Capacity Building

Michelle Maiese

August 2005

What is Capacity Building?

The terms "capacity building" and "capacity development" are used in numerous contexts to describe a wide array of activities. In the most general terms, capacity consists of a party's ability to solve its problems and achieve its objectives. [1] Capacity building aims to strengthen parties' ability to work together for their mutual benefit by providing them with the skills and tools they need to define problems and issues and formulate solutions. [2]

"Capacity building, capacity development, empowerment and strengthening-all describe an increase in the ability of a social organization to achieve the goals that are set by that organization."- Available Here

Of course, at some basic level, building capacity for effective governance and conflict management rests on the availability of fundamental human needs: food, clean drinking water, health care, basic education, and economic opportunities within a society. [3] Societies also need to have some sort of basic infrastructure in place that includes roads, electricity, hospitals, schools, and rule of law. If no such infrastructure is in place, it is unlikely that institutions, governments, and organizations will be very effective at solving the problems that society faces.

However, capacity building goes well beyond the provision of basic needs. It is matter of development at all levels of society and includes institutional development, community development, and economic development. Some of the central assets that individuals, organizations, communities, and governments need in order to achieve their full potential include knowledge and technical skills, institutional and organizational capacity, and the ability to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts. This essay focuses on how to build three broad types of capacity: political capacity, conflict resolution capacity, and the ability of individuals, communities, institutions, and organizations to implement sustainable development strategies.

Political Capacity

"The more political power and influence that an organization [or individual] can exercise, the higher level of capacity it has."- Available Here.

Building political capacity is grounded in efforts to support people's ability to participate in decisions affecting their family and community. [4] The goal of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development organizations, for example, is to create empowered individuals and active citizens who will take responsibility for their own welfare and that of their families. This means funding social programs to foster human development and organizing training sessions to develop people's knowledge and skills.

One central component of the capacity building of individuals at the local level is popular education. Popular education also helps to strengthen local citizens' awareness of their rights and responsibilities and to keep them informed about recent legislation. Literacy, in particular, helps to build awareness, raise political consciousness, and give people the information they need to think critically and become independent. [5] When individuals have the ability to read, write, and access information, they can make better decisions and articulate their demands for social change.

Indeed, many theorists have noted that democracy requires an educated citizenry. If individuals and groups are to participate constructively in democratic political processes, they need sufficient knowledge to vote and take part in political debates. Additional skills that enable individuals to participate effectively in public life include discussion and communication skills, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and the ability to negotiate and work as part of a team. If members of local communities are to advance social change, they also need to learn skills of advocacy and effective policy influence. [6]

School, neighborhood, and other local councils can be organized to enable people to practice these skills and learn about how the existing system of governance functions. People also can become more involved in their communities and increase their political literacy through community service. [7] In addition, there are citizen education efforts and discussion groups designed to increase citizens' awareness about politics, raise understanding of multiparty systems, and increase voter turnout. Training workshops are sometimes organized to educate people about civil and political rights, voting procedures, and the representative process. [8] Equipped with this knowledge, individuals are more likely to participate in elections, make contact with elected representatives, and attempt to articulate their voices politically. Likewise, voter education programs can help to develop a more informed citizenry who can articulate grassroots needs and interests and hold elected representatives more accountable. [9] Donors and international staff members of NGOs can help to build political skills among local people by implementing these sorts of civic education programs.

In general, people need to be exposed to practices of governance and learn about how to get involved in the life of their communities, regions, and nations. If individuals are able to develop an understanding of their own living conditions and social environment, this awareness may lead them to initiate structural change and take an active role in their communities. However, the capacity to analyze political and social problems and organize for social change does not come automatically. Individuals need access to skills training, technological knowledge, and problem solving techniques. In addition, they should have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes at the village level so that they may gain a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance. [10]

Many theorists believe that local community members should play a role in political peace processes and in planning and development projects. Participatory planning processes allow individuals to play an increased role in consultation, management, and policy formulation. [11] Such cooperative processes bring citizens into the planning and development of public policy and thereby raises awareness of how institutions function and what sorts of demands they are required to address. They also allow individuals to interact with local government, national ministries, and NGO leaders so that they develop skills and decision-making capacity. Through collaborative participation in dialogues and policy making, community members learn important skills that strengthen both their political capacity as well as their ability to manage and resolve conflicts.

For example, the Nicaraguan Community Movement is a cross-section of community members who are involved in participatory research to identify the problems and needs of their community and devise a development agenda. [12] Citizens gather in workshops or village meetings to discuss local problems and identify actions that local government and public institutions can take. As result of their increased involvement, community members learned about their rights and duties as citizens as well as how to approach local councils and make demands. At the same time, community leaders learned about public participation, consensus building, and negotiation.

