FAO Capacity Development

How to carry out a Capacity Assessment

What is a capacity assessment?

A capacity assessment (CA) aims to provide a clear picture of a country or sector’s capacity in terms of strengths, weaknesses and available assets. It is a structured approach for analysing capacity across three dimensions: individuals, organizations and the enabling environment.

Why do we need to carry out capacity assessments?

CAs identify capacity gaps, and highlight the institutional dynamics, that cause a development challenge to persist. Put another way, even the most well-designed programmes cannot be effective, or sustainable, in situations where capacity gaps hinder delivery.

During CAs, stakeholders pool together their first-hand knowledge of a problem and identify solutions that are context-specific. Indeed, the risk of not doing a CA is that underlying causes of a problem and capacity gaps might be overlooked. Results of a CA include:

  • Promoting inclusiveness: Stakeholders play key roles in collecting and analysing information and designing interventions. Being fully involved in the entire process leads to ownership of outputs and outcomes.
  • Harnessing local knowledge: Local knowledge is critical for understanding the complex systems and dynamics behind the current challenge. It is also essential for identifying appropriate solutions.
  • Bringing champions on board: Many participants in the CA process go on to play key roles in moving the capacity development process forward.

How do we carry them out?

In addition to the technical assessments which are normally part of programme design, CAs should also be conducted. Findings from CAs should then be the basis for Country Programming Frameworks (CPFs), strategic action plans, programmes and projects.

Steps in the CA process:

  1. Forming the team: Select the team that will do the assessment and decide how the assessment will be carried out (surveys, desk reviews, focus groups, etc.)
  2. Scoping the CA: Clarify what and whose capacities need to be strengthened. Use the stakeholder analysis tool to identify key stakeholders. Customize the capacity assessment questionnaire for different stakeholders (farmers, government staff, etc.) as well as the specific sector or challenge.
  3. Facilitating or undertaking the CA:   Collect and analyse the data on capacity and communicate the findings to key stakeholders.
  4. Consoliding findings: Define and gain consensus on next steps.

Commonly used CA tools

Problem/Solution Tree

A problem tree helps clarify the underlying causes and effects of a development issue. Solution trees help reframe the problem and arrive at innovative solutions. These can also be used to develop log frames to design programmes and projects.

Problem tree tool (tool 9 of LM2).

Stakeholder Mapping Tool

This tool looks at stakeholders in terms of whether they support or oppose the issue at hand, as well as their power to influence the outcome.

It also helps identify people: 1) who should be interviewed during the CA; 2) whose awareness of the issue needs to be raised; or 3) whose capacity should be strengthened.

Stakeholder mapping tool (tool 1 of LM2)

Capacity Assessment Questionnaire

The questionnaire asks about strengths and weaknesses across the three dimensions of capacity development: individuals, organizations and the enabling environment. For each dimension, it explores:

  1. the existing situation;
  2. the desired situation; and
  3. what needs to be done to achieve it.

Questions should be customized for specific stakeholders, countries and sectors.

Sample CA questionnaire on Agricultural Marketing and Finance

Sample capacity questions (Tool 5a)

Tips in carrying out capacity assessments

  • Assessments are much stronger, more legitimate and have more validity if nationally driven by local partners. Self-assessments are stronger than externally led assessments. Hence, identifying and establishing partnerships with national champions is essential.
  • Careful planning of a capacity assessment will ensure success. It is critical to plan precisely how information on capacities will be used at the completion of the assessment.
  • The quality of the questioning and inquiry of the assessment team must be high. It is important to listen very attentively to the stakeholders to capture the true essence of their contributions.  Appreciative inquiry and active listening techniques are suggested

More resources on CA are found in FAO Learning Module 2 on Programming

Capacity assessment in action: Participatory capacity assessment in Somalia 

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