Building Local Capacity to Construct Safe Low Cost Latrines. Photo credit: coming soon
Capacity building includes a broad definition as a holistic enterprise, encompassing a multitude of activities. It means building abilities, relationships and values that will enable organisations, groups and individuals to improve their performance and achieve their development objectives. It includes strengthening the processes, systems and rules that influence collective and individual behaviour and performance in all development endeavours. It means enhancing people’s technical ability and willingness to play new developmental roles and adapt to new demands and situations. Capacity building is not only constrained to officials and technicians but must also include the general awareness of the local population regarding their services and development in general.
Capacity building is needed at different levels for the different actors, improving performance and coordination between them. Of the many frameworks out there, a few key elements of capacity building are identified here :
- Human resource development: enhancing knowledge, skills and capacities of individuals in technical, personal and managerial areas.
- Organisational development: improving organisational performance, management, systems and governance in order to build effective, efficient and accountable institutions.
- Institutional development: strengthening interrelationships between stakeholders, strengthening cooperation and coordination, clarifying tasks, roles and terms of interaction.
- Economic factors and support infrastructure: Revenue flow to cover the recurring cost of maintenance, operating expenses, salaries and the repayment of loans if applicable. Support infrastructure consisting of such things as office accommodation, transport, communications, electricity, or copying facilities.
The capacity required for sustainability is determined not only by the level of service chosen by the community but more importantly by the technology choice made to provide that level of service. For example, if a community chooses a household connection level of service this could be achieved through a number of alternative technology options. The service could be provided by developing boreholes or by the construction of a gravity fed system or through purchasing water from a regional scheme. Each of these technology options would provide the same level of service to the community but each would require different skills and "capacities" in the community or local government.
For a given service to be sustainable in a given location, the requirements of each of these categories can, to a large degree, be pre-determined. These represent the thresholds which are required in order for the service to the sustainable. In any particular community a certain level of capacity will exist in each of the categories. Where this capacity is less than the threshold capacity required for sustainability, capacity building will need to be undertaken to ensure that the threshold is reached. The threshold in all categories must be achieved in order to ensure sustainability. For example, if all other thresholds are reached but community acceptance is lacking, revenue will be difficult to collect which may result in the failure of the scheme.
The amount of capacity building required for a given category will depend on 2 factors: the level of capacity already within the community, and the level of service and the technology chosen. Diagram credit: coming soon
Applying the Threshold Concept
During the feasibility phase of a project, a participative evaluation process needs to be undertaken with the community to establish the levels of capacity which exist prior to the project. The service level options and technology choices must be established so as to be able to identify the thresholds which the community must meet in each category in order to ensure sustainability.
Diagram credit: coming soon
The feasibility phase should not only address the technical feasibility of different options for services. The institutional, economic and social feasibility should also be assessed. This can be done using a threshold methodology. If any category of capacity within the community is not likely to be able to be raised to the threshold required for a particular service/technology choice, then that choice will not be sustainable. The only option is to lower the threshold by choosing a lower level of service or technology. The most obvious example would be the level of wealth/ poverty in a community which determines whether the community could afford to pay the recurring costs of the proposed scheme.
Affordability and the will to pay need careful consideration. A given low level of service may be affordable to the community but if it is not acceptable or supported by the community there will not be the will to pay. Experience has indicated that often a higher level of service is more sustainable than a lower level because people are prepared to pay for the higher but not the lower service.
Planning and costing capacity building interventions
Once the thresholds and the community abilities have been established, the detailed planning of the capacity programme necessary to raise the capacity of the community to the required threshold can be quantified. A capacity building programme can then be designed together with the community and/or the local government and possibly in conjunction with other projects in the area.
The capacity building requirements can be clearly described with pre-determined performance criteria for capacity building and training contacts. Terms of reference, specifications and conditions of contract can be drawn up using this methodology rather than the ad hoc approach which is generally taken. The method also enables projects to be costed with some degree of accuracy.
Implementing a capacity building programme
In close collaboration with local government personnel and community members, the capacity building programme can then be implemented according to the agreed plan. The objective is to bring each of the categories up to the threshold. Whilst this may sound like a simple matter, the implementation of a successful capacity building and training programme is very difficult and requires resources. Failure to achieve the threshold in any one category will result in the infrastructure failing rapidly.
Monitoring and evaluation
The use of the concept of thresholds and the clear definition of the tasks required within a capacity building programme make the evaluation of the performance of capacity building and training agencies much easier to monitor and evaluate than previously when such functions were undefined. The monitoring of progress being made by communities or local governments can also be achieved in a far more systematic way.
Long term monitoring of the capacity within communities, after the construction phase, is also possible using this method. This will aid the long-term sustainability of projects and is closely related to the question of operation and maintenance.
Operation and maintenance capacity
Operation and maintenance has generally, up until now, been seen largely from a technical perspective. It is suggested, however, that any failure of a system is ultimately the result of institutional and economic factors and not technical factors. Any system will need maintenance and will break down physically from time to time but sustained failure of a system results from inadequate finance, poor administration, lack of community support illustrated through the lack of payment for services, lack of adequately trained technical staff etc.. will cause the failure of the scheme although the physical symptom may be a failed pump or some other physical failure.
If one area of capacity falls below the threshold there is likely to be a "domino" effect. If the person responsible for administration in a village ceases to function for any reason, before long the collection of revenue will fail. There will not be sufficient funds available to pay the technical staff or to purchase spare parts and physical failure will result causing a decrease in public support and reluctance to pay for poor services etc. It is essential that the capacity of the community remains at the threshold levels during the life-span of the infrastructure. Whilst some attention is paid to the technical aspects of operation and maintenance, there is little emphasis being placed on maintaining institutional capacity. Again the threshold concept is useful in providing a rational basis for the maintenance of institutional capacity.
The following projects make use of capacity building.