Top 10 Capacity Development Insights and Key Recommendations
1. Invest in relationships early and build trust
Evaluating complex organizations, identifying capacity gaps, and suggesting areas for improvement can be an overwhelming experience for a local organizational partner. To mitigate this, it’s important to build relationships with key stakeholders. SUFIA LCD identified leaders within both organizations and collaborated with them to modify the tools and the process for evaluation to meet their needs. This helped develop critical buy-in and ensured the process was collaborative from the beginning.
2. Adapt tools to local context and partner needs
Using the PLOCA tool to gauge overall organizational health, SUFIA LCD also added several capacity assessment tool “plug-ins” to address other issues including project objective, need for USAID compliance, interest in sustainability and private sector engagement, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI), and increased overall performance. Adapting existing tools and customizing with partners made the participatory assessment process their own and will support continuous capacity development or improved performance in the future.
3. Incorporate inclusive elements into capacity assessment metrics and service design
While most organizational measurement tools include evaluation indicators for non-discriminatory hiring practices and workplace harassment, RTI’s PLOCA also includes equity and inclusion indicators, such as leadership composition, ethics, workplace safety, and pay equity, among others. This helps organizations go beyond “checking the box” on equity and ethical issues to integrating them throughout every part and process of the organization. Using this integrated assessment, SUFIA LCD partners updated relevant policies that integrated GESI and positioned them to take leading roles to bring about greater gender equity and inclusion in the fisheries sector.
4. Account for organizational culture when supporting strategy and capacity development
SEAFDEC and CTI-CFF, while both regional inter-governmental entities, are two very different organizations with different missions and organizational cultures. These differences required full customization of the four diagnostic tools referenced above to consider organizational culture, as well as adapting the pace and process in conducting participatory organizational capacity assessments and gathering subsequent capacity development inputs. For instance, due its organizational governance structure, one partner took much longer to approve new activities proposed by SUFIA LCD that had not been included in their annual workplan.
5. Embrace technology but also utilize on-site coaching and technical assistance
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on international travel and the movement toward remote working meant that we had to adapt our model of in-person assessment to a model that used web-based surveys, virtual discussion groups, and regular email exchanges. Technology tools such as Zoom meetings, online surveys such as Microsoft Forms, and virtual whiteboard programs such as Miro Boards, allowed for significant participation during the organizational capacity assessments. However, remote and virtual meetings and training have their limitations and whenever possible, we visited partner organizations to provide on-the-job training. This in person training is particularly important when introducing new systems, such as financial management, human resource file management, and knowledge management. It also allows for quick feedback and adapting to each organizations’ unique needs.
6. Design and deliver diverse, largely local, and demand-driven capacity services
We have learned that capacity service delivery modality works best if it follows a style and pace that accounts for different learning styles and the availability of organizational resources. SUFIA LCD built out a menu of modalities for capacity services including direct instruction, on-site coaching, consultant recruitment, subawards, service contracts, memberships, subscriptions, exchanges, travel support, virtual instruction, observation, and other modes of learning and service delivery.
Offering a variety of capacity development services has proven to be a cost effective and adaptable approach to delivering assistance and helps organizations take ownership of their capacity development during the project by developing relationships with the service providers.
7. Understand and enhance knowledge and document management systems
Knowledge management and process documentation is critically important for contributing to institutional memory and to avoid “reinventing the wheel” for each new initiative. CTI-CFF, for example, has a human resource practice that limits staff tenure, which means they need to train newly hired employees on a regular basis. SUFIA LCD worked with the organization in three directions to better understand and enhance their systems, including: (1) discussing and framing knowledge and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data management systems; (2) experimenting with a new cloud-based document use system; and (3) providing new staff with a standard training that includes knowledge and M&E data management systems.
8. Design capacity development initiatives as an ongoing process rather than a one-time activity
Capacity development is a continuous process of learning, adapting, and growing, both at the individual and organizational levels. This process is critical for ongoing viability and ensuring that partner organizations lead their own learning. It has been our experience that organizations that understand and adopt this process of self-learning and continuous improvement have the most sustained organizational strengthening outcomes. Throughout SUFIA LCD, we communicated and reinforced this message with all partners. Both SEAFDEC and CTI-CFF conducted their own in-house trainings using project-generated materials to amplify the learning and provide development opportunities to more staff.
9. Facilitate locally led, collaborative action planning
SUFIA LCD was designed as a “bridge” project over a 24-month period to increase the capacity of SEAFDEC and CTI-CFF to design and implement projects directly with USAID. Given that each organization had existing strategic and performance plans, scheduled activities, and commitments, it was important to ensure that project-required capacity inputs aligned with and did not contradict partner priorities. A partner-led collaborative learning process using a standard CDAP tool allowed the organizations to prioritize mutual goals, set agreed-upon timelines, and adapt capacity development activities and schedules to match both partner and project plans. This collaborative process also allowed us to incorporate a modified USAID NUPAS tool and work with both partners to meet the compliance standards by the end of the project.
10. Combine quantitative and qualitative data to highlight successes
RTI’s PLOCA uses a quantitative scoring system to measure both the existence and effectiveness of dozens of organizational capacity indicators. Analyzing data from baseline, midpoint, and endpoint organizational assessments generally show quantitative improvements over time, but they don’t tell the full story. We also register the qualitative capacity changes or impacts our organizational partners make over time and have found that qualitative stories are sometimes more indicative of lasting organizational change and demonstrate a cultural commitment to capacity development.
What Does Localization Success Look Like?
The answer to this question is largely geographically and culturally determined.
The SUFIA LCD Activity was a small but important initiative that has contributed to USAID’s efforts in localization, utilization of USAID’s Local Capacity Development Policy, and progress toward the CBLD-9 capacity building indicator.
Using the recommendations detailed above and adopting a co-creation process that involves both local partners and USAID can bridge the gap between local priorities and USAID program plans. The ultimate measure of success is when local organizations, like SEAFDEC and CTI-CFF, can directly implement programs funded by USAID.