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Published on: 26/11/2015

The results of organisational capacity assessments have clearly demonstrated that capacity building of key sector actors should not be seen as a human development activity that is meant to increase knowledge and improve skills of individuals, but part of a strategic set of organisational and institutional capacity development interventions to enable organisations to improve their overall performance.


The increasing pressure on resolving the global sanitation crisis has seen a rapid increase in the number of community-based organisations (CBO), non-governmental organisations (NGO), and local government bodies that are actively involved in the sector. This trend has not always been accompanied by an improvement in performance. The expansion of local CBOs/NGOs and the increasing role of local government may actually be lowering the quality of community development programmes overall, partly because local organisations have limited capacity and experience in developing and rolling out efficient and effective service delivery models.

As these organisations play an increasingly important role in realising the dream of universal access to sanitation, it becomes even more critical for them to perform well. All too often organisations focus on creating new programmes and keeping costs low to maximise impact instead of building the organisational capacity necessary to achieve their aspirations effectively and efficiently and to be able to respond to future challenges and an ever changing world. To ensure that these organisations can continue to play their part, capacity development initiatives should focus on building high-performing organisations to achieve lasting results, rather than just developing capacities required to implement short term programmes.

The only way to build a great organisation is to build its capacity

An organisational capacity assessment (OCA) methodology was developed by IRC in 2012 as part of its support to the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water (SHAW) programme in East Indonesia[1]. Since then the methodology has been used by IRC and its partners to assess the organisational capacity of four SHAW partners in Indonesia and the BRAC WASH team in Bangladesh. The methodology was developed to help organisations assess their own performance and is based on the principle that periodic self-assessments and learning are integral to being a healthy organisation.

The OCA methodology uses a common assessment framework that cuts across the full spectrum of an organisation’s activities. The framework is an adaptation of a capacity framework developed by McKinsey & Company[2]. The applied capacity framework defines organisational capacity in a pyramid of seven essential elements: three higher-level elements – aspirations, strategy, and organisational skills or capabilities; four foundational elements – human resources, assets and final resources, systems, and organisational structure; and a cultural element which serves to connect all the others.

Capacity Framework used to guide OCAs

The framework emphasises the importance of examining each element both individually and in relation to the other elements. The framework helps organisations realise that capacity building goes well beyond improving the effectiveness of functions at the bottom of the pyramid, for example human resources or organisational structure. Organisations need to focus on building the capacity of their entire organisation if they want to maximise their contribution to the global WASH goals. Reaching new levels of performance and developing organisational capacities to cope with change will not be realised by focusing on one single issue. It rather requires a deliberate and targeted programme to enhance capacities of all the elements, from its strategy to its systems and structure.

Lessons learnt

Firstly, the OCA methodology can be used with a range of non-profit organisations (both governmental and non-governmental) and with organisations that find themselves in different stages of the organisational life-cycle. In Indonesia the OCAs were conducted with NGOs that were getting towards the top of their maximum growth potential. These OCAs focused on assessing the capacity of the organisations to implement the SHAW programme. In Bangladesh BRAC had just successfully completed a large-scale WASH programme and the OCA therefore focused on assessing BRAC’s capacity to prepare itself for the future and to respond effectively to external changes.

Stages in the organisational life-cycle

Secondly, although it is the responsibility of senior management to initiate and drive capacity development initiatives, the best results were achieved when both senior management and staff participated in the OCA. If well designed and executed, organisational assessments will contribute to building stronger and more effective partnerships between senior management and staff.

Thirdly, OCAs need a strong focus to maximise its potential impact on the organisation. There needs to be a continuous focus on the aspirations of the organisation: why do we exist and what is it that we want to contribute to the sector. This will help to avoid unnecessary and lengthy discussions on trivial issues. A strong focus will also help to prioritise the capacity gaps at the end of the OCA. This is an important step as organisations should not attempt to fix all the capacity gaps at once as this could lead to a situation where an organisation is not able to take action on all the new activities as a consequence of overreach and basically shuts down.

The OCA for BRAC used the new strategy to ensure focus. The four OCAs in Indonesia focused on the SHAW programme targets and by doing so helped to create a sense of urgency among the programme partners to achieve those targets more rapidly. This renewed focus resulted in impressive progress in the periods following the OCAs.

Progress in project implementation following the OCSA workshops

Fourthly, there also needs to be an emphasis on what it is that you want to achieve by the end of the workshop. For subsequent capacity building initiatives to take off, it is important that the workshop is used to generate ownership by all for the required changes and to motivate senior managers and staff to jointly take responsibility for the prioritised capacity building needs. Senior managers need to be aware that they don’t achieve results by themselves and therefore they should create space to enable their people to contribute as effectively as they can. It will help if management and staff commitment is formalised in one way or another. With the SHAW partners, specific and detailed capacity development action plans, targeting prioritised capacity gaps, were developed and agreed by management and staff. In the case of BRAC WASH a short report summarising the prioritised findings and recommendations, as well as the response by senior management, was finalised and shared with all staff immediately following the OCA.

[1]       The Sanitation, Hygiene and Water (SHAW) programme was implemented across nine districts in East Indonesia by Simavi and five Indonesian organisations with support from IRC and ran from mid-2010 to mid-2015.

[2]       McKinsey & Company (2001) Effective Capacity Building in Nonprofit Organizations, prepared for Venture Philanthropy Partners


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