Does training strengthen capacity?

Lessons from capacity development in Ghana, Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, continue to face insurmountable challenges in building and sustaining capacity for development. Although donor assistance for capacity development has been estimated to be about 25 percent of total overseas development assistance (Overseas Development Administration 1995), much of the capacity development investment in the last 30 years has primarily focused on technical assistance programs in which international experts hired to implement and manage donor funded projects substitute for local capacity (Fukuda-Parr, Lopes, and Malik 2002). While this gap filling approach to capacity development has been effective in “getting the job done,” it is of little help in strengthening local capacity to carry out activities after the completion of projects (Kanbur, Sandler, and Morrison 1999). In some cases the technical assistance approach to capacity strengthening even undermines local capacity development (Ebrahim 2007).

Although technical assistance has used up the bulk of the capacity development funds, developing country governments and development partners have spent a significant share of capacity development resources on building local capacity through short- and long-term training programs (World Bank 2005a). But the past capacity strengthening approaches have not been successful in building capacity sustainably. Because of the challenges in effectively strengthening, maintaining, and using the trained capacity, developing country governments and development partners alike are beginning to question whether investments in training really strengthen local capacity.

The challenge is to strengthen capacity in a cost-effective manner while functioning through a strategic framework that harmonizes investment in human resources. Training has high direct and indirect costs. Directly, upgrading staff skills can be costly, particularly if it involves overseas training. Indirectly, the opportunity cost of staff time during their absence can be high. Yet, training continues to be an integral part of donor-funded projects with a myriad of approaches.

Challenges in strengthening staff and institutional capacity differ depending on the political, economic, and cultural context. Institutional and policy frameworks under which public organizations function are important. Developing effective strategies to strengthen and effectively use local capacity will require, as a first step, addressing several fundamental but related questions. What prevents the effective use of capacity in places where some capacity already exists? Who benefits from different types of training activities? How are new knowledge and skills gained from training activities used in public organizations? Does the trained staff use the knowledge and skills acquired to seek employment elsewhere? What incentives are in place to help trained professionals stay on the job? Do strategies to effectively develop capacity at national, regional and district levels differ? In this paper we take a closer look at training and its outcomes in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana to answer to some of these questions.

This note reports on a preliminary exercise to examine training and its contribution to developing capacity in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, as an input to developing a larger research and development agenda to strengthen the capacity of the ministry to effectively implement its strategies. The paper is structured as follows. A brief review of relevant issues is presented next. In the following section, we describe how the study was done and offer the findings, followed by some implications for developing a strategic framework for capacity development in the last section.

Babu, Suresh Chandra
Mensah, Raymond
Kolavalli, Shashi
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InterInternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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