Capacity building (or capacity development) is the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources needed to do their jobs competently. It allows individuals and organizations to perform at a greater capacity (larger scale, larger audience, larger impact, etc). "Capacity building" and "Capacity development" are often used interchangeably. This term indexes a series of initiatives from the 1950s in which the active participation of local communities’ members in social and economic development was encouraged via national and subnational plans.
Community capacity building is a conceptual approach toward social and behavioural change and leads to infrastructure development. It focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from realizing the goals that will allow them to achieve sustainable results.
The term community capacity building emerged, in the context of international development, during the 1990s. Today, "community capacity building" is included in the programs of most international organizations that work in development. This includes organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations like Oxfam International. The pervasive use of the term has resulted in controversy over its true meaning.
Community capacity building often refers to strengthening the skills of people and communities, in small businesses and local grassroots movements, in order to achieve their goals and overcome particular issues that may cause exclusion. Organizational capacity building is used by NGOs and governments to guide their internal development and activities.
Capacity building, as a practice, tends to treat the range of skills and competencies needed as linked to the immediate task. Martha Nussbaum's Capabilities approach provides more depth to this theory. Alternatively, Paul James proposes the Circles of Social Life approach.
Many organizations may interpret community capacity building differently than others. Some methods of capacity building include fundraising, training centres, exposure visits, office and documentation support, on-job training, learning centres, and consultations. Developing nations are adopting strategies in the form of capacity building, to avoid becoming perpetually dependent on international aid.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was one of the forerunners in developing an understanding of community capacity building and development. Since the early 1970s, the UNDP offered guidance to its staff and governments on what was considered "institution-building".
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), formerly the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), defines capacity development in the DRR domain as "the process by which people, organizations and society systematically stimulate and develop their capability over time to achieve social and economic goals, including through improvement of knowledge, skills, systems, and institutions – within a wider social and cultural enabling environment."
In 1991, the term evolved to be "community capacity building". The UNDP defines community capacity building as a long-term continual process of development that involves all stakeholders. This includes ministries, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, professionals, community members, academics and more. Community capacity building uses a country's human, scientific, technological, organizational, institutional, and resource potentiality. The goal of community capacity building is to tackle problems related to policy and methods of development while considering the potential limits and needs of the people concerned. The UNDP outlines that community capacity building takes place at an individual, an institutional, societal level and non-training level.
- Individual level – This requires the development of conditions that allow individual participants to build and enhance knowledge and skills. It also calls for the establishment of conditions that will allow individuals to engage in the "process of learning and adapting to change."
- Institutional level – This should involve aiding institutions in developing countries. It should not involve creating new institutions, rather modernizing existing institutions and supporting them in forming sound policies, organizational structures, and effective methods of management and revenue control.
- Societal level – This should support the establishment of a more "interactive public administration that learns equally from its actions and from the feedback it receives from the population at large." Community capacity building must be used to develop public administrators that are responsive and accountable.
- Non-Training Level - This should provide an enabling of an environment for the trained staff to perform at their optimum level.
Patrick Wakely (1997) from the University College London held similar views to the UNDP about systems nature of capacity. He believed that thinking about capacity building as simple training or human resource development was too limiting and that there needed to be a shift from that mindset. He also believed that increasing the capacity of the individual was not enough to contribute to the advancement of sustainable development alone, and needed to be paired with a supportive institutional and organizational environment. The three aspects of capacity building that Wakely believed to be essential to creating better cities are human resource development, organizational development, and institutional development. Human resource development is defined as "the process of equipping people with the understanding and skills, and access to the information and knowledge to perform effectively". It is where Wakely believes too much emphasis and efforts are focused here. Organizational development involves the processes of how things get done within an organization and require examining how and why an organization does something and what could be improved. Institutional development is the "legal and regulatory changes" that must be made in order for organizations to enhance their capacities.
Community capacity building is defined as the "process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast-changing world."
Infrastructure development has been considered "economic capacity building" because it increases the capacity of any developed or developing society to improve trade, employment, economic development and quality of life.
The term "community capacity building" has evolved from past terms such as institutional building and organizational development.
In the 1950s and 1960s, these terms referred to community development that focused on enhancing the technological and self-help capacities of individuals in rural areas.
In the 1970s, following a series of reports on international development, an emphasis was placed on building capacity for technical skills in rural areas, and also in the administrative sectors of developing countries. In the 1980s the concept of institutional development expanded even more. Institutional development was viewed as a long-term process of building up a developing country's government, public and private sector institutions, and NGOs.
