Journal Article


Reflecting Collectively on Capacities for Change

Published on 16 April 2010

‘Capacity development’ implies a promise of growing self-reliance, national ownership and sustainability, yet practice seems consistently to fall short of this emancipatory promise. This introduction argues for a reframing of capacity development for emancipatory social change.

Articles in this bulletin show how understanding and practice must engage with complexity, appreciate the importance of specific culture and context, and continually address the role of power in shaping relationships, understandings and practices. Values and leadership are fundamental drivers of capacity development processes.

This bulletin argues against a deficit approach based on linear causal logic and replicable ‘best practice’. Instead practitioners are encouraged to develop a detailed understanding of the culture and dynamics of specific contexts, to detect energies for positive change and work to connect and facilitate them. Learning is at the centre of the approach.

Capacity development is understood as a collective process of learning in action for social change. Support for capacity development processes demands a critical development practice that implies mutual learning, with an emphasis on reflective and experiential approaches. However, this reframing implies enormous challenges for development practice, and therefore considerable personal and organisational commitment.

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Introduction: Why Reflect Collectively on Capacities for Change? Peter Clarke and Katy Oswald

Vices and Virtues in Capacity Development by International NGOs Rick James

Multiple Faces of Power and Learning Jethro Pettit

A Case for Surfacing Theories of Change for Purposeful Organisational Capacity Development Alfredo Ortiz Aragón

Capacities for Institutional Innovation: A Complexity Perspective Jim Woodhill

Values as a Driver for Capacity Development: Promoting Justice in Papua New Guinea Frazer Pitpit and Heather Baser

Capacity Development Processes within a Social Movement: Päkehä Treaty Workers’Movement Jen Margaret

Re-imagining Capacity and Collective Change: Experiences from Senegal and Ghana Blane Harvey and Jonathan Langdon

A ‘Systemic Theories of Change’ Approach for Purposeful Capacity Development Alfredo Ortiz Aragón and Juan Carlos Giles Macedo

Context and Position in a Systemic Approach to Capacity Development Carl Jackson

Between Pragmatism and Idealism: Implementing a Systemic Approach to Capacity Development Catherine Fisher

Pushing at a Half-open Door Jenny Pearson

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same? Sue Soal


Katy Oswald

Research Officer

Publication details

published by
Oswald, K. and Clarke, P.
IDS Bulletin, volume 41, issue 3


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