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Shared Glossary to Build Understanding of Concepts

in Capacity Development and its Results


We created this wiki so development practitioners and local partners

can build a shared glossary to improve the understanding and

practice of capacity development learning programs and results management.


This wiki is a dynamic resource that allows the development community to consolidate varying definitions for terms and concepts in capacity development. By finding commonalities in our thinking in these areas, we can further knowledge exchange and expand collaborative practice toward consensus-building in capacity development.


We encourage you to contribute your understanding of the listed terms, add new terms and definitions to the existing list, and/or add terms or concepts that you would like to be defined or discussed in this wiki. Kindly edit the tables only by visiting the links below.


1. Capacity Development:  Capacity development dominates international aid with more than $20 billion a year devoted to a range of activities, yet capacity development efforts have fallen short of expectations. One of the main challenges is the lack of clarity around the concept. What do we mean by capacity development and related terms?

Key terms: capacity, capacity development, capacity factors, agents of change


2. Knowledge and Learning Programs:  Development learning is expanding beyond traditional offerings that target individual change to dynamic programs that target the diverse learning needs of groups and organizations. How do we now define learning and its methods in driving development impact?

Key terms: development learning, development learning activities, learning outcomes


3. Capacity Development Results Management:  Progress toward development goals is moving beyond reporting the outcomes of specific development learning activities (ex. number of people changed) to measuring how learning outcomes and capacity constraints are changed through a program. Innovative results-based management approaches need to be considered (such as for assessing hard and soft characteristics) for measuring institutional-level impact and group, network, community, or organizational learning outcomes as part of an aggregate capacity development process. What is meant by a results focus and new participatory results practices for capacity development?

Key terms: capacity indicators, results framework, results chain, intermediate outcomes


4. Capacity Development Institutions:  Development institutions that deliver learning programs are evolving from providers of one-off trainings into global facilitators that help to shape the development agenda. How do we define these institutions operating at the global, national, and regional level and their roles in transforming the development landscape?   

Key terms: capacity development institutions, centers of excellence, learning hubs


5. Investments in Capacity:  These terms may relate to investments in capacity development efforts or the building of capacity. For example, human and financial capital, technological resources, natural resources, and other endowments are possible resource investments or inputs into capacity development. What is meant in today's climate by investments in capacity?

Key terms: resource inputs


For more information about this wiki or additional assistance, email capacity4change@worldbank.org.  

Comments (33)

drthanikachalam@yahoo.com said

at 2:53 pm on Jan 5, 2010

Most of the developing nations need appropriate think tanks to evaluate and design programs for the administrators to plan and develop capacity in education,industry,and services.This think tanks could assess the needs of the developing nations and design long-term and short-term programs. Every development activity could be evaluated and its impact could be assessed.There could be sufficient business models based on the available natural resources and people.Each nation could develop appropriate innovation model for developing the people.Their studies coulde be debated for updating the process development.Without this approach,resources would be wasted.

r.letchford@excite.com said

at 4:23 pm on Jan 5, 2010

Many thanks for the invitation to join this group - I am now located in the Solomon Islands and will be happy to make comments

Megan Trow Garcia said

at 4:41 pm on Jan 5, 2010

Thank you for the invitation to join. I am working in the area of the University's role in Capacity Building, focusing on education, environment and technology in Galápagos, Ecuador. I welcome information and contacts working on these issues and the opportunity to post comments. Megan.

Philipp Ivanov said

at 5:30 pm on Jan 5, 2010

thanks a lot for the invitation. similarly to Megan, i'm working at the University of Sydney in capacity-building and training mostly for Asia-Pacific. I'm very interested in the issues of universities' involvement in aid and development, particulalry in knowledge transfer and training. looking forward to comments and discussions

Wase Musonge said

at 5:30 pm on Jan 5, 2010

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to join this group. I am currently on sabbatical leave from the South Centre. I am doing a 1-year Masters programme in International Law and Economics at the World Trade Institute in Berne, Switzerland. I look forward to interact with other members of the group, who are interested in Trade law and capacity building projects for developing countries. Best regards, Wase.

jane anderson said

at 5:32 pm on Jan 5, 2010

Thanks for inviting me to join. I'm a PhD student at the Australian National University. I shall hopefully be starting my field work in PNG in March. The focus for my research is the perspectives of local actors on capacity issues - capacity development through a cultural lens. I look forward to sharing ideas with other members. Jane

ines basaen said

at 9:26 pm on Jan 5, 2010

thank you very much for inviting me to join this group. i am Engr Ines M. Basaen from the Philippines. you may visit my engagements from which i could also draw my share of inputs to this development group. http://www.gqep.com ; http://www.informaticsdiliman.com ; http://www.cocopea.org and http://www.informaticsblueprint.com

i am engaged in disaster risk reduction, community-based disaster preparedness, education reforms, good governance, ICT, and sustainable development.

thanks again and i commit to actively participate in this group. all the best for all in 2010. Happy New Year!

