The Capacity Development Programme

Capacity development (CD) is critical for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and more generally, long-term economic and societal development.  The development of capacities to utilize development finance efficiently and effectively for human development ends has acquired even great urgency. However, capacity development is much more than supporting training programmes and the use of national expertise – these are necessary and on the rise, but we must include response and support strategies for accountable leadership, investments in long term education and learning, strengthened public systems and voice mechanisms between citizen and state, and institutional reform that ensures a responsive public and private sector that manages and delivers services to those who need them most. Capacity development is a means towards reaching development outcomes.It is articulated as the overarching contribution of UNDP in the Strategic Plan(2008-2011).

Strengthening Capacities in the Region

Over the past year, events in Asia continued to reflect the complexities of a region balancing significant human development issues with the responsibilities of a growing economic player. The world witnessed the tragic expression of some of these challenges: the precariousness of democratic institutions revealed in the killing of Benazir Bhutto; the collapse of human rights on the streets of Yangon; the explosive link between ethnic and economic tensions in Malaysia. Yet international headlines capture only a fraction of the picture. It is, in fact, the trends underpinning these events- the growing inequalities between nations and between people, the risks to livelihoods posed by climate change, the dangerous vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and the deterioration of human security- that more accurately illustrate the multi-dimensional and persistent nature of the development challenges being taken on by Asia’s governments, donors, development organizations, and, ultimately, by local communities themselves.   UNDP’s responses to development challenges in Asia must, in turn, account for the transnational nature of the issues at hand. UNDP’s programs must involve strengthening governance systems and enhancing accountability mechanisms at the highest level, while simultaneously building on existing local knowledge to foster outcomes that can not only be sustained, but also replicated. UNDP’s approach must therefore reflect the upstream commonalities between countries in the region, without losing perspective on the inherent contrasts from one community and the next. 

Threaded through this complex development paradigm are capacity constraints ranging from weak institutions to individual skills gaps. Identified as the “overarching contribution of UNDP” in the 2008-2011 UNDP Strategic Plan, capacity development (CD) has been increasingly recognized as an integral component of all practice areas of UNDP’s work. As a cross-cutting application, it has correspondingly become more comprehensively understood and more rigorously applied to programs throughout the region. Of note has been a welcome shift away from perceptions of capacity development as a vague concept, to an understanding of capacity development as an approach that utilizes specific strategies, tools, and methodologies. Indeed, the 2008-2011 Strategic Plan clearly articulates a systematic approach to developing capacities through four distinct services: capacity assessments, capacity development strategies, costing capacity development strategies, and monitoring and evaluation of capacity development. 

UNDP’s global commitment to mainstreaming capacity development has been validated through the dramatic upswing in demand for support from the CD Asia team, with the expressed demand encompassing the range of CD service areas. In addition to requests for capacity assessments of governance institutions, for example, in 2007 the CA tool was also adapted for use in areas such as disaster management. The activities of the CD Asia team in 2007 also prioritized the need to design and deepen applications of CD strategies, from backstopping a coaching/mentoring program in Afghanistan to developing a pilot approach to improving local services delivery in Sri Lanka. Yet, while the team continued to engage with partners and governments across the region, there was also a dedicated effort to familiarize UNCTs and partner agencies with CD approaches and methodologies, with a view to supporting the build-up of CD components in country-level development programming. In this connection, a CA/CD training course was developed for UNDP COs and partner agencies; trainings were conducted in both Samoa and Pakistan in 2007 and continue to be in demand looking ahead to 2008.  A number of global and regional CD initiatives were also implemented throughout 2007.

In the area of Institutional Change Management, an analytical framework was developed for understanding the links between institutional change processes and public administration reform in the policy sphere. Priority was also placed on learning and knowledge exchange, from providing editorial support to publications such as capacity.org, to sponsoring the Second Annual Capacity Development Talk at the UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre, to making CD knowledge accessible to broader audiences through wiki and other web-based information portals. There was a continued focus on developing leadership capacities in the region through the Asia Young Leaders in Governance (AYLG) Project, which was explicitly cited at the 62nd Session of the General Assembly as exemplifying the UN’s assistance to democracy. Priorities in 2007 also included an emphasis on bringing together best practices of CD at the local level, as evidences to inform a regional strategy for advocating with governments to increase the amount of dedicated investments in local-level CD initiatives.   The activities of the CD Asia team in 2007 speak directly to what may be an emerging trend in the portfolio of capacity development support. While capacity assessments continue to make up a significant portion of the demand from partners and clients, there is little doubt that CD experts will be challenged to make ever-broader adaptations and applications of CD approaches and tools in the future.