The role of capacity assessment in ensuring contextually appropriate capacity support

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 last blog of a three part series exploring findings from the study.  The first looked at the factors that explain Norway’s success in supporting capacity development, the second focused on how well Norway meets the principle of adaptive management in how it supports capacity development. This one will look at the role of capacity assessments in ensuring contextually appropriate capacity support, based on a longer evaluation brief Itad was commissioned to write.

As our previous blog on adaptive management identified, Norway’s partner-led approach means that it does well in creating local ownership and space for partners to play a formative role in deciding priorities for support and take a lead role in implementation. However, this ownership and space results in a characteristically hands off approach, with a high degree of informality in the design of capacity development interventions. The evaluation found that the scope and design of an intervention tend to emerge from a series of conversations between Norway and their partners. We found that in nearly half (9 of 19) of the interventions reviewed, strategies did not directly align with organisational needs.  Importantly, this level of informality can lead to partial diagnosis of needs, which in turn can lead to inappropriate capacity development strategies being employed.

While acknowledging the importance of flexible, partner-led approaches, we suggest that Norway’s approach could be built upon with the integration of formalised joint-assessments, which still incentivises partner ownership while also allowing appropriate strategies to be identified. In particular we propose five steps to using capacity assessments in designing and targeting capacity support:

  1. Formal approaches to capacity assessments should be undertaken to allow for the design of interventions that are tailored to specific needs
  2. Joint assessments should take place as they allow for the partner to take the lead but also for Norway to integrate a greater amount of objectivity in the assessment
  3. The findings of the capacity needs assessment should inform the scope of the intervention designed
  4. Capacity assessments should form the basis for mutual accountability between capacity development partners, to agree on priority areas and the purpose of capacity development interventions
  5. Given that a hallmark of Norwegian Aid is long-term support, capacity assessments should be periodically updated to support evidence-informed decisions on how to adapt the intervention, and generate data on the effectiveness of Norway’s support to capacity development.

Does this all seem a bit pedantic? Well, it is. However, it does not diminish the risk of interventions being out of line with needs if these steps are not in some way integrated into future capacity development interventions.  The point to take away is that a flexible, partner-led approach does not necessarily need to translate into a hands off approach. By taking a few steps towards systemising capacity assessments, Norway can play a more supportive role and go a long way in ensuring that capacity development interventions are designed to fit the needs of the organisation, while still retaining the benefits of a flexible, partner-led approach.

Gregory Gleed, September 2016

Share