Donald McArthur said

at 1:15 am on Jan 6, 2010

Hi. Most professional educators would appreciate that the effective implementation of capacity training is heavily influenced by the predisposition of the recipients. Without the enthusiastic cooperation of the recipient many programs wither and die on the vine, so to speak, as soon as the foreign trainer leaves the country. Although this is common knowledge in extension work I would suggest that a great deal of money is wasted through both a lack of research at the conclusion of a project and prior to the commencement of a program.
Firstly, the recipient country may not be in a position to conduct evaluation of implemented program and secondly, the focus in early discussions on a program often is directed toward the funding with minimal effort directed toward the overall goals. For example; The recipients may wish to receive a capacity development grant and the provider may wish to include training as a precondition of the grant. In the end, the grant is provided including the training, however the recipient never developed interest in education and the capacity development is consequently limited. I see a need to ensure that effective stakeholder consultation takes place prior to the instigation of a program. This is generally not the case as the training provider ( the expert) invariably is a contractor who is engaged well into the project.
Cheers, Don.

zwilkinson@intrac.org said

at 6:44 am on Jan 6, 2010

Greetings from the UK! I work for INTRAC http://www.intrac.org , a Capacity Development NGO that operates worldwide.We run the Praxis Learning Programme http://www.intrac.org/pages/en/praxis-learning-programme.html which links practitioners around the world to share innovative approaches to organisational capacity building.
Online resources on Capacity Building are available at: http://www.intrac.org/resources.php?keyword=capacity+building&title=&author=&type=&format=1&language=&orderby=Publication+Date&sort=Descending&action=search&submitted=Search

Frank Webb said

at 7:57 am on Jan 6, 2010

UNDP publishes "Capacity Development: a UNDP Primer" (2009), which includes an extensive glossary of terms as well as presenting UNDP's thoughtful approach to capacity development.
Those interested to understand the shortcomings of technical cooperation, including training, should review the excellent analysis from DFID: "Developing Capacity? An Evaluation of DFID-Funded Technical Cooperation for Economic Management in Sub-Saharan Africa" Synthesis Report EV667 (2006).

andrew.wyatt@... said

at 9:50 am on Jan 6, 2010

Many thanks for the invitation to join the group. I am a Principal Consultant with OPM (a UK based consultancy company), working on public service reform and institutional strengthening in developing and transition countries world-wide. (I also had the honour to be part of the team that produced the TC evaluation referred to by Frank Webb - I am glad that he found it of interest.)
Capacity building is very frequently an element in the projects we undertake, but developing a shared understanding with clients, beneficiaries and donors of the many possible dimensions of capacity and sources of weakness in it is often a challenge. I look forward to an informed and informative dialogue with participants on this site.

emabwala said

at 10:24 am on Jan 6, 2010

I am delighted to be part of the forum. I have the interest to become a consultant on Development Project Planning, Design, Management and inplementation and i believe this avenue is good for me.

emabwala said

at 10:38 am on Jan 6, 2010

I think this forum is going to be very interesting as i've seeing that peo[ple that are presently invited have something to offer. I commend the effort of the organizers.

Milalin Javellana said

at 10:44 pm on Jan 6, 2010

Thanks for the invite.This is a good learning forum. I am currently the Faciility Director of the Philippines Australia Human Resource Development Facility. We provide assistance to several national and local goovernments and private sector (industry associations, chamber of commerce and schools). We recently documented our Capacity Development Model as practiced and the lessons learnt from our experience. Our model is demand driven with emphasis on building ownership and sustainability. We can share this with you once we have finalised the report.

