Becoming professional: the practice of capacity development

Capacity development has come of age as a  field of theory and practice. Concluding their ground-breaking resource volume for practitioners (Capacity Development in Practice, Earthscan, 2010), editors Jan Ubels, Naa-Aku Acquaye-Baddoo and Alan Fowler point out that a key sign of maturity is the way in which stakeholders within the sector are "beginning to deal with the interconnections relevant for addressing real-life issues and ambitions." As most development challenges are to be addressed by combinations of actors working together, they require capacities that live not only within them but also between them,"  they note. Such capacities include an expansion in the range of services as well as opportunities for strengthening 'demand power', improving quality of support, scaling up local solutions and reforming financing arrangements.

In order to equip thousands of practitioners around the world with the requisite skills to meet these challenges, the Volume's editors propose three areas of focus in the further development of the capacity development sector:
  • A process of intensive, practitioner-focused reflection to distil useful insights from the body of work that has been done so far;
  • Accelerate efforts to arrive at a shared understanding of  'the art of intervening', through exploring such questions as: What constitutes a capacity development intervention? What informs the intervention choices that practitioners make? Can the full array of intervention choices be organized in a coherent way to inform decision-making? How can capacity development interventions be tailored to different contexts? ;
  • Encourage the systematic tapping of Southern perspectives and experiences in further shaping debate and engagement.
These principles can be further embedded in day to day practice through such practical steps as:
  • encouraging systematic learning processes through critical reflection and testing of ongoing capacity development initiatives;
  • enhancing mechanisms for peer review and public debate;
  • providing greater access to educational programmes and professional training;
  • supporting practitioner-led action research;and
  • improving engagement with wider society, funders and governments to enhance understanding of the capacity development field.

Building on this 'call to action'  this section aims to bring together emerging debates and knowledge to contribute to the professionalization of capacity development practice. We encourage your feedback and ideas to help move this discussion forward.

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About "Theory U": Resources from the Society of Organizational Learning

Screen shot TheoryU bookIn Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges (SoL, 2007), C. Otto Scharmer expounds on the theoretical foundations of what he calls "the social technology of precensing". Presencing is a blend of the words "presence" and "sensing", and is defined as "the ability to sense and bring into the present one's highest future potential—as an individual and as a group".

Theory U is presented as a new territory of scientific research and personal leadership, one that is grounded in real life experience and shared practices. Otto Scharmer invites us to see the world in new ways by learning to become aware of our "blind spot", by sharing from his own personal and professional development. The final chapters lay out principles and practices that allow everyone to "participate fully in co-creating and bringing forth the desired future that is working to emerge through us".


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Essential Readings

  • A professional field in formation?

  • The role of practitioners' behaviour in facilitating change

  • Schein, E.H. (1998) Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship, Prentice Hall Organizational Development Series, Addison-Wesley

Go to annotated bibliography