Though precursors to capacity building existed before, they were not crucial topics in international development like capacity building became during the 1990s.
- New philosophies that promoted empowerment and participation, like Paulo Freire's Education for Critical Consciousness (1973), which emphasized that education could not be handed down from an omniscient teacher to an ignorant student; rather it must be achieved through the process of a dialogue among equals.
- Commissioned reports and research during the 1980s, like the Capacity and Vulnerabilities Analysis (CVA), posited three assumptions:
- Development is a process by which vulnerabilities are reduced and capacities increased
- No one develops anyone else
Changes in international development approaches
- During the 1980s, many low-income states were subjected to "structural adjustment packages"—the neoliberal nature of the packages led to increasing disparities of wealth. In response, a series of "social dimension adjustments were enacted." The growing wealth gap coupled with "social dimension adjustments" allowed for an increased significance of NGOs in developing states as they actively participated in social service delivery to the poor.
Capacity building as path to sustainable development
With increasing concerns about environmental issues such as climate change, there has been a focus on achieving sustainable development, or development that maximizes social, economic, and environmental benefit in the long run while protecting the earth. During debates about how to achieve sustainable development. It has become commonplace to include discussions about local community empowerment as well as "related concepts of participation, ownership, agency, and bottom-up planning." In order to empower local communities to be self-sustaining, capacity building has become a crucial part of achieving sustainable development. Many NGOs and developmental organizations end up inducing chronic aid dependency within communities by doing developmental projects for the communities rather than in partnership with them.
Reports like the CVA and ideas like those of Freire's from earlier decades emphasized that "no one could develop anyone else" and development had to be participatory. These arguments questioned the effectiveness of "service delivery programs" for achieving sustainable development, thus leading the way for a new emphasis on capacity building.
In September 2000, a commitment was sealed at the Millennium Declaration in New York by 190 countries with the aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. This commitment, which helped the nations, particularly the developing countries to effectively and speedily respond to the current global economic recession, climate change and other crises, has sparked renewed interest and engagement in capacity building.
In developing societies
Under the UNDP's 2008–2013 "strategic plan for development", capacity building is the "organization's core contribution to development." The UNDP promotes a capacity-building approach to development in the 166 countries it is active in. It focuses on building capacity at an institutional level and offers a six-step process for systematic capacity building.
The steps are:
- Conducting Training Need Assessment (TNA)
- Engage stakeholders on capacity development
- An effective capacity building process must encourage participation by all those involved. If stakeholders are involved and share ownership in the process of development they will feel more responsible for the outcome and sustainability of the development. Engaging stakeholder's who are directly affected by the situation allows for more effective decision-making, it also makes development work more transparent. UNDP and its partners use advocacy and policy advisory to better engage stakeholders.
- Assess capacity needs and assets
- Assessing preexisting capacities through engagement with stakeholders allows capacity builders to see what areas require additional training, what areas should be prioritized, in what ways capacity building can be incorporated into local and institutional development strategies. The UNDP argues that capacity building that is not rooted in a comprehensive study and assessment of the preexisting conditions will be restricted to training alone, which will not facilitate sustained results.
- Formulate a capacity development response
- The UNDP says that once an assessment has been completed a capacity building response must be created based on four core issues:
- Institutional arrangements
- Assessments often find that institutions are inefficient because of bad or weak policies, procedures, resource management, organization, leadership, frameworks, and communication. The UNDP and its networks work to fix problems associated with institutional arrangements by developing human resource frameworks "cover policies and procedures for recruitment, deployment and transfer, incentives systems, skills development, performance evaluation systems, and ethics and values."
- The UNDP believes that leadership by either an individual or an organization can catalyze the achievement of development objectives. Strong leadership allows for easier adaption to changes, strong leaders can also influence people. The UNDP uses coaching and mentoring programmers to help encourage the development of leadership skills such as, priority setting, communication and strategic planning.
- The UNDP believes knowledge is the foundation of capacity. They believe greater investments should be made in establishing strong education systems and opportunities for continued learning and the development of professional skills. They support the engagement in post-secondary education reforms, continued learning and domestic knowledge services.
- The implementation of accountability measures facilitates better performance and efficiency. A lack of accountability measures in institutions allows for the proliferation of corruption. The UNDP promotes the strengthening of accountability frameworks that monitor and evaluate institutions. They also promote independent organizations that oversee, monitor and evaluate institutions. They promote the development of capacities such as literacy and language skills in civil societies that will allow for increased engagement in monitoring institutions.
