact adds value when the focus is on strategic issues and on questions about "why" things happened, rather than simply "what" happened. Furthermore, evaluations should be forward looking -- capturing the lessons of past experiences that have clear implications for the future.


Box 5 -- Monitoring and Evaluation approach of UNDP's Capacity 21 Programme

An example of how this approach is now operational is the the Capacity 21 programme of the UNDP, which primarily supports sustainable development initiatives. Their experience to date points to two key lessons of experience. First, capacity development is seen about instilling new attitudes, values and techniques in individuals, groups and organizations that lead to new behaviors and enhanced performance. M&E as a technique must be designed to contribute to this objective. To be effective in terms of capacity development, it cannot end up as a reporting and control device designed mainly to meet the accountability requirements of donors. M&E must be an indigenous function by which national participants and stakeholders focus on their own performance, learn from their experiences and adjust their behavior. To encourage this process, Capacity 21 providers training and technical assistance as required as well as feedback and advice on issues raised by national programme monitoring reports.

Second, the techniques of monitoring and evaluation must be adjusted to take into account the special demands of capacity development. The effectiveness of process must be monitored as well as product or outcomes. Baseline data - how an organization or system performs at the outset of outside assistance - is crucial in order to judge progress. A limited number of performance indicators should be selected and used by participants. Both quantitative and qualitative assessments need to be made to deal with the complexity and ambiguity of capacity issues. System changes at the political, social or environmental levels need to be monitored. And a longer time frame is frequently required to come to a serious judgment on the impact of outside interventions on organizational change.


3.5 Changing Role for UNDP Country Offices

To be able to effectively initiative, support and utilize these capacity development approaches and tools, UNDP country offices themselves are seeing change and improving their capacities. Most UNDP country offices are:

UNDP country offices have been known as a source of technical cooperation to meet national priorities. UNDP today is more than that; it is a dynamic development partner, working with a wide variety of development partners to support learning process, advocating people-centred policies, developing critical capacities for sustainable human development and linking national processes to global knowledge bases and experiences.




Bolivia Capacities were developed for 180 organizations and tens of thousands of users to network for sustainable human development. This programme is supported by UNDP's Sustainable Development Network Programme (SDNP) which is presently enabling people in 24 developing countries to take a quantuum leap forward by expanding their abilility to exchange information nationally and internationally. An estimated 5,000 institutions already utilize the SDNP network to secure access to information for sustainable development and improved governance.

Costa Rica The National Development Plan was reviewed to adjust it to reflect the country's full commitment to the sustainable development goals of UNCED's Agenda 21. Capacities were also supported to introduce legislation to reduce energy demand and improve conservation, improve systems to protect national bio-diversity and to introduce sustainable development concepts into formal education curricula. These activities are supported through UNDP's Capacity 21 programme. Launched at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development to develop capacities for the implementation of Agenda 21, it aims to develop, enhance and utilize the skills of people and institutions in developing countries to follow a path of sustainable development.

Mongolia The UNDP-funded National Management Development Programme was instrumental in developing core capacities to manage comprehensive change. Reform, led at the highest level of government and parliament, has been initiated and capacities developed in the areas of public sector, privatization, private sector development, decentralization, accountability systems, and management information systems. For the next phase, this systemic programme has been expanded to include developing capacities of the parliament and other governing institutions. UNDP, supported by its Management Development and Governance Programme, is replicating this systemic governance approach in numerous countries.

The SudanUNDP-supported Area Development Scheme (ADS) works directly with over half million of the poorest people in 2,000 villages to develop community organizations' capacities to manage development programmes, including income generating activities through village-run credit schemes, resolve conflicts through consensus building, and to manage fragile natural resource base. This is an excellent example of integrated, decentralized, participatory approach. ADS is a model being replicated nationally and internationally.

Tanzania National civil society organization and NGOs in urban areas are being supported to develop their capacities to enter into partnerships, dialogue with government authorities, influence policies and resources and implement 17 demonstration projects to share experiences and to demonstrate alternative approaches to participatory and sustainable urban development. UNDP's Local Initiative Facility for Urban Environment Programme (LIFE) supports this and other similar programmes and has created a "global loboratory" for how to improve local governance capacities in urban areas.


For further information on UNDP policy documents, programmes and experiences that support capacity development, visit UNDP's Website at:


For documents on governance and capacity development, you can visit the Management Development and Governance website via hypertext through the above internet address or you can also visit UNDP's Management and Governance Network (MAGNET) website directly at:



mdgd\bk 15 May 1997


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Hopkins, T.J., Capacity Assessment Guidelines and the Programme Approach: Assessment Levels and Methods, draft report, January 1996

OECD, DAC Principles for Effective Aid, Development Assistance Manual, Paris 1992.

UNDP, Governance for Sustainable Human Development -- A Policy Document, January 1997

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UNDP, Systemic Improvement of Public Sector Management: Process Consultation, Management Development Programme, 1995

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