Capacity development in international aid: A contribution to theory and practice

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Although capacity development has been a key aspect of global aid policy for decades, success is limited. Capacity development is defined as a process, based on a partnership, to develop capacity to achieve a goal. The purpose of this thesis is to increase our understanding of why capacity development does not work as intended, and to inform the discussion on addressing the challenges. Two research questions were asked: 1) What are the principles and practices of capacity development? 2) Why is the current implementation of capacity development not leading to the desired results?

Data were collected through qualitative semi-structured interviews with 115 participants from the international aid community. A framework of eight principles, four fundamental challenges and a typology of seven failures is presented. The results reveal significant gaps between theory and practice. The challenges stem from terminological and conceptual ambiguity, clashing principles, misguided accountability, risk aversion and the need for control. The aid system is built on short-term feedback, but capacity development requires long-term processes and commitment. Outdated worldviews, resistance to change, mindset lag, and power imbalances further complicate the situation.

Based on the results, this thesis recommends an overhaul of the aid system, with power being redistributed along the aid chain. To develop sustainable capacities, three requisite types of capacity – technical, processual and contextual – are suggested. An equal partnership, flexible and adaptive roles, and mutual learning are crucial for capacity development to work. Effective capacity development requires donors and external partners to allow enough time, relinquish control, share risks, and embrace flexibility and adaptability over longer timeframes. Sustainability depends on the success of the principles, and the need for a mix of activities and methods.

The principles need to be taken seriously so that the focus is not only on what the project should achieve, but also on how it is achieved. A change in mindset, attitude and role allocation is needed. By prioritising differently than today, there is a good chance of achieving the goal of sustainable capacity development.
Tilldelande institution
  • Avdelningen för Riskhantering och Samhällssäkerhet
  • Tehler, Henrik, handledare
  • Becker, Per, handledare
Tilldelningsdatum2024 mars 1
ISBN (tryckt)978-91-8039-912-8
ISBN (elektroniskt)978-91-8039-913-5
StatusPublished - 2024 feb. 6

Bibliografisk information

Defence details
Date: 2024-03-01
Time: 10:00
Place: Lecture Hall V:A, building V, John Ericssons väg 1, Faculty of Engineering LTH, Lund University, Lund.
External reviewer(s)
Name: Fordham, Maureen
Title: Prof.
Affiliation: University College London, United Kingdom.

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Tvärvetenskapliga studier
  • Övrig annan teknik


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