By Chandra K. Bhandari, Office of the Auditor General of Nepal (OAGN)
Capacity development intervention is one of the most commonly discussed topics on the reform agenda in any organization. Organizational strategists, consultants and development partners always cite capacity development as the main causal factor behind weak performance of any organization. When we talk about capacity development interventions, spontaneously we tend to think about training. Of course, training is one of the widely used capacity development interventions. When everybody agrees that training should be one of the important elements of reform agenda, what subsequently happens is that the external consultants are hired. When designing training topics, they sometimes tend to be poorly linked to the actual needs of the local staff, inclined towards classroom delivery, overly theoretical, plus often overlook local contexts. We consider training as the only intervention necessary and so fail to identify an appropriate mix of interventions that collectively could be effective.
Interventions are often driven by supply (by development partners and external consultants) rather than by demand (from recipient organization/country). The consultants or in-house trainer claim that they conducted needs assessment, but that tends to be quite formal and there is no guarantee that intended participants were able to articulate their actual needs.
We often forget what motivates the workforce and just try to deliver rigorous and tightly scheduled training. Motivating factors such as improving the work environment; work space, working conditions, logistical needs to complete a particular task, work life balance, other financial and non-financial incentives are ignored. Creating a learning environment and greater engagement of local staff from the very inception of the program is the most critical element for effectiveness of any such interventions. Understanding how adults actually learn in an organizational context is also a quite important factor for successful implementation of capacity development interventions.
Investment in capacity development interventions is considered as a type of operating expense, so our mindset is aimed at controlling the costs. We fail to think that investment in capacity development interventions is, in reality, a long-term investment which pays back in days to come in the form of enhanced performance.
Each individual is different, with different needs. While designing capacity need interventions, we must not forget this fact. Of course, it would be difficult to go deep for purely individual needs, but we must recognize that people have diverse characteristics requiring different interventions.
Capacity development interventions are usually implemented as part of donor-funded projects, whereby, some consultants, particularly international ones, are employed. No doubt, these international consultants are highly competent and possess vast experience, but they can lack understanding local contexts while performing capacity development interventions. These types of projects often spend a lot of money on consultant-led activities rather than actually engaging the intended beneficiaries and applying a “learning by doing” approach.
Sustained efforts at institutional development should be a central part of achieving objectives of capacity development interventions. In cases where external consultants are engaged, transfer of knowledge and skills to the local staff (in other words, the exit strategy) is critical. There is no point in employing consultants if the recipient is not left in a better position than before the intervention. So, we must be careful in this aspect for sustainability of the program. Therefore, we need to be very careful when selecting, designing and implementing such capacity interventions.