It was a great relief to read that we would probably be able to give a pretty good assessment of the progress and impact of the work we are doing. It all sounds a lot less daunting now.
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Monitoring and Evaluating Capacity Building: Is it really that difficult? (Praxis Paper 23) Image

Monitoring and Evaluating Capacity Building: Is it really that difficult? (Praxis Paper 23)

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This paper is part of an ongoing Praxis programme looking at the monitoring and evaluation of capacity building. Visit our Praxis page for further details and to see how you can be involved.

Whilst few doubt the importance of capacity building, and the need for effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to support this work, the M&E of capacity building is as much a challenge now as it was two decades ago. This paper examines both theory and current practice, and aims to promote debate on some of the key barriers to progress.

The paper is primarily concerned with capacity building within civil society organisations (CSOs), although many of the lessons also apply to commercial and state organisations. It is based on a literature review and interviews with capacity building providers in the North and South.

The paper begins by looking at some key concepts in capacity building and M&E. It examines different ways of thinking about M&E, and different tools and approaches used to plan, monitor and evaluate capacity building work. It goes on to discuss M&E in relation to donors and outlines current practices. Finally, it highlights key areas for  discussion, and presents some conclusions based on the research.

The main findings are that where organisations are clear about what they want to achieve through improved capacity (or capacity building) and where there is a clear understanding of the purpose of M&E, it is not difficult to come up with a blend of tools, methodologies and approaches to meet the needs of different stakeholders. But if capacity building providers lack an adequate theory of change; if they do not know what results they want to achieve; or if M&E work is burdened by uncertain or unrealistic demands, then the area can appear to be a minefield.

The paper concludes by presenting some practical guidelines for developing or improving M&E processes. It also highlights the importance of internal commitment to M&E at senior levels within capacity building providers. Finally, it asks whether we need to improve the incentives for those organisations that seriously wish to move the debate forwards.

AuthorNigel Simister with Rachel Smith
SeriesPraxis Papers
  • Free downloadable PDF
  • Long paper (12-76 pages)



  1. I am very amazed by the article. I am working cuurently in the United Nations for Refugees, however I have a concerned comment on the confusing definition of capacity development as an internal process?
    Shada Malhas - 24/02/2010 @ 13:22
  2. Many thanks for sharing such an important topic with people who are working in this challenging area of development. I wii provide some feed back after a discussion with our group in Vietnam and Korea
    hskim - 25/02/2010 @ 02:24
  3. I'm very interested by this topic because I'm involved in M&E and I must monitor the capacity building aspects (particulary for civil society organizations).
    Canisius NZAYISENGA - 20/04/2010 @ 06:53
  4. It's great to see such a focus on capacity development. I have completed doctoral research in 'Capacity building in nonprofit organisations in the development aid sector' which is explanatory research of capacity building and an investigation into the diffusion of capacity building techniques between sectors. If anyone would like a copy - please feel free to contact me.
    Dr Jacqueline Parisi - 24/05/2010 @ 04:53
  5. Thank you for this excellent paper - by far the most useful and thought provoking I've read in this area. Just one comment/query on deciding how far results are measured: results-based management theory suggests that if you can't measure for a result, then you can't manage a programme for that result. In other words, if a programme's impact refers to wider societal (unmeasurable) change, is there any point including it in a log frame? As suggested in your paper, a high level of honesty within organisations and with donors is required as to what can actually, realistically be achieved.
    Angela Lenn - 14/09/2010 @ 11:49
  6. My apologies - I forgot to provide a rating with my last comment. 5 stars! Thanks again for your excellent work.
    Angela Lenn - 14/09/2010 @ 11:51
  7. I’m very impressed by such a great knowledge that you shared with us in regard to this particularly issue .And it is very useful for the institution which I’m working for
    Teshome gemechu - 21/02/2012 @ 08:16
  8. Thanks for Sharing.
    Abdirizak - 10/04/2013 @ 14:28
  9. Perfect and valuable paper, thanks
    jamil Sulyan - 11/04/2013 @ 12:09

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