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Repairing nets at the end of the day. Human capacity development includes building useful skills
Repairing nets at the end of the day. Human capacity development includes building useful skills


The concept of human capacity development is relatively new, dating from the 1980s and early 1990s; however the problems that capacity development tries to tackle are not new. A special focus on human capacity development is especially important now because of significant advancements in recent years affecting fisheries, including:

  • a greater awareness of the need for cross-sectoral integration;
  • international agreements on issues of fisheries and ocean governance (e.g. the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and instruments such as international plans of action and the strategy for improving information on status and trends of capture fisheries, elaborated in the framework of the Code, and the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in Marine Ecosystems);
  • various international commitments (e.g. the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Millennium Development Goals and a renewed focus on poverty and food security issues);
  • the information and communications revolution with the Internet transforming the way people and organizations can communicate, learn, lobby, etc. and
  • the evolution in international development thinking (i.e. support for decentralization, good governance, ‘market discipline' in the sector).

But if these changes are to be acted on and incorporated within fisheries management practices, they require enhanced skills and human capacity. Furthermore, the failure of much fisheries management based purely on fish stock assessment science, often lacking sufficient consultation with fishing communities or analyses of the social, economic and political forces that interact to affect levels of compliance, has led to a broader definition of  ‘fisheries managers'.

Now there is a greater recognition of the importance of participation by fishing communities and resource users themselves in management, through co-management approaches. This requires that fishing communities acquire new levels of capacity to meaningfully participate in such a management process and define management objectives as well as how these objectives might be achieved.

Based on the above, the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR) Working Party on Human Capacity Development in April 2004 agreed to the following definition for ‘capacity development': "the process by which individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, and societies develop their abilities - both individually and collectively - to set and achieve objectives, perform functions, solve problems and to develop the means and conditions required to enable this process."

This definition serves to highlight two important attributes of capacity development. Firstly, that it requires a consideration of capacity development at different levels where each level represents a level of analysis and, importantly, a possible entry point for involvement aimed at capacity development. Secondly, it is a process and not a passive state and must build on existing core capacities.

Levels of capacity development

The "enabling environment" represents the societal context in which development processes take place. Capacity may be reflected in the form of good economic policies, high levels of commitment, a lack of conflict or methods to resolve it, etc., which support an enabling environment, whereas low accountability, high levels of corruption, etc. may serve to minimize an enabling environment. Initiatives to develop capacity at this level tend to focus on issues of good governance.

The "sector/network" level represents the need for coherent sector policies and strategies, as well as coordination across sectors. Interventions may focus on issues such as policy reform or service delivery as a way of increasing capacity at the sector level.

The "organizational" level of capacity focuses on institutional structures, processes, resources and management issues, and has been a key concern of much donor assistance in the form of technical assistance, budgetary or infrastructure support or support for institutional linkages.

The "individual" level in the capacity framework refers to those individuals operating within the other three levels, or being affected by them. Overall capacity is therefore not just the sum of individual/institutional/sector capacities, but also the opportunities and incentives for people to use and extend their skills within an enabling environment. Capacity development takes place not just within individuals, but also between them and in the institutions and networks they create.

Importantly, capacity development efforts for more sustainable fisheries management require more than fisheries-specific skills (e.g. fisheries science, fisheries management, fisheries law, fisheries technology etc), but also wider non-fisheries skills such as conflict management, general management, good governance, community mobilization, information and communication skills.

Past approaches to capacity development (both in fisheries and other sectors) have tended to focus primarily on technical support through training in science, research and development, and on the institutional capacity of government recipients of aid, particularly where institutional weakness was seen to threaten overall project success. Less attention was paid to sector/network and enabling environment levels or to non-sector specific skills.

A number of key lessons drawn from previous activities include that:

  • capacity development interventions must be participatory in design, implementation and monitoring;
  • interventions must build on core-capacities and be a two-way process of knowledge transfer;
  • initiatives must provide for flexibility to fit with the individual needs of those being assisted;
  • approaches must take greater cognisance of the overall societal/political context in which interventions operate;
  • there is need for much better integration of initiatives based on regional/geographical, intra-sectoral, inter-sectoral and vertical linkages;
  • appropriate incentives must be built into capacity development interventions; and
  • those delivering capacity development may themselves require capacity development for effective delivery.
Capacity development efforts must involve participation at all levels in order to be successful. This woman is monitoring shrimp as part of a technical and managerial training programme in Mexico
Capacity development efforts must involve participation at all levels in order to be successful. This woman is monitoring shrimp as part of a technical and managerial training programme in Mexico

A strategic framework

As a result, and based on other key considerations, the FAO ACFR Working Party has proposed a ‘Strategic Framework' for human capacity development focussing on eight key elements, as outlined in the table below.

Strategy Associated Action(s)
1. Capacity development to be focused at the appropriate level e.g. (i) individual, (ii) institution, (iii) sector/network and (iv) enabling environment Project identification to assess relative capacity needs at all four levels Identification, implementation and monitoring of intervention to be strongly participatory, with interaction between funding agency, recipients (both at individual and institutional levels) and potential training providers Donor co-ordination committees, in association with NGOs to ensure that the sum of all capacity development projects balances the overall assistance given to different levels
2.     Capacity development built upon, and widening the knowledge and skills of all stakeholders Project identification to assess relative needs in different areas of capacity development Identification, implementation and monitoring of intervention to be strongly participatory, and a two-way process Ensure that the sum of all capacity-development projects balances the overall assistance given to different areas
3.     Development of regional capacity-development networks Beneficiaries, government, NGOs, private sector and donors to establish regional fora (within and between themselves) to identify common needs, efficiencies in joint delivery of programmes, and sharing of information
4. Identification and recognition of regional centres of excellence One or more key institutions to be identified for all capacity areas/boxes and links established with appropriate regional forums Establish better linkages between institutions where capacity is high, with those where capacity needs building e.g. between research organizations in developed and developing countries
5. Establishment of improved cross-sectoral linkages and cooperation Establish better linkages and fora between stakeholders within fisheries, for example for research institutions and stakeholders to make meaningful inputs into policy Improve linkages between scientists, data providers and sectoral decision-makers to reduce capacity limitations in applied research and monitoring Establish fora for improved management and understanding of inter-sectoral impacts
6.     Appropriate delivery mechanisms to suit local circumstances Interventions to assess the need for mixed mechanisms that allow for the practical requirements and flexibility needed by beneficiaries Match delivery mechanism to the level, aspects, and area of capacity being targeted Careful consideration of the capacity of providers to undertake their roles effectively, and selection of providers based on their capacities and the establishment/recognition of ‘centres of excellence' for specific skills and knowledge (see Strategy 4) Special attention paid to embracing new information and communication technologies that increase accessibility to knowledge and promote cooperation
7.     Sustainability of capacity-development initiatives Consideration of effective incentives, ways to increase retention etc. Individuals to be encouraged, and able, to reinvest their new knowledge and skills in the fisheries sector the capacity of institutions is strengthened to adapt to change Develop human resource development plans where individuals are encouraged to pursue a clear, progressive and well-rewarded career path
8.     Application of results-based management to capacity-development approaches Consider indicators and an appropriate balance between those relating to process, product, performance, output and permanence Subsequent/better use of indicators to assess capacity development interventions and lessons learned

ACFR endorsed the Strategic Framework on Human Capacity Development in Fisheries in October 2004 to present at the 26th session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in March 2005. It is hoped that this will create greater awareness on the subject and encourage the use of the contents of the Strategic Framework. 

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