Haiyan Hua said

at 10:08 am on Jan 7, 2010

Yes, thank for inviting me. This is a fascinating field of the international development. It is so relevant that we gather scholars, experts and practitioners in one place to discuss about many issues related to capacity development. Questions have hardly been answered after many years of capacity development projects and interventions such as What is the institutional M&E capacity (education sector or others)? How to build it if there is no local desire or demand for it? What are some specific elements and processes must be put in place in order to reach a basic level of institutional M&E capacity? Since capacity is such a broad concept for most individuals and organizations, the variation in interpreting and understanding it leads to different development approaches and results. I work on policy planning and M&E capacity development in education sector. Today, I face the similar challenges that I had 20 years ago. Yes, I am better at dealing with them...

donna.loveridge@gmail.com said

at 11:56 am on Jan 7, 2010

Thanks for the invitation to join the group. I am a M&E consultant working on public sector reform / organisational development issues/programmes in developing countries including the development of M&E capacity. I am also completing my doctorate which looks at the theories of change underpinning monitoring and evaluation capacity development in the Government of Tanzania.

A couple of questions are at the front of my mind right now are: 1) how might monitoring and evaluation systems be adapted to fit with different social/political/cultural contexts; and 2) what capacity development strategies might be more successful in influencing change in particular contexts; 3) How do different understandings/awareness of capacity development and context present opportunities/challenges for change?

I look forward to forthcoming discussions.

Frank Webb said

at 12:44 pm on Jan 7, 2010

I, too, have just joined what appears to be a very useful forum so thanks for the invitation. As adjunct faculty, I teach a course on capacity development in the Master's in International Development Policy at the Sanford School in Duke and I am interested to keep track of thinking about the what, why and how of capacity development and to gather good case material for teaching, so feel free to contact me. I'm not an academic but a development practitioner having been engaged in capacity development since 1978 when I assumed responsibility in WHO for a big program of "institution strengthening" (as it was then) for women's health in China. This was very successful and offered many 'lessons learned'. Ten years later I became responsible for similar work throughout the Asia-Pacific region, with particular responsibility for "challenging" countries like Myanmar, Viet Nam, Mongolia, DPR Korea and so-on. Now I teach and accept consulting assignments.

Gillian Fletcher said

at 5:57 pm on Jan 7, 2010

Hello everyone.
I would just like to add a word of caution here; that capacity development (or capacity building, or strengthening, or any other phrase which is applied) is ulitmately about relationships between people but in my experience too often in our rush to develop models and systems we lost sight of this.

Establishing and building relationships of trust, respect and effective communication takes time, and must of necessity take account of the particular context within which the exchange take place. Further, if we follow respectful relationships through in deed as well as in word, we must respect that our partners may have a different vision of where they wish to go, or of which capacity they wish to build. We cannot know that until we begin building relationships and working together, so how is it that a full CD agenda is often set from the beginning, by the donor or by the agency brought in to undertake the CD work?

While models and reports often gesture to the need for taking account of context and buyilding relationships, little focus is placed on ensuring those charged with building capacity actually HAVE good people skills... technical expertise is prioritised. This has become a rant, so I will stop now. But I look forward to any comments you may have on this post. Gillian

r.letchford@excite.com said

at 8:24 pm on Jan 7, 2010

Hello Everyone, I would like to say that i endorse everything that Gillian has said; much more work needs to be done on operationalizing Capacity Development Theory into practice; first of which is to ensure consultants have prerequisite relationship development / management skills as well as the ability to interpret Capacity Development Theory and translate that into something coherent for a specific context i.e. not just come up with a Training and Development Plan and tag it as Capacity Development.

Understanding people, the local context and being able to see beyond the horizon of quick fix training and development, that is moving beyond the obvious tangible aspects of CD to deal with the intangibles (relationships etc) is what leads to effective capacity development. Frameworks don't make change happen; people do. Rob

andrew.wyatt@... said

at 3:56 am on Jan 8, 2010

Hi - I would also like to endorse Gillian and Rob's emphasis on effective relationships - between development partners, in the workplace, between public servants and their clients, between officials and political leaders, and probably more dimensions besides. But I think we must also see these relationships in the context of organisational systems and processes; the capacity of individuals (whether in terms of specific skills and technical expertise or of the less tangible factors) will always be constrained unless they are also helped to acquire and deploy the tools to remove or improve inefficient or harmful processes. Andrew

lio_eno@yahoo.co.uk said

at 6:44 am on Jan 8, 2010

Capacity building in development works is more of learning and practicing the actual.All projects has it's specification and the end results which you as implementer and manager needs to guide all the officials involves in the project execution for success.what do you learn and how do you practice it? All about is to know the people and the local environment which can make you to identify the gaps and the training needs for the project.
Learn to make communication easier with the people and the beneficiaries.

donna.loveridge@gmail.com said

at 7:15 am on Jan 8, 2010

There are some interesting points being raised in this discussion.

