Capacity building — more than just training

Public sector capacity building should focus beyond training alone.

People are the backbone of any organisation, and for many countries like the Maldives, when the single largest employer is the State, public sector employees are significant. Afterall, the public service, despite its limitations and constraints, remains the key instrument for the implementation of government policies, and therefore central to the realisation of government development goals and objectives. 

Factors such as resources available, working conditions, motivations and values of public servants affect the efficiency of public service delivery. However, predominantly the capability of the employees is the most influential factor among all. Thus, capacity building to improve public sector performance must remain a salient goal of development initiatives. 

Capacity Development

Capacity here refers to the ability of public sector organisations, either singly or in cooperation with other organisations, to perform appropriate tasks effectively, efficiently and sustainably. Thus, capacity development is the process, looped in institutions which helps in attaining this. 

What impacts Capacity Development? 

Development work is often weakened by low economic growth, political instability, low resources and extensive social conflict. In fact, according to a research by McKinsey & Company, 80 percent of public sector transformation efforts fail to meet their objectives. This is an alarming statistic. Yet, further research along with the insights from transformational leaders illustrate 3 key practices which has a consequential positive impact on capacity development projects. They are; 

1. Having a raw and honest understanding of the institution and the cultural challenges

There is evidence to prove that over 75 percent of public-sector organizations have below-average health, with clear gaps in culture, coordination, and capabilities. These must be thoroughly examined and understood 

2. Having the process championed by deeply committed leaders.

People leading the institution must devote considerable time and energy to the effort, take accountability for success or failure, be a visible role model for the change, and must have the courage to challenge long-established assumptions and conventions

3. Nurturing the right capabilities

Unlike conventional thinking, policy and diplomacy are not the centerpieces in capacity development. Rather, investment is actually needed in a new generation of skills in operational delivery, analytics, change management, and communications

In the end, capacity building interventions must be sensitive to the inter-relationships between these dimensions. 


Most common misconception is that capacity building is about training of employees. Yes, this is an integral part of the process, albeit not the only one. Many variables are intertwined in the learning process of employees, which ultimately develops organizations learn and grow.  

In the planning process, it is imperative that the quintessential five Cs are considered for a successful capacity development project. Often, these are described as the drivers of success. They are;

  1. Committed leadership, 
  2. Clear purpose and priorities, 
  3. Cadence and coordination in delivery, 
  4. Compelling communication, 
  5. Capability for change

Furthermore, an important work which must be carried out is conducting a capacity need assessment. Such an analysis will draw out the gaps which requires capacity-building efforts. One preferred methodology here is that of 360-degree feedback – to gather input from self-evaluation, that of supervisor, coworkers and customers. This is also best to be linked with an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for employees, which should include both short- and long-term development goals. 


While there are plenty of tools which institutions can use for the development, listed below are some of the most popular and up and coming tools at disposal. 

1. Professional Training

Despite questions regarding the efficacy of formal classroom typed trainings, if executed well these are good interventions which can deliver learning to larger audiences fairly easily. Trainings can be conducted in-house, or be sent to other local or international trainings and workshops.

2. Coaching and Mentoring

This should not only be limited to supervisor-employee relationships, but should be broad enough to inculcate peer and executive level coaching and mentoring.

3. Enhance cross-departmental collaboration

In order to render services effectively, a truly cohesive workforce is required. This can be encouraged through cross-departmental training, job rotations or secondment programmes, which provides much needed exposure for employees.

4. Invest in soft skills

These vital competencies are often de-emphasized in public sector. Yet in reality, mastering a soft skill is highly complex and takes years of practice. As a lot of public sector work revolves around rendering service, skills such as fostering relationships, ability to collaborate and to communicate are pressing.

5. Encourage informal learning

The benefits of learning on the job, on-demand informally is gaining prominence as this method places the employee in charge of the learning and is highly specific to the job role. Interventions such as job shadowing, engaging in postmortems of projects, encouraging to try new things, or engaging in communities of practice are all effective ways to learn while on the job from colleagues.

6. Formal Education

Knowledge is key in development. Specialized knowledge in fields that matter most to a country’s public sector must be addressed though ensuring there are employees who go through formal schooling to attain this knowledge. From certificate level to professional doctorates, the importance of knowledge cannot be overestimated.

7. Investing in E-learning

e-learning is any learning material which is delivered via the internet, finding its way as a valuable and engaging development tool. While these tools allow employees on convenient asynchronous learning, they also allow on the go learning and bite sized learning. These systems also have features which allow employers to track, monitor and assess the learning as well. E-learning has now evolved from simply being web-based learning to include variations such as virtual classrooms, video modules, microlearning and mobile learning.

8. Encouraging the use of MOOC

Abranch of e-learning itself, MOOC or Massive Open Online Courses is another tool which can be used to augment learning and development. These are cost effect, convenient learning tools which help build of the skills and knowledge portfolio of employees. Some of the most popular MOOCs include Coursera, edX, LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy and Canvas Network. 

In the end, it is important to ensure that capacity building takes place in a structured and sustainable manner, so that knowledge is retained at the institutional level, rather than just at the individual level, retaining capacity in spite of the turnover of government officials. Capacity building, when implemented strategically and sustained over time, is a powerful tool to enhance the effectiveness of the government to understand the needs. Sustained improvements in capability are most likely to happen where there is high drive for reform from both the political leadership and the bureaucracy, within an institutional environment that provides supporting incentives. In the Maldives, to uniform the learning, Civil Service Training Institute with its current mandate has a huge role to play. 

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