RE: What can evaluations do in terms of capacity development? | Eval Forward

Dear Luisa and Lavinia,

The Extent of Capacity Development as an Indicator of Success.

I am happy to see this long neglected aspect of evaluation has received the attention it deserves. Other things being equal, one has too often seen otherwise successful endeavours quietly fizzle out when the outside professionals had left it. The reason is simple: when a project has been completed, the locals in charge simply lacked the know-how and skills needed to run it efficiently, maintain it or a combination of both.

It is impossible for a pragmatist envisage a just ‘one off’ project, i.e., when it is successfully completed, no further human effort is needed to keep it going. Of course, one may argue that running a refugee camp provides a good counter-example, because once all the refugees have been properly assimilated into the host society or repatriated, the project is truly finished. But, in real life, one seldom sees such except in a few rather affluent countries. Besides, vast majority of projects evaluated are concerned with enhancing the daily lives of ordinary citizens of a country.

Therefore, it stands to reason that when planning a project, it is vital to its success to begin with the overall purpose of the effort. It is simply to improve some aspect of daily lives of some target group. At this point, it is so easy to let a planner’s reductive imagination soar above the rosy clouds. We have already seen two examples of that in the previous EVAL-ForwARD forum, viz., a road and a bridge.

I think it is crucial that the evaluators come in at this point to emphasize that unless it can be established beyond any reasonable doubt that the potential beneficiaries of a project are willing and able to derive its benefits, it would be futile to initiate it.

Never under estimate their willingness and ability. Many successfully completed public health projects languish unused, for the culture of the intended beneficiaries does not value good health as highly as it is done by other cultures. Likewise, desire for prestige has driven some to plan advanced telecom networks to provide cellular telephony to rural youth. Here, their ability to use them for ‘developmental purposes’ has been overlooked. Facts are simple; areas involved lack good basic road transport and the target group is hardly literate. So, cell phones will provide a source of entertainment and long-distance gossip. Hardly a benefit especially in view of its cost and the consequences.

After these longish preliminaries, let us assume that the project involved is indeed appropriate i.e., it will really benefit the target group because the members of it are willing and able to use it. Capacity building cannot influence this willingness for it belongs to another category, but it is vital to one crucial aspect of this ability viz., the ability to run the project well and to keep it in running order while undertaking the improvements it needs in the long term.

I am not certain to what extent the capacity of the public to benefit may be enhanced unless it is integrated as an essential component of a project. This is especially true in cases where the overall objective has been to improve public nutrition. Other things being equal, a project to increase food production would not lead to better nutrition unless the target group has an adequate dietary competence, i.e., knowing what to eat, how to prepare it, etc.

So, it would be reasonable to affirm capacity building is an indicator of success in evaluation, and ought to be incorporated into a project at its inception. However the question, whose capacity and to do what, needs careful consideration. At the theoretical level, one can distinguish between two sub-groups in a target population, the overall beneficiaries and those who are expected to continue the operation of a project on its completion. I hope this might be of some use.


Lal Manavado

Norwegian Directorate of Health, Norway