- The UNDP says that once an assessment has been completed a capacity building response must be created based on four core issues:
- Implement a capacity development response
- Implementing a capacity building program should involve the inclusion of multiple systems: national, local, institutional. It should involve continual reassessment and expect change depending on changing situations. It should include evaluative indicators to measure the effectiveness of initiated programs.
- Evaluate capacity development
The UNDP integrates this capacity-building system into its work on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UNDP focuses on building capacity at the institutional level because it believes that "institutions are at the heart of human development, and that when they are able to perform better, sustain that performance over time, and manage 'shocks' to the system, they can contribute more meaningfully to the achievement of national human development goals."
Capacity building in developing countries is explained by Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, and Matt Andrews as a fourfold modernization process in the areas of:
- Economy: Enhanced productivity
- Polity: Accurate preference aggregation
- Society: Equal social rights, opportunities
- Administration: Rational, professional, organizations
Under this theory, called Modernization Theory, growth over time in these four areas leads to a state becoming developed. The underlying idea behind this theory is that development agencies are tasked with facilitating growth, in these four areas in order to speed up the process of development or make the process more equitable.
One of the most fundamental ideas associated with capacity building is the idea of building the capacities of governments in developing countries so they are able to handle the problems associated with environmental, economic and social transformations. Developing a government's capacity whether, at the local, regional or national level will allow for better governance that can lead to sustainable development and democracy. To avoid authoritarianism in developing nations, a focus has been placed on developing the abilities and skills of national and local governments so power can be diffused across a state. Capacity building in governments often involves providing the tools to help them best fulfil their responsibilities. These include building up a government's ability to budget, collect revenue, create and implement laws, promote civic engagement, be transparent and accountable and fight corruption.
Joel S. Migdal explains that governments can strengthen weak states by building capacity through changing land tenure patterns, adjusting methods of taxation, and improving modes of transportation. Migdal cites Mexico's passing of Ley de desamortización in 1856 as an example of establishing property rights as a means to strengthen a government's capacity for rule by establishing order. This establishes a social structure to reduce citizen conflict within the state, and a means to organize agricultural production for optimal output. Adjusting methods of taxation is another way to consolidate power in a weak state's government. This can be done through increasing government revenue through increased taxation and also formalizing tax collection by collecting taxes in cash instead of in kind. Migdal cites the example of 19th Century Egypt's declaration of cash taxes only as of the reason for increased economic capacity as farmers were forced into more market relations, pushing them to produce crops for export to increase cash revenue. This gave the state more liquid income. Also, Migdal explains that new modes of transportation can strengthen a state's capacity through decreased isolation leading to increasing economic opportunity by regional trade, increased accessibility, and reduced cost of transporting goods. Migdal cites the example of the railroad in India in 1853 as a means of growing the cotton export industry by 500%.
- In 1999, the UNDP supported capacity building of the state government in Bosnia Herzegovina. The program focused on strengthening the State's government by fostering new organizational, leadership and management skills in government figures, improved the government's technical abilities to communicate with the international community and civil society within the country.
- Since 2000, developing organizations like the National Area-Based Development Programme have approached the development of local governments in Afghanistan, through a capacity-building approach. NABDP holds training sessions across Afghanistan in areas where there exist foundations for local governments. The NABDP holds workshops trying community leaders on how to best address the local needs of the society. Providing weak local government institutions with the capacity to address pertinent problems, reinforces the weak governments and brings them closer to being institutionalized. The goal of capacity builders in Afghanistan is to build up local governments and provide those burgeoning institutions with training that will allow them to address and advocate for what the community needs most. Leaders are trained in "governance, conflict resolution, gender equity, project planning, implementation, management, procurement financial, and disaster management and mitigation."
- The Municipality of Rosario, Batangas, Philippines provided a concrete example related to this concept. This municipal government implemented its Aksyon ng Bayan Rosario 2001 And Beyond Human and Ecological Security Plan using as a core strategy the Minimum Basic Needs Approach to Improved Quality of Life – Community-Based Information System (MBN-CBIS) prescribed by the Philippine Government. This approach helped the municipal government identify priority families and communities for intervention, as well as rationalize the allocation of its social development funds. More importantly, it made definite steps to encourage community participation in situation analysis, planning, monitoring and evaluation of social development projects by building the capacity of local government officials, indigenous leaders and other stakeholders to converge in the management of these concerns.