I don't think there is one theory of capacity development but rather just theories of institutional, organizational and individual change which are drawn from a wide range of disciplines such as management, politics, economics, psychology, philosophy etc. Since capacity is complex and multi-dimensional it might be difficult to construct a theory of CD.

Looking at capacity /capacity development from a culture perspective it can be argued that institutions and organizations and their systems, processes etc are cultural products as are models and theories about how change occurs. These ‘tools’ are part of what people develop to guide how they live and to try and understand their environment. Therefore, changes to institutions/organizations/systems etc influence individuals’ behaviour and individuals influence changes in institutions/organizations/systems. Relationships are important as other elements.

Additionally, we (the all-encompassing ‘we’ of donors, development practitioners, academics, people in developing countries etc) are all limited by what we don’t know and are often unconscious of our biases, values, beliefs etc that underpin and guide our behaviour and thinking. This effects how we may identify and define problems as well as our choice of capacity development strategies. Limitations may be lessoned if people from different backgrounds/perspectives work together to try and understand context, unpick assumptions about how change occurs and this in turn might help identify more realistic outcomes and effective capacity development strategies.

Diwakar Vadapalli said

at 8:27 am on Jan 8, 2010

Thank you for the invitation! Recognizing the lack of an overarching theory of capacity development, capacity can be broken into several components based on capacity to do what and who is doing it. A useful construct in that breakdown capacity could be 'capital'.

There is some sustained discussion about relationships and their importance. This can, with some reservations, be termed social capital. Similarly, there can be organizational capital and/or political capital. Same goes for cultural capital, physical capital, economic/financial capital, human capital, etc. The point is, for empirical purposes, for evaluation and monitoring purposes, the construct of 'capital',lends some measurable attributes. Of course, there are some severe shortcomings that need to be addressed in measuring any of these capitals, with the possible exception of financial/economic and physical capitals. Each capital requires different strategies and each strategy may require a different set of capitals to implement. Separating the larger issue of capacity development into its constituent elements lends clarity to our efforts. Each capital can be identified and empirically defined based on practical necessity. Theories from several disciplines can be drawn upon to help with this effort. In all this the purpose of local capacity development will not be lost as the capitals are identified by local populace.

The role of the practitioner in capacity development was also eluded to in the above discussion so far. Whether external or internal, I would argue that the professional's role is more of a facilitator and advisor than a leader. Of course, there can and will be occasions where professionals will be required to lead the effort but that should be more of an exception than the rule. After all, if the professional leads the effort, there can be some serious questions about the legitimacy of the effort and also the indigenous capacity to lead is compromised.

Haiyan Hua said

at 8:34 am on Jan 8, 2010

I absolutely agree with Gillian's point about building and nurturing relationships (trust and respect) with people in CD approaches. It is so important to emphasize this. How often have we seen failures in reaching the results of "improved or strengthened capacity" because of the failure in building the trust and respect... Thank you.

andrew.wyatt@... said

at 12:09 pm on Jan 8, 2010

I agree wholeheartedly with Donna's points (hi Donna, by the way!). In particular, establishing an understanding of the institutional aspects of a situation (including the informal elements - conventions and norms which shape behaviour, and are clearly cultural products), and distinguishing between these and organisational components such as systems and processes, seems to me an important diagnostic starting-point. It is, though, in the complex interdependencies of the institutional, organisational and individual dimensions that the difficulty of conceiving and implementing a meaningful intervention seem to lie. Andrew

Pavan Kumar said

at 11:42 am on Jan 10, 2010

Thanks for the invite. I work on CD of local self government officials and elected represenatives on planning theme. For effective CD one needs to connect with the target audience, work on relationship approach rather on a cascading framework route. Would contribute and learn a lot on CD on this page. Pavan Kumar

jennycpearson@gmail.com said

at 12:33 am on Jan 14, 2010

There are some really interesting themes emerging in this debate, and I agree with many of the contributions already made about issues like developing relationships etc.

I'm just finishing a paper for the OECD-DAC and LenCD about the 'emerging consensus' among the donors and DTIs on training and learning practices for CD. What I learned from doing it prompts these comments.

