Over the years our organisation has contributed, from a place of practice, to the discourse and practice of capacity development. The perspectives and knowledge of the CDRA has been informed by many years of working in different contexts in the global south and north with a diverse mix of practitioners and organisations. Our own organisational learning processes have also been a huge source of learning and have contributed towards deepening our understanding of capacity development not only as concept but as a practice
The complex social change landscape, which is in constant flux, is the context for our work. The changes in this context influence our organisational practices as well as the relationships through which we engage in and exchange experiences and knowledge. Within this ever-changing context we continue to see the dominance of market forces and their influence in shaping the direction of development and its practice. This dominance is leading to over-reliance on the market to provide solutions and has given prominence to technical and managerialist practices that lack the flexibility and adaptability to renew and transform.
We are witness to the growing dominance of service delivery and results-orientated paradigms that are linked to the development project and we see how this constrains the space for people and organisations to think about what enables meaningful development and effective capacity development practice. At the same time, we see the emergence of new forms of organising that hold potential for renewal. While these challenge our understanding of the physical concept of organisation and the practice of capacity development, this emergence of spontaneous citizen movements open up spaces for engaging in new ways and give rise to new capacity development needs.
We remain challenged to bring new thinking and emphasis to capacity development; an emphasis that moves away from the old capacity development paradigm that reinforces control, exclusion, inequality and unequal power relationships. While we recognise the contributions of traditional capacity development practices, given the new realities, capacity development thinking and practice should be awake and responsive to new needs, aspirations and opportunities. We are challenged to move beyond old paradigms and see capacity development as an endogenous process that is best facilitated in a way that enhances its vibrancy and health – capacity development has to be transformative.
An alternative framing of capacity development
For a long time in the development and social change landscape practitioners and organisations have yearned for an alternative framing of capacity development that shifts it away from a linear, technical, planned intervention which translates into practices that disempower and disregard the realities of people and organisations.
This narrow view of capacity development has often overlooked the importance of long-term change and seldom recognised the value of nurturing flexible, creative and reflective thinking and learning as part of the process.
Capacity development became an external intervention that resulted in solutions and values being imposed on people and organisations – this resulted in practices that did not take their cue from the values that were being lived by the people and organisations. Because of this, interventions ended up not contributing to the health, vitality and transformation of people and organisations. Instead, in many instances, it compromised their resourcefulness and vitality.s. This was disempowering and failed to produce the sustainable change and transformation desired.
The complex context in which we operate demands that our capacity development initiatives no longer only serve the narrow interests and needs of the development project and its successful implementation. They have to advance the purpose of transformation and contribute towards the longer-term sustainable change that is desired. In order to achieve this, our experience is that capacity development has to be undertaken in a way that gives voice to people, creates space for them to bring themselves fully and helps to build solidarity that will lead to collective action. In other words, capacity development has to enhance social agency and help people become clearer about their reality and their priorities.
It is becoming increasingly important for our capacity development practices to be informed by the needs, realities and aspirations of the people. The growing inequality and exclusion that have come to characterise our societies should be seen and engaged with as important elements that shape our capacity development initiatives and the approaches and practices that flow from this. Those involved in capacity development should ensure that the needs, aspirations and resourcefulness of people are placed at the centre of their work. The challenge is to see people less as passive recipients of services, information, knowledge and skills and more as active participants and co-creators in a process of change, learning and transformation.
To ensure this, capacity development practices have to challenge the dominant top-down culture of power and be values based. To achieve this requires a different thinking, sensibility and practice - capacity development initiatives have to work with people’s reality, maximise their potential and resourcefulness and strengthen the way they organise – it has to build solidarity around a social cause. The challenge we face is nurturing capacity development practices that see and treat people as architects and creators of sustainable solutions instead of seeing them as passive recipients of solutions developed by others.
Our experience has also made us aware that capacity development requires humility – there is no place for the arrogant posture of development practitioners and organisations seeing themselves as experts who possess the answers. It is important that our capacity development practices take into consideration that people, organisations and communities need to be supported in a way that enables them to invest in their own development instead of prescribing how that development should unfold.
Our capacity development interventions must recognise that social change does not begin with the ability to find the right answers but to continually develop more powerful questions out of learned experience, and from there to move forward. So, we should allow for continual questioning as we work into the unknown. Working into the unknown is the practice of social change; it helps us to remain alive and continually searching for better questions to meet the evolving intricacies of our lived realities.
What intentions and values should fortify capacity development?
It is important to create and hold a space through which the thinking, sensibility and practices of endogenous capacity development can continue to be (re)shaped, inquired into and refined. In doing so, the process has to build on the experiences and perspectives of all.
So, what intentions and values should fortify capacity development?
It is important to keep in mind that capacity development is for all; therefore it should contribute towards increased inclusion. The practice thereof should contribute towards shaping a world that includes marginalised, poor people and creates space for their voices to be heard. We have to use our agency to ensure that our work is in service of those on the periphery of our societies.
In addition, we have to be conscious of our relationships; they should not lead to further marginalisation of those on the periphery. So, capacity development should be in service of the needs, aspirations and struggles of the poor and marginalised. Capacity development has to help people learn how to ask questions, express themselves and enhance their ability to make choices; it should be about giving people voice and expanding the spaces and freedom to enable genuine participation.
The real contribution of capacity development lies in addressing all forms of inequality, power relations and exclusion. It should enhance the ability of people, organisations, communities and society to ask questions and shape spaces that nurture values, practices and skills for dialogue, collaboration and co-creation. Capacity development should create new knowledge and awareness among people and organisations and enable them to make choices in favour of the common good.
- Linking individual and collective capacity
- Inclusion and participation
Towards this, capacity development should be transformative instead of only contributing to incremental change – it has to help people and organisational systems move across a threshold by transforming individuals, power relationships, systems and institutions that entrench inequality, exclusion and powerlessness. For this reason, we have to keep relationships central; capacity development initiatives must bring people and different actors into relationship and create dialogical purpose. Dialogue, therefore, becomes important - this requires free space for people to find their voice and to be listened to.
It should allow for the processing of outcomes to be located within individual transformation or conscientisation and by implication, it should be transformative. Our approaches and interventions should ensure that those participating approach the future as learners; there has to be humility and honesty to admit that they don’t have all the answers and that the right answers can sometimes elude them.
To enrich the reflection and sense-making processes, it is important that capacity development starts from the strong belief that the level of local organisations is a rich space for learning. From this level it is important to identify transformational practices and experiences and take them into horizontal exchanges with others as the basis for reflection and sense-making. Horizontal learning exchanges provide a platform for peer review processes through which constructive feedback is given, received and engaged with. The collectively generated knowledge can be used to inform and improve own practice, broaden perspectives and engage other actors with the view to influence and advocate for change.
By way of concluding, an alternative narrative to capacity development needs to start with a validation of the people we work with. But, it can’t stop there, it should also benefit those who see themselves as the ‘builders of capacity’ – it should leave them feeling confident, positive, open and should remove the defensive barriers and arrogance that block the opportunity to do real lasting work on themselves that is the journey to transformative change.
Community Development Resource Association (CDRA)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Webpage: http://www.cdra.org.za
P.O. Box 221, Woodstock, 7915, South Africa
Telephone: -27 -21 462 3902
Fax: -27 -21 462 3918