Within a systems thinking approach to capacity development, it is already acknowledged that capacity lies within relationships, more than within the separate elements of the system (individuals, organisations and institutions). The ability to facilitate a process of improving the quality of the relationships is thus in our view an important part of capacity development work. Systems thinking (in contrast to reductionist approaches) could play a supportive role to facilitate a real move towards developing capacities in human development systems; but this requires a paradigm shift away from the more, traditional “western” rooted view and (often) limited tool-led individual, project and thematic view (development) organizations (often) practice.

The main innovation that systems thinking introduces is that rather than prioritizing interventions that need immediate fixing, emphasis is given to defining the issue creating system, which is made up of interacting parts, which can be used to better understand reality, problems and the context in which they arise.

Quality of relationships (as imperatives for capacities to be developed) are to a large extent detriment to how meaningful our connection with others is and how we can shape the process of creating shared values, creating joint perspectives, towards a common direction. Informal systems actually determine whether and why people develop and-or build capacities, why they change, and in which direction and why organizations and people work successfully in partnerships, and/or innovate, or not.

Development professionals seem to be very comfortable in dealing with abstract concepts of participation, consultation and ownership, but are they really able to capture what they mean? Apart from the fact that “development” itself is often linked to “western” interpretations, we believe that we need to delve deeper in how we as practitioners can facilitate the process of individual and collective ownership (for change) and strengthen collaborative capacities ultimately to achieve Sustainable (Human) Development.

The “new” pathways

Development Connect develops and applies coherent approaches to support its partners to seek collaboration around common goals and shared values and in reaching out to and include other stakeholders, mobilizing the energy in society to change and improve, to take on opportunities and build upon existing capacities and initiatives.

Mechanisms are developed for joint accountability of, for example, service delivery to (remotely based) rural communities, with partnerships that build on and build up equity, transparency and mutual benefits. It is not only about reducing poverty, but also about reducing inequalities.

But then how does capacity development lead to reducing inequalities, changing power relations in terms of (research) knowledge, (technology) skills, resources, etc.?

The “new” pathways of the sustainable development goals do refer to capacity development, however, opportunities, challenges and priorities in developing countries are not homogenous; they are likely to differ per sub-region and per country (and likely inside countries).

Development Connect will work together with partners to assess and work proactively to enhance the change readiness that will eventually determine if change towards more inclusive, resilient human development and growth will accelerate or stifle. Change readiness is roughly determined by the enablers and constraints in the context; stakeholder interests for and against an agenda; and the capacity to manage change, and this is an area where we, building on and reinforcing a trusted relationship with our partners, can assist.

Our results will over the medium term pitch the performance of organizations and wider systems, getting well beyond a focus on capacity processes leading to better performance, and pointing to wider longer term effects at the outcome and impact level. We advise that capacity development response strategies (based on assessment methodologies) will be designed to achieve these results

Further, to promote a country’s strategic priorities and to contribute to sustainable capacity we need to apply our ability to leverage change. This is a subtle discipline that combines how we deliver advice, design services and products (or create spaces for others to do so); how we network and reach out to other actors in the local and global development landscape (and thereby strengthen local, national, regional and global innovation and knowledge networks); how well we understand the setting we are in (including the complex balance of formalized and informal drivers of policy processes and the way these processes end up creating spaces for pro-poor change); how we use our partners to strategically leverage change that from the beginning is thought of in up-scaled terms etc.

There are other elements to add, and tons of nuances. However, Development Connect will apply a pragmatic approach to capacity development and change will be premised on our ability to act when the moment is there.

Pathways of collaborative capacity are complex, starting with identifying partners and actors who are ready to go the extra mile (the change drivers), and who have the power and interest to overcome the barriers and resistance to change. The capacity to develop capacity, to advocate, organize, convene and implement change, is another indispensable ingredient of this readiness to act. The sum of the commitment and the capacity to implement change will determine how quickly and fast subsequent technical and institutional capacity development will take place to allow for uptake of research and development interventions. The ability to facilitate processes of improving the quality of the relationships, changing values and behavior, and challenging and encouraging thinking is in our view an important part of capacity development.