One approach that some developing countries have attempted to foster capacity building is through isomorphic mimicry. Similar to the concept of mimetic isomorphism used in organizational theory. Isomorphic mimicry refers to the tendency of government to mimic other governments' successes, by replicating methods and policy designs deemed successful in other countries. While such an approach can be effective for solving certain development problems that have "a universal technical solution", it often ignores the political and organizational realities on the ground and produces little benefits to those using it. An example of a failed mimicry relates to the legal reform in Melanesia. In response to a major international assistance mission to improve the quality of the justice system, a jail and a courthouse were built, costing millions of dollars. However, the new justice infrastructure has been rarely used since its establishment, because there has been a lack of bureaucracy and financial sources to support the expensive justice system. As summarized by Haggard et al., accelerated modernization is an entirely inappropriate strategy for enhancing the functionality of the legal system as solutions like this often require state capacities that developing countries do not have. Another example took place in Argentina. During the economic crisis in late 1980s, the government implemented a series of fiscal policies as recommended by IMF to regulate high point inflation affecting the country's economy. However, rather than constraining aggregate spending, the fiscal rule merely shifted spending from the central and to provincial governments. Adopting international best practices do not often translate into positive changes; in the case of Argentina, the mimicry produced little change to the vulnerable economy.
In local communities
The capacity-building approach is used at many levels, including local, regional, national and international. Capacity building can be used to reorganize and capacitate governments or individuals. International donors like USAID often include capacity building as a form of assistance for developing governments or NGOs working in developing areas. Historically this has been through a US contractor identifying an in-country NGO and supporting its financial, monitoring & evaluation and technical systems. The NGO's capacity is developed as a sub-implementer of the donor. However, many NGOs participate in a form of capacity building that is aimed toward individuals and the building of local capacity. In a recent report commissioned by UNAIDS and the Global Fund, individual NGOs voiced their needs and preference for broader capacity development inputs by donors and governments. For individuals and in-country NGOs, capacity building may relate to leadership development, advocacy skills, training/speaking abilities, technical skills, organizing skills, and other areas of personal and professional development. One of the most difficult problems with building capacity on a local level is the lack of higher education in developing countries. Only between 2 and 5 percent of Africans have been to tertiary school. Damtew Teferra of Boston College's Center for African Higher Education argues that local capacity builders are needed now more than ever and increased resources should be provided for programs that focus on developing local expertise and skills.
The development sector, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa has many decades of 'international technical advisors' working with and mentoring government officials and national non-government organisations. In health service delivery, whether maternal care or HIV related, community organisations have been started and often grown through the strength of their staff and commitment to be national and even regional leaders in their technical fields. Whilst higher education is still an under-served demand, there are significant resources of experienced staff. More recent donor initiatives, including The Global Fund's Community Systems Strengthening and the US PEPFAR Technical Assistance to the New Partners Initiative begins to address the organisation capacity needs and stronger skills to be recognised as part of the national response to health needs in a country. To complete the capacity development cycle, the Global Fund and UNAIDS Technical Support Facility and the TA teams for CSO funded by the New Partners Initiative are staffed and managed by residents and nationals of those same developing countries.
- The Centre for Community Empowerment (CCEM) is an NGO working in Vietnam that aims to "train the trainers" working in the development sector of Vietnam. The organization believes that the sustainability of a project depends on the level of involvement of stakeholders and so they work to train stakeholders in the skills needed to be active in development projects and encourage the activity of other stakeholders. The organization operates by providing week-long training courses in for local individuals in issues such as project management, report writing, communication, fund-raising, resource mobilization, analysis, and planning. The organization does not create physical projects, rather it develops the capacity of stakeholders to initiate, plan and analyze and develop projects on their own.
- Mercy Ships is a Christian, healthcare NGO, that provides another example of an NGO participating in localized "capacity building." While CECEM devotes its energy to training individuals to be better project managers and participants, Mercy Ships participates in a form of capacity building that focuses on the pre-existing capacities of individuals and builds on those. For example, Mercy Ships focuses on training doctors and nurses about new procedures and technologies. They also focus on building leadership skills through training workshops for teachers, priests and other community leaders. Leaders are then trained in other areas such as care and construction of hygienic water wells.
