Understanding Capacity Development

Understanding Capacity Development

Capacity Development is key to the long-term success and sustainability of programmes. This section goes through the stages in the capacity development process and then looks at the functional capacities required to support effective programme implementation.

What is Capacity Development?

Capacity development is a process of change whereby individuals and institutions can support the achievement and long-term sustainability of a development objective. UNDP defines capacity development as the process through which individuals, organisations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time.

Capacity development is often equated with additional staff, training and workshops. While individual training and workshops may be parts of a comprehensive capacity development plan, they are not sufficient by themselves. As an example, training an individual does not ensure that this training is then implemented in the workplace or that the increase in skill will strengthen the full organisation and ultimately lead to the achievement of development objectives and performance indicators.

For example, providing a network of computers with software and carrying out training to capture and disseminate health data will not succeed in strengthening an organisation’s capacity to more effectively analyse health information without considering various questions such as:

  • How changing the data collection and management system will affect staff?
  • How the new system will be managed and maintained?
  • How staff and partners perceive the system?
  • How system procedures will be introduced and performance measured?
  • How on-going training, up dates and oversight will be conducted?

Capacity can be seen as a function of many different factors: individual skills, ways of organising and physical assets, which all combine to enable an organisation to work towards its mission and achieve targets. The availability of physical assets such as computers and software may add little to capacity, especially if used poorly. Capacity development must be broader in scope and depth and goes beyond training. It addresses improvements in institutions, systems for health, structures and standard operating procedures, to improve performance, adaptability and sustainability.

Capacity Development in the broader development context

It can be difficult to distinguish between capacity development and development. Capacity development serves a development purpose, but leads to change that is generated, guided and achieved by those it is meant to benefit, which ensures ownership and sustainability.



As an example, contracting overseas staff to manage and run a five-year programme management unit that operates outside the structures of a Ministry may serve a valuable development purpose, but it is not capacity development. This capacity substitution may be necessary to ensure essential services are delivered, introduce new approaches and/or to respond to a crisis, but can erode national capacity if prolonged. Alternatively, if such a unit is managed and staffed so there is a succession plan to national staff and it is planned to be an on-going and sustainable operation owned by a national entity, strengthening the unit would be considered capacity development.

Capacity Assessment and Risk Assessments

Importantly, capacity development is a way to manage risk – the risk of failure to perform at a level that meets development objectives and safeguards against fraud and corruption. Capacity assessment exercises are often equated with risk assessments, in that they both identify areas that need to be addressed. While the objectives are similar, they are not entirely the same.

The objective of a capacity assessment, led by the organisation in question, is to find areas in need of strengthening, while the objective of a risk assessment (usually led by an external organisation) is to focus on areas of need in order to protect the interests of this external organisation. This difference should be clearly understood by all stakeholders, especially when a capacity assessment is being facilitated by another organisation, in which case the target organisation may perceive it as a risk assessment.

Global Fund LFA Assessments

An example of an external risk assessment is the Global Fund assessment, which is carried out by the Local Fund Agent (LFA). An assessment of potential PRs conducted by the LFA is similar to a capacity assessment to inform a capacity development plan, however the objective of the LFA assessment is risk-based, identifying capacity gaps to determine whether the potential PR can assume the PR role.  The objective of a capacity assessment to inform a capacity development plan is development-based, identifying areas for capacity development and improvement across a broader scope than just the PR role, with a longer-term perspective.

In summary, capacity assessments and risk assessments are similar, and risk assessments can be seen as part of a more broadly defined capacity assessment. In this way, capacity development efforts can be used not only to manage risk but, more critically, to ensure longer-term systems strengthening and resilience, together with the overall sustainability of programmes.

Functional Capacities

Central to the UNDP capacity development strategy is a strong focus on strengthening national systems for health; in particular the systems which support the following functional capacities:

These cover the minimum requirements of the Global Fund, but are also tailored to meet the wider requirements of national disease programmes and donor grants. The entry point for planning the development of functional capacities is ideally during the development of the GF concept note, but should be broad enough to include needs of national responses and programmes rather than just focusing on the Global Fund grant. This provides the opportunity to apply greater integration between the three diseases and identify potential synergies with broader public health programmes.

Global Fund Principal Recipient Minimum Standards

Project Governance and Program Management, including Sub Recipient (SR) Management

1.   The Principal Recipient demonstrates effective management structures and planning.

2.   The Principal Recipient has the capacity and systems for effective management and oversight of sub-recipients (and relevant sub-sub-recipients).

Financial Management & Systems, including Risk Management

3.   The internal control system of the Principal Recipient is effective to prevent and detect misuse or fraud.

4.   The financial management system of the Principal Recipient is effective and accurate.

Procurement and Supply Chain Management (PSM)

5.   Central warehousing and regional warehouse have capacity, and are aligned with good storage practices to ensure adequate condition, integrity and security of health products.

6.   The distribution systems and transportation arrangements  are efficient to ensure continued and secured supply of health products to end users to avoid treatment/program disruptions.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

7.   Data-collection capacity and tools are in place to monitor program performance.

8.   A functional routine reporting system with reasonable coverage is in place to report program performance timely and accurately.

9.   Implementers have capacity to comply with quality requirements and to monitor product quality throughout the in-country supply chain.

Enabling Legal and Policy environments

In addition to the functional capacities described above, it should be recognised that strengthening the enabling legal and policy environments, including the promotion and protection of human rights, is essential in ensuring effective national responses to HIV, TB and malaria. The environment in which the programme is being implemented is key to the success of the programme.

In this area UNDP provides policy advice, guidance and facilitation to:

  1. Increase the participation of communities and people, particularly those infected and directly affected by the three diseases, in the development of proposals and access to quality services.
  2. Support public health interventions that address social and gender inequalities, as well as behaviour practices that fuel the spread of the three diseases.
  3. Aim to eliminate stigmatization of, and discrimination against, those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, especially for women, children and vulnerable groups.

During capacity development processes UNDP works with partners on interventions to strengthen the enabling environment. These can include the following:

  1. Measures to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by the three diseases.
  2. Measures that increase access to justice and awareness of rights for those affected.
  3. Ensuring appropriate law enforcement practices that protect the rights of key populations and promote a public health approach.
  4. Training for health care workers in human rights and medical ethics, covering topics such as confidentiality, informed consent and non-discrimination.

Further information is available on the Critical Enablers Page

Extensive resources for Key Populations and Strengthening Legal Environments are available on  the Resources Page

Key Resources

UNDP Primer on Capacity Development 2009:

CDG_Primer Report_final

Global Fund Capacity Assessment Tools:

Global Fund and its operations

The Global Fund Risk Management Policy