Caught between principles and politics: Challenges and opportunities for capacity development from governmental donors’ perspectives

Magnus Hagelsteen, Jonas Gutheil, Maria Del Mar Morales Burkle, Per Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Capacity development —an integral part of development cooperation in general and for disaster risk reduction (DRR) in particular—has had limited success so far. This article investigates capacity development challenges and opportunities from the viewpoint of the staff of progressive governmental donor agencies. Data were obtained from 26 semi-structured interviews with informants from seven donor agencies. The results show that donor staff are highly committed to the application of established principles for effective capacity development. However, despite capacity development being recognized as a cornerstone of development cooperation and crucial for DRR, it is described as a complex, broad or empty concept. The results reveal tensions between the principles for capacity development and current political priorities, power relations, and structural constraints of the aid system. Capacity development is undermined by the widespread aversion of donors and external partners to engage in the perceived risks associated with applying the principles in practice since they are accountable to other actors along the aid chain. Capacity development requires donors and external partners to let go of control and allow flexibility, adaptability and innovative approaches over longer time frames. This requires explicit risk-sharing agreements along the aid chain. Efforts are necessary at all levels of the system to realize the principles and conditions that enable effective capacity development for DRR.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102785
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Feb 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Sociology


  • Capacity development; Capacity building; Donor; Development cooperation; Aid; Risk


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