The first example depicts capacity building as a tool to deliver individuals the skills they need to work effectively in civil society. In the case of Mercy Ships, the capacity building is delivering the capacity for individuals to be stakeholders and participants in defined activities, such as health care.:35
Societal development in poorer nations is often contingent upon the efficiency of organizations working within that nation. Organizational capacity building focuses on developing the capacities of organizations, specifically NGOs, so they are better equipped to accomplish the missions they have set out to fulfil. Failures in development can often be traced back to an organization's inability to deliver on the service promises it has pledged to keep. Capacity building in NGOs often involves building up skills and abilities, such as decision making, policy-formulation, appraisal, and learning. It is not uncommon for donors in the global north to fund capacity building for NGOs themselves. For organizations, capacity building may relate to almost any aspect of its work: improved governance, leadership, mission and strategy, administration (including human resources, financial management, and legal matters), program development and implementation, fund-raising and income generation, diversity, partnerships and collaboration, evaluation, advocacy and policy change, marketing, positioning, planning. Capacity building in NGOs is a way to strengthen an organization so that it can perform the specific mission it has set out to do and thus survive as an organization. It is an ongoing process that incites organizations to continually reflect on their work, organization, and leadership and ensure that they are fulfilling the mission and goals they originally set out to do.:35–36
Alan Kaplan, an international development practitioner and leading NGO scholar, asserts that capacity development of organizations involves the build-up of an organization's tangible and intangible assets. He argues that for NGOs to be effective facilitators of capacity building in developing areas, they must first focus on developing their organization. Kaplan argues that capacity building and organizational development in organizations should first focus on intangible qualities such as:
- Conceptual framework
- An organization's understanding of the world, "This is a coherent frame of reference, a set of concepts which allows the organization to make sense of the world around it, to locate itself within that world, and to make decisions in relation to it."
- Organizational attitude
- This focuses on the way an organization views itself. Kaplan asserts that an organization must view itself not as a victim of the slights of the world, rather as an active player that has the ability to effect change and progress.
- Vision and strategy
- This refers to the organization's understanding of its vision and mission, what it is looking to accomplish, and the program it wishes to follow to do so.
- Organizational structure
- A clear method of operating wherein communication flow is not hindered, each actor understands their role and responsibility.
Kaplan argues that NGOs who focus on developing a conceptual framework, an organizational attitude, vision and strategy are more adept at being self-reflective and critical, two qualities that enable more effective capacity building. Though he asserts that these intangible qualities are of utmost importance – Kaplan says that tangible qualities such as skills, training and material resources such as tools, handbooks, manuals, advisories, primers, guidelines, etc. are also imperative.
Another aspect of organizational capacity building is an organization's ability to assess, examine and change according to what is most needed and what will be the most effective.
Since the arrival of community capacity building as a dominant subject in international aid, donors and practitioners have struggled to create a concise mechanism for determining the effectiveness of capacity building initiatives. In 2007, David Watson developed specific criteria for effective evaluation and monitoring of the capacity building. Watson complained that the traditional method of monitoring NGOs based primarily on a linear results-based framework is not enough for capacity building. He argues that evaluating the capacity building ability of NGOs should be based on a combination of monitoring the results of their activities and also a more open flexible way of monitoring that also takes into consideration, self-improvement and cooperation. Watson observed 18 case studies of capacity building evaluations and concluded that certain specific themes were visible:
- monitoring an organization's clarity of mission – this involves evaluating an organization's goals and how well those goals are understood throughout the organization.
- monitoring an organization's leadership – this involves evaluating how empowered the organization's leadership is-how well the leadership encourages experimentation, self-reflection, changes in team structures and approaches.
- monitoring an organization's learning – this involves evaluating how often an organization participates in effective self-reflection, and self-assessment. It also involves how well an organization "learns from experience" and if the organization promotes the idea of learning from experience.
- monitoring an organization's emphasis on on-the-job-development – this involves evaluating how well an organization encourages continued learning, specifically through hands-on approaches.
- monitoring an organization's monitoring processes – this involves evaluating how well an organization participates in self-monitoring. It looks at whether or not an organization encourages growth through learning from mistakes.
In 2007, USAID published a report on its approach to monitoring and evaluating the capacity building. According to the report, USAID monitors program objectives, the links between projects and activities of an organization and its objectives, a program or organization's measurable indicators, data collection, and progress reports. USAID evaluates why objectives were achieved, or why they were not, and the overall contributions of projects. It examines qualifiable results that are more difficult to measure, looks at unintended results or consequences, and reviews reports on lessons learned. USAID uses two types of indicators for progress: "output indicators" and "outcome indicators." Output indicators measure immediate changes or results such as the number of people trained. Outcome indicators measure the impact, such as laws changed due to trained advocates.
Partial list of agencies providing capacity building
- European Commission
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
- International Monetary Fund (IMF)
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
- World Bank
- World Customs Organization (WCO)
- World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO)
- World Food Programme (WFP)
- Bali Action Plan
- International development
- Organizational development
- Opportunity Management
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