The Capacity Building Concept

From Coastal Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

This article provides background information on capacity building, but should not be seen as a general introduction.

History of Capacity Building

Since the early 1970's, the lead within the UN system for action and thinking on what was then called Institution Building was given to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and it has offered guidance to its staff and member governments. This involved building-up the ability of basic national organisations, in areas such as civil aviation, meteorology, agriculture, health, nutrition to allow them to perform their tasks in the best way possible. All UN specialised agencies were supposed to actively support capacity building in the areas for which they were technically qualified e.g. FAO in the rural sector and agriculture, WHO in health etc, but they achieved mixed results. By 1991 the term had evolved and had transformed into Capacity Building.

UNDP defined Capacity Building as "the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems, adding that, UNDP recognizes that capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate (ministries, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and water user groups, professional associations, academics and others".(citation: UNDP).

By 1992, Capacity Building became a central concept in Agenda 21 and in other United Nation Conference on Environmental and Development(UNCED) agreements. By 1998 the UN General Assembly had commissioned and received evaluations of the impact of the UN system's support for capacity building. These evaluations were carried out by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs as part of the UNGA's triennial policy review during which it looks at all UN system development activities (see UN Publications section). Since then, the issue of capacity building has become a major priority within the global conventions, the Global Environmental Facility(GEF) and the international communities.

In the year 2000, UNDP through its Strategic Partnership with the GEF Secretariat, launched the Capacity Development Initiative (CDI), a consultative process involving extensive outreach and dialogue to identify countries’ priorities issues in capacity development needs, and based on these findings, to develop a strategy and action plan that addresses identified needs to meet the challenges of global environmental action.

In 2002, the World Summit in Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the Second GEF Assembly reaffirmed the priority of building the capacity of developing countries. the WSSD recommended that GEF resources be used to provide financial resources to developing countries to meet their capacity needs for training, technical know how and strengthening national institutions.

Capacity Building is, however, not limited to international aid work. More recently, the term is being used by governments to transform community and industry approaches to social and environmental problems.

What is Capacity Building today?

Over the past five years, a broad common conceptual framework has emerged. This approach is increasingly being adopted by the development cooperation community. It involves a System Perspective that addresses various levels of environmental management capacities (i.e. capacities of institutions, individuals, overall countries and regions)[1]. This approach puts greater emphasis on the Capacity Development process itself, on local ownership of its process and on equal partnership in its support[2].

Capacity Building involves human resource development, the development of organizations and promoting the emergence of an overall policy environment, conductive to the generation of appropriate responses to emerging needs[3].

The concept of Capacity Building includes the following:

  • Human resource development, the process of equipping individuals with the understanding, skills and access to information, knowledge and training that enables them to perform effectively.
  • Organizational development, the elaboration of management structures, processes and procedures, not only within organizations but also the management of relationships between the different organizations and sectors (public, private and community).
  • Institutional and legal framework development, making legal and regulatory changes to enable organizations, institutions and agencies at all levels and in all sectors to enhance their capacities (citation: Urban Capacity Building Network).

Levels of Capacity Building

  • Individual: refers to the process of changing attitudes and behaviours-imparting knowledge and developing skills while maximizing the benefits of participation, knowledge exchange and ownership.
  • Institutional: focuses on the overall organizational performance and functioning capabilities, as well as the ability of an organization to adapt to change.
  • Systemic: emphasizes the overall policy framework in which individuals and organizations operate and interact with the external environment.

Definitions of Capacity Building

See also Capacity Building

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):

In the global context, capacity refers to the ability of individuals and institutions to make and implement decisions and perform functions in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. At the individual level, capacity building refers to the process of changing attitudes and behaviours-imparting knowledge and developing skills while maximizing the benefits of participation, knowledge exchange and ownership. At the institutional level it focuses on the overall organizational performance and functioning capabilities, as well as the ability of an organization to adapt to change. It aims to develop the institution as a total system, including individuals groups and the organization itself.

Traditionally, interventions at the systemic level were simply termed institutional strengthening. This reflected a concern with human resource development as well as assisting in the emergence and improvement of organizations. However, capacity development further emphasizes the overall policy framework in which individuals and organizations operate and interact with the external environment, as well as the formal and informal relationships of institutions. Capacity is not the mere existence of potential but rather existing potential must be harnessed and utilized to identify and solve problems in order to be considered as capacity. (citation: UNDP).

Capacity Building and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

Over the past 30 years, there has been an enormous investment in Capacity Building for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) worldwide. Major actors in Capacity Building worldwide include international organizations (e.g. United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations), national ICZM programmes (e.g. Brazil, Sri Lanka), and numerous efforts at the project level.

The concept of Capacity Building has evolved. New institutional frameworks have been created in many countries to attend the specific needs of an ICZM project and/or programme. Additionally, a very large number of individuals have been trained in the concept and the technical and scientific basis for ICZM, as well as the skills required for effective practice of cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches.

ICZM is nowadays considered as the most appropriate tool to achieve sustainable coastal development by many EU coastal related policies[4]. This new approach to coastal management requires coastal practitioners and their institutions to be adequately equipped to deal with emerging implementation challenges. In fact, in the last two decades in Europe, the increasing number of ICZM projects at the local, national and trans-national levels, triggered by an ICZM Demonstration Programme (1996-1999), along with the increase of university degree programmes in the field, has resulted in a wide array of efforts dedicated to build capacities inside and outside academia. However, they remain as ad-hoc efforts without replication for the benefit of other potential contexts/users through networking and transfer of good practices and know-how.

Further reading

UN publications available on line:


  1. Vallejo, S.M., 2006, Are we meeting the challenges for capacity building for managing ocean and coasts?, Balboa, Panama, November 13-14, 2006
  2. Lafontaine, A., Assessment of Capacity Development Efforts of Other Development Cooperation Agencies. Capacity Development Initiative, GEF-UNDP Strategic Partnership, July 2000
  3. UNDP/UNDOALOS, 1994, Report on the Consultative Meeting on Training in Integrated Management of Coastal and Marine Areas for Sustainable Development, Sassari, Sardinia, Italy, 21-23 June, 1993. United Nations Development Programme and Division for Ocean Affairs, United Nations, New York.
  4. Insert reference material

The main author of this article is Garriga, Maica
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Garriga, Maica (2021): The Capacity Building Concept. Available from [accessed on 25-05-2024]