Recently, capacity development has once again become popular. In a world of struggling, failing, and collapsing institutions and organizations this does not come as a surprise. But capacity development is a complex issue - easier talked about and written about than put into practice.
Webster's Online Dictionary (consulted 29 September, 2008), gives eight definitions of capacity. Among them, are the ability to perform or produce and the power to learn or retain knowledge. These two definitions seem closely linked when the concept of capacity is applied to a professional field, such as teaching, research, or development planning and implementation. In these fields, professionals are preoccupied with both individual and organizational (what could be called collective) learning and performance. Capacity development then refers to strengthening individual and collective abilities to perform one or more tasks or to produce valuable outcomes and impacts.
This book is about collaborative learning for participatory rural development with a focus on community-based natural resource management approaches. Although informed and inspired by capacity development and learning theory, the emphasis of the three in-depth, Asian case studies highlighted here is on rural development practice. The three cases have the following features in common - they focus on real-life, complex learning situations concerning natural resource management dilemmas; they are examples of the gradual making of novel communities of practice for capacity development; they demonstrate both the process and outcome merits of using a variety of learning methods; and they make facilitators an integral part of the learning process.
The three cases suggest that effective capacity development is a dynamic, evolving, and unfolding process rather than a linear, mechanistic, or predictable chain of events. The cases demonstrate that the effectiveness of capacity development strategies can be increased through solid grounding in the local context, defining do-able and practice focused learning objectives, integration of expertise, organizational collaboration, deliberate application of utilization-focused participatory monitoring and evaluation, and dynamic process management.
Although the cases cover one particular professional field and are context specific, the insights gained from critical examination of the practices used here provide valuable guidance for other initiatives. Hopefully, more effective capacity development can contribute to more relevant rural development practices and to fewer individual and organizational struggles, failures, and breakdowns.
Ronnie Vernooy Ottawa, 2010 . . .