Another way to build political awareness is through radio and local theater. Panchayat Waves, for example, is a popular radio program that aims to raise awareness about local governance in the villages of Karnataka, India. [13] Radio broadcasts examine different aspects of governance, explore democratic processes and the role of public forums, and discuss the rights of women. The program exposes people to the constitution and allows those from traditionally excluded groups (women, in particular) to have access to information about local governance. The hope is that knowing how the system works will give the electorate the capacity to make demands of their representatives.

It is important to note that in addition to building the political capacity of ordinary citizens, it is crucial to teach leaders of community-based organizations and NGOs about skills of advocacy and effective policy influence. It is also important to strengthen the capacity of newly elected officials and government staff, who sometimes have little or no previous leadership experience in formal politics. Training and leadership development programs, village-to-village peer education, and other support methods can be used build the political capacity of these government representatives. [14]

Conflict Resolution Capacity

"There are numerous sorts of capacities: intellectual, organizational, social, political, cultural, material, practical, or financial." – from

In addition, it is important to develop communities' capacity to manage conflicts and disputes. This requires that citizens, politicians, and professionals learn dispute management skills, adapt them to their particular context, and apply them within their societies. One method to develop dispute management capacity is the development of graduate and post-graduate curricula in conflict resolution and dispute management. Peace education curricula provide instruction on conflict resolution, cooperation, global awareness, and social and ecological responsibility. [15]

Note that such education need not be done solely at the graduate level, but can also be incorporated into popular education. Once people have the skills of reading and writing, conflict resolution education teaches the skills of collaboration and consensus building. Both citizenship education and peace education initiatives emphasize skills relating to empathy, active listening, negotiation, and the ability to construct and present reasoned arguments. [16] Parties also learn to think critically, argue cogently, and develop cooperative dispute resolution skills.

Another way to build conflict resolution capacity is to implement training programs for professionals in civil society, government ministries, parliaments, and universities. [17] Training civil society actors to build their capacity to transform conflict can take place at two levels: in international peacekeeping** and peacebuilding, and at the interpersonal and community level, where people can learn and apply the skills of interpersonal negotiation and mediation. Civil society actors involved in national and international level peace efforts often receive training on the processes of international peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Likewise, community-level mediators and facilitators often receive training in mediation and dialogue. [18]

It is also important to build institutional capacity to respond to and resolve violent conflict, promote tolerance, and build peace. Both nations and communities need to strengthen their ability to regulate disputes constructively and non-violently, promote dialogue, and build consensus. This means strengthening governments' capacities to anticipate conflict, address crisis situations, defuse violent conflicts, and develop conflict resolution tools and mechanisms. Officials of governments and civil society organizations should be provided with training in conflict analysis, early response, and conflict transformation. In addition, institutional and human resources to manage disputes and prevent conflict, as well as mechanisms to support reconciliation and co-existence, need to be developed. [19] This includes the development of third party intervention services at both the local and national level

"Capacity building is the development of our individual and organizational capacities to transform conflict from violence into a positive, constructive force. Collectively, capacity building includes the development of institutions (for example, local government, judiciary etc) which allow society to handle conflict without it turning into violence."- Available Here

Such measures are important part of preventing conflict within and among states, maintaining peace and security, and strengthening governance. Indeed, in cases where the domestic capacity to manage and resolve conflicts peacefully does not exist, nations are more susceptible to violent conflict. Recognizing this fact, many international organizations and aid agencies have begun to incorporate training in consensus-building and conflict resolution into their technical assistance programs. They have also begun to design programs and structures to resolve community conflicts and build local capacity in conflict resolution. [20]

For example, the Organization of American States has developed programs to enhance the capacity of both government institutions and civil society organizations to utilize dialogue processes and resolve conflicts peacefully. In order to strengthen this culture of peace, the organization has also provided training courses in conflict analysis, negotiation, mediation, consensus-building, and dialogue facilitation. Training seminars are also offered on human rights, participatory decision-making, and alternative dispute resolution methods. Those who attend these courses include community leaders, NGO representatives, police offers, labor officials, and university teachers. [21] These programs help not only to prevent conflict, but also to strengthen democratic decision-making processes within states. The overall goal is to strengthen the capacity of the government and public sector to manage and resolve local, national, and international conflicts.

Likewise, the Institute for Resource and Security Studies (IRSS) sponsors a program on international conflict management and works with other organizations to develop new policies that promote peace, social reconstruction, and cooperation in conflict-torn communities. One of these field projects is the Health Bridges for Peace project, which works to engage health care professionals in conflict management and community reconstruction programs. [22]


Some theorists regard capacity building as an important part of development work. They describe it as a matter of strengthening the ability of individuals, groups, institutions, and organizations to identify and solve development problems over time. [23] This means helping local people and institutions to realize their own development objectives and address issues of human survival and welfare. Governments, aid donors, and NGOs commonly contribute to capacity development by investing in people, institutions, and practices that will help societies to deal with their development needs in an effective manner. [24] To some extent, sustainable development also depends on nations' capacity to implement effective conflict resolution processes.

