Musings on research, international development and other stuff

Capacity building rule 2: be ruthless in your selection


Rosipaw, flikr

Rosipaw, flikr

As I mentioned in the previous post, you can never ‘build someone else’s capacity’. All you can do as an outsider is to support the learning of others. Therefore it is good to be humble about what you can achieve. You are unlikely to facilitate a miracle transformation so it is usually best not to attempt this! If you want to support someone to be able to do something, the best chance you have is to find those who are almost there and just need a little extra support.

One of the best individual capacity building programmes I know of is highly sucessful in a large part because it has incredibly tough entry requirements. The scheme, run by the International Union Against Lung Disearse and Tuberculosis, selects highly qualified medical practitioners to receive training in Operational Research. Participants need to go through a rigorous selection process and then they need to commit to an intensive year-long training schedule. A key feature is that they need to demonstrate not only that they are qualified to take part but also that they have the personal commitment. They only graduate from the scheme once they have completed all the key milestones which include submission of an original research article to a peer-reviewed journal. As a result of this process, the scheme achieves remarkable sucess rates with almost 80% of participants managing to get a peer-reviewed publication. By comparison, I know of other academic writing courses which have never managed to support a single participant to the stage of getting a publication.

The ruthless selection rule applies equally if you are working with an organisation. You need to ask yourself whether an increase in capacity/learning will be sufficient for the organisation in question to become self-sustaining. In other words, is there a demand for the services the organisation offers which they are just unable to capitalise on due to low capacity? In such cases, there could be a good reason to get involved. But if the organisation is failing because there is a fundamental lack of demand/market/funding for that type of organisation, you need to question whether your capacity building programme will really lead to long-term change. To find out if the organisation is likely to be sustainable, you need to make sure you speak not only to those who would benefit from an increase in the organisation’s capacity, but also to those who would determine whether it becomes sustainable in the long term.

The ruthless selection rule sounds harsh and elitist. And in some ways it is harsh and elitist. However, it is also effective since it enables people to target the relatively small amount of support that an outsider can provide to those individuals and organisations who actually have the potential to benefit from it.

Go to rule 3 here… or see previous post here.


2 thoughts on “Capacity building rule 2: be ruthless in your selection

  1. Hi Kirsty,
    I’m really enjoying this series of posts. These issues reoccur in discussions amongst staff frequently at INASP, but what most often makes our heads hurt is the contradiction between ‘local ownership/locally led’ capacity development and how directive we can be as an organisation to catalyse change. Selection of recipients of funding (individuals/organisations) is a fantastic example of this. It works better for funding organisations via our small grants programme – because we have a rigorous selection procedure which we maintain control of. However, more than 80% of our training workshops are run by local facilitators/trainers via local organisations (library consortia, NRENs, universities, National Science Foundations etc.) and it’s the local organisation/institution in this case who are responsible for selecting participants. Though each training course has clear selection criteria for participants and participants fill in pre and post workshop assessments to help inform the delivery of the courses (and assess how well they understand core concepts taught in the courses), we still have situations where different participants turn up at the last minute who don’t meet the requisite selection criteria (in fact this happened to us recently at a course we ran for DFID staff 🙂 ). We could do all the selection ourselves, but this would both mitigate against the ‘local ownership’ and I suspect the same thing might happen anyway. You can only control so much in other words while sticking to Rule No 1 of local ownership.

  2. Pingback: Capacity building – why so difficult? | kirstyevidence

  3. Pingback: Capacity building rule 2: be ruthless in your selection | Evaluation Capacity Development

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