Evaluation of Norway’s support to Capacity Development

Towards the end of last year Itad’s Organisational Effectiveness theme conducted an evaluation of Norway’s support to public sector capacity development.  This is the first of three blogs, which explore the findings from the study.

This first blog looks at the factors that explain Norway’s success in supporting capacity development. The second blog focuses on how well Norway meets the principle of adaptive management in how it supports capacity development and the third blog looks at the role of capacity assessments in ensuring contextually appropriate capacity support.

Capacity development is a core cross-cutting issue for Norway.  We estimated in the evaluation that projects with significant capacity development objectives account for a minimum of 20% of bilateral expenditure.  It’s clear that capacity development is pretty important to Norway’s approach to aid.

Overall, we found that there was a largely positive story to tell around Norway’s contribution to developing the capacity of the public sector in developing countries.  In fact, Norway has had significant success in supporting partners from a range of sectors and countries in strengthening their capacity. Across a wide number of contexts Norwegian support has contributed to national partners improving the technical competencies of their staff, strengthening systems and structures and enabling them to become stronger, more credible organisations, better equipped to deliver on their missions. In a number of cases changes in capacity have also enabled partners to make clear improvements in their performance.

Given this positive story, we found ourselves trying to understand this success.  In the evaluation we identified four main factors that helped explain Norway’s success in supporting capacity development. 

  1. Norway’s flexibility as a funder. We found lots of examples of Norway’s willingness to change plans, scale up efforts and fund discreet activities as needs arose.  This flexibility has been central to enabling partners to implement capacity development activities in a way that is responsive to the local context.
  2. Norway’s commitment to a partner-led approach. Central to Norway’s approach to aid is that it is partner led.  We found this approach helped build partner’s ownership of capacity development process and created the space for partners to play a formative role in deciding the priorities for support and take a lead role in implementation.
  3. The long term commitment that Norway makes to capacity development. When Norway funds a partner, it tends to do so for the long term (10+ years).  The long duration of this support allows trusting relationships to form with partners, which allows ongoing and collaborative conversations to be had about evolving and emerging capacity needs.
  4. Focusing capacity support in areas where Norway has a well-developed expertise. In areas such as Oil for Development and Statistics where it has comparative strengths, Norway, through its twinning agencies[1], is able to provide national partners with high quality, highly technical, and oftentimes difficult to find skills and expertise.

Other factors which are not necessarily in the control of Norway, but which were found to be key to understanding when and how capacity development has been successful include: the ability of partners to invest sufficient time and resources to a capacity development process, and the use of quick wins to build momentum, support and commitment for a reform process.

In many ways, these finding are not new; intuitively, anyone that has been involved in capacity development knows these things are important, but the evaluation has shown that there is robust evidence to support them.  The challenge for Norway is with aid coming under greater scrutiny, growing pressure to deliver quick results, and greater demands for accountability, how it can ensure flexibility, long-term support and its commitment to being partner led remain hallmarks of its approach to aid.

Rob Lloyd, August 2016

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[1] Norwegian public sector organisations that provide technical inputs into most of Norway’s capacity support to the public sector