First I should like to stress that this isn't meant to be a criticism of the WBI specifically, but this glossary initiative highlights a bigger problem across all the big DTIs.

It would have been encouraging, at a time when everyone is allegedly pushing for harmonisation and alignment, to see the WBI use some terms from other agencies in their glossary. What we have is something that is sourced entirely from within WBI, or the big meeting that the WBI hosted last year. Why can’t any of the DTIs adopt the definitions of the OECD-DAC for example, an umbrella institution to which they are linked? Or the ECDPM study, which is arguably the single most important piece of work on capacity in the last decade, if not ever? One of the most striking things from the work I have just done was that everyone is looking at ways to change, but with tunnel vision - totally focused on their own theories and processes with very little crossover in thinking or practice, and no practical commitment to harmonisation and alignment beyond policy statements. Personally I believe the DTIs have to take a lead on this if anything is to change.

The paper I have just written about the emerging consensus, is now posted for peer review on http://capacitydevelopment.ning.com/ under the Good Practice for Training discussion group.

Frank Webb said

at 8:23 am on Jan 14, 2010

Thanks, Jenny, for a valuable contribution that is right on the mark. In researching capacity development when preparing my course, I found valuable contributions from many organizations, big and small, with OECD/DAC, UNDP and the WBI taking leadership in providing many of the forums for discussion (virtual and real) and moving forward much of our thinking. Bilaterals like DFID, Ausaid, Jica and others have also written insightful pieces and undertaken valuable analysis of past experience and of course there are numerous NGOs adding their voice and thoughts to the debate. One of the challenges in synthesizing all this in a coherent course has been that of the terminology, which is far from standardized and therefore confusing enough to merit special mention in the classroom so that students can navigate the field. As mentioned in a previous post, UNDP publishes "Capacity Development: a UNDP Primer" (2009), which is a thorough outline of UNDP's approach and includes an extensive glossary of terms.

One final plea is for adoption of the term "capacity development", instead of the less comprehensive notion of "capacity building"


James O Wagala said

at 1:47 am on Jan 25, 2010

Thanks for the invite. I believe this forum is going to grow to help development practitioners from the all parts of the world to share ideas with a view to engendering sustainable capacity development. I will be glad to participate.


Joy Behrens said

at 11:27 am on Feb 9, 2010

I came across the following glossary of evaluation-related terms -- perhaps it would be useful for thinking also about definitions of terms related to capacity development:

Frank Webb said

at 8:25 pm on Feb 10, 2010

Thanks, Joy. Perhaps we should treat some of these with cautionr. The entry for "Capacity" dates from 1992 and reads "the potential for acquiring skills and competencies through such means as self-study, on-the-job training, mentoring, coaching, and professional development activities". That is a very narrow definition for the needs of those in the capacity development business, in my view.

Thomas Theisohn said

at 10:42 pm on Feb 10, 2010

Dear colleagues, I must say that I am a bit frustrated by this Glossary attempt for 2 reasons: (1) Indeed there are many established terms around as several have pointed out and we should simply start from these. There is already a wiki page on Capacity Development which lists several well established definitions http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacity_Development It was started by UNDP and can be used as starting point. (2) The introduction to this wiki approaches the issue in a double reductionist way: Firstly, it seems to imply that CD is something external support "can do", secondly it implies that the main way to support CD are learning programmes. Capacity decelopment is an endogenous process of transformation to which external partners can contribute in all humility. Learning is an important but only one dimension of CD. Enabling environment, legal frameworks, relations, politics, incentives, power matter. Any learning exchange on understanding CD aspects is useful in itself. But I doubt that we will "consolidate varying definitions" and should not have the ambition if the attempt does not build more solidly on what is already there. Thomas

Frank Webb said

at 12:41 pm on Feb 11, 2010

Thanks, Thomas. And thanks for the Wiki link, which I'd not seen. One of my frustrations in teaching a course on capacity development is that the terminology is not well defined and different organizations/authors sometimes use the same terms to mean different things. Alternatively, different terms are used to describe the same thing. Either way it is confusing. Overall this reflects another feature of this field and that is that some of the bigger players seem reluctant to acknowledge others' work so wheels are being invented in parallel. As mentioned way up this page, UNDP publishes "Capacity Development: a UNDP Primer" (2009), which includes an extensive glossary of terms and I think that this is the best starting point I've found. Frank

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