Reflecting Collectively on Capacities for Change

‘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 resource contains a collection of articles from an issue of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) including both case studies and interpretive essays on underlying concepts and theories.  The 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.

Resource Type
TIPC Region

This article collection presents both case studies and interpretations of the practice of change with a focus on the capabilities and the learning processes involved in assembling these capabilities.


Reflecting Collectively on Capacities for Change. (2010). IDS Bulletin, 41(3).

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