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The Three Dimensions of the FAO Capacity Development Framework

The new FAO Capacity Development framework will guide FAO staff and their partners in analysing capacities in Member Countries and identifying the appropriate intervention(s) for fostering sustainable development. Read more in the Capacity Development Now - FAO's Approach to Sustainability brochure.

The FAO framework, drawn on the UNDP model, and introduced by the Corporate Strategy on Capacity Development, can help identify and analyze the key dimensions and the types of capacities that need to be strengthened. The framework is represented by the cube below, with its facets of technical capacities, functional capacities and the three dimensions to which Capacity Development interventions should be addressed. 


The FAO framework differentiates between two types of capacities: technical and functional.  Successful  FAO programmes have demonstrated that both types of capacities are crucial for strengthening Member Countries’ capacities in the area of agriculture and rural development.

Technical capacities refer to capacities in the broad areas of food security, agriculture and rural development necessary for Member Countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Functional capacities refer to those capacities that Member Countries need to uptake and sustain changes in the agriculture and rural development sector. They enable countries to plan, lead, manage and sustain change initiatives to ensure that technical know-how is embodied in local systems and processes in a sustainable way. 

FAO has identified four particularly important key areas of functional capacities:
a) Policy and Normative: capacities to formulate and implement policies and lead policy reform;
b) Knowledge: capacities to access, generate, manage and exchange information and knowledge;
c) Partnering: capacities to engage in networks, alliances and partnerships;
d) Implementation: management capacities to implement and deliver programmes and projects, from planning to monitoring and evaluation.

A fundamental condition for a country to reach its development goals lies not only in its ability to address both technical and functional capacities, but also in the levels of capacity that exist across the individual, organizational, and enabling environment dimensions.


Capacities developed at the individual dimension lead to changes in skills, behaviours and attitudes among a wide range of actors in the agriculture and rural development sector. Training, knowledge sharing, and networking are ways of strengthening capacities at this dimension.

Strengthening capacities at the organizational dimension consists of taking measures to improve the overall functioning and performance of an organization. This dimension has a direct impact on how individuals within the organization develop their competencies and use their capabilities.

The enabling environment is the context in which individuals and organizations put their capabilities into action, and where capacity development processes take place. It includes: political commitment and vision; policy, legal and economic frameworks; budget allocations and processes; governance and power structures; incentives and social norms.


In Capacity Development interventions, the three dimensions are interlinked; individuals, organizations and the enabling environment are parts of a whole. Capacity Development often involves the enhancement of knowledge of individuals, although the output of individuals greatly relies on the quality of the organizations in which they work. Furthermore, the effectiveness of organizations and networks of organizations is influenced by the enabling environment. Conversely, the environment is affected by organizations and the relationships between them.