Reflecting Collectively on Capacities for Change

Edited by: Peter Clarke and Katy Oswald

April 2010
Volume 41 Number 3

'Capacity development' implies a promise of growing self-reliance, national ownership and sustainability, yet practice seems consistently to fall short of this emancipatory promise.

This introduction argues for a reframing of capacity development for emancipatory social change. Articles in this bulletin show how understanding and practice must engage with complexity, appreciate the importance of specific culture and context, and continually address the role of power in shaping relationships, understandings and practices. Values and leadership are fundamental drivers of capacity development processes. This bulletin argues against a deficit approach based on linear causal logic and replicable 'best practice'. Instead practitioners are encouraged to develop a detailed understanding of the culture and dynamics of specific contexts, to detect energies for positive change and work to connect and facilitate them. Learning is at the centre of the approach. Capacity development is understood as a collective process of learning in action for social change. Support for capacity development processes demands a critical development practice that implies mutual learning, with an emphasis on reflective and experiential approaches. However, this reframing implies enormous challenges for development practice, and therefore considerable personal and organisational commitment.