Building capacity involves skills transfer, training, human resource management, organizational development, and the strengthening of communities and social networks. It is important to train individuals to serve in national or international technical assistance programs; and also to train policy makers and practitioners to implement sustainable development strategies. [25] Those from civil society who should receive training and improve their skills include government workers, community leaders, members of women's groups, and other civil society actors. In order to build capacity within the legal system, jurors and employees within the court system should receive rigorous instruction from international legal mentors who are prepared and able to train and lead by example. [26]

National programs are sometimes implemented to develop the capacities of institutions to address people's needs. Through the process of institutional capacity building, individuals and organizations attempt to strengthen their abilities to mobilize the resources necessary to overcome that nation's economic and social problems. The goal is to bring about a better standard of living within that society by instituting institutional reform, altering accepted rules of behavior, and developing new policies. [27] This typically requires the strengthening the core institutions of government, the private sector, and civic organizations to build their capacity for economic and social transition.

Another way to build the capacities of poorer nations is to support the growth of academic and scientific communities in developing countries and link up these communities with international academic networks. [28] For example, the United Nations University sponsors various capacity development activities. First, it holds specialized advanced training programs for postgraduate scholars and young professionals from developing countries. Second, there is project-based capacity development, in which individuals have a chance to participate directly in the design and implementation of policy projects. The hope is that individuals will develop knowledge and skills that will help them to advance development projects in their home countries.

Indeed, many theorists believe that there is a need for more local ownership of national development. It is important that local people do not become dependent on donors but instead play a key a role in policy formation and the drafting of legislation. Thus, one of donors' central goals should be to build capacity for genuine community based self-determination. When local development initiatives involve widespread participation, this helps to build a strong civil society a responsible government. It also generates "experience, ownership, skill and pride in the population" and paves the way for trusting relationships. [29]

[1] "What is Capacity Development?", available here.

[2] Kenneth Bush, "A Measure of Peace: Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) of Development Projects in Conflict Zones," International Development Research Centre, Working Paper #1; available here.

[3] Susan S. Raines, "International Education and Conflict: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies, and Making Waves: An Interview with Jane Benbow from CARE," in Conflict Resolution Quarterly, (21: 4, 2004), Wiley Periodicals; available here.

[4] ibid.

[5] Vathsala Aithal, "Empowerment and Global Action of Women: Theory and Practice," Working Papers, Kvinnforsk, University of Tromso, available here

[6] "Linking Participation and Local Governance," Institute of Development Studies, the University of Sussex; available at:

[7] Catherine Larkin, "Citizenship Education or Crowd Control: The Crick Report and the Role of Peace Education and Conflict Resolution in the New Citizenship Curriculum," Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, Working Paper 9; available at:


[9] John Gaventa and Camilo Valderrama, "Participation, Citizenship, and Local Governance," Institute of Development Studies, the University of Sussex; available at:



[12] "Bringing Citizen Voice and Client Focus Into Service Delivery: Nicaraguan Community Movement," Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, available at:

[13] "Bringing Citizen Voice and Client Focus Into Service Delivery: Panachayat Waves India," Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, available at:



[16] ibid.

[17] "Constructive Responses to Conflict in Emerging Democracies: Distinguishing Between Conflicts and Disputes," Partners for Democratic Change, available at:

[18] George Wauchope, "Developing Effective Mechanisms in Civil Society for Conflict Transformation," The Witness Magazine, AGW, available at:

[19] "Capacity Building in Conflict Management," United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance, available here

[20] Yadira A. Soto, "The Role of the Organization of American States in Conflict Prevention," in Conflict Prevention from Rhetoric to Reality: Organizations and Institutions, eds. Albrecht Schnabel and David Carment, (MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 236-7.

[21] ibid., 245.

[22] "International Conflict Management," Institute for Resource and Security Studies, available at:

[23] Charles Lusthaus, Marie-H?lPne Adrien, and Mark Perstinger, "Capacity Development: Definitions, Issues, and Implications for Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation," Universalia Occasional Paper, (35;1999); available at:


[25] "Capacity Development in the UNU System: Principles and Guidelines," United Nations University, available at:

[26] "Capacity Building," Briefing Papers to Donors Meeting, The East Timor National NGO Forum, available at:

[27] Denis Rondinelli, "Institutions and Market Development: Capacity Building for Economic and Social Transition," Interdepartmental Action Programme on Privatization, Restructuring and Economic Democracy, Working Paper 14, available here




Use the following to cite this article:
Maiese, Michelle. "Capacity Building." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2005 <>.

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