A perspective from practice on capacity building

by Hament Patel (hament@ocp-ltd.com) www.ocp-ltd.com

This blog post is a response to an article by Gino Netto, Nicolina Kamenou, Sheetal Venugopal and Rabia Asghar called ‘Capacity Building in the minority ethnic voluntary sector: for whom, how and for what purpose?’, published in Policy & Politics in 2012.

I am an adult and community-based education development facilitator, and in the past have been a Capacity Building Officer in London. I would like to offer the following comment on the article from my perspective as a practitioner in the field.

The article provides the reader with a useful discussion about an approach to capacity building in working with minority ethnic led voluntary organisations (MEVOs) in Scotland, and also goes onto explain and draw out some vital arguments and lessons in taking such an approach. The article describes well the policy context and drivers for such work, the approach, and programme around how capacity building work was undertaken by the Capacity Building Officers (CBOs), and what makes the difference to such organisations in being able to engage successfully with capacity building work, in order to more effectively achieve their objectives and sustain what they do.  This included a helpful exposition given by the authors as to the rationale around the need to focus specific capacity building efforts targeting minority ethnic led voluntary organisations e.g. particular infrastructure, exclusion and isolation issues, among others.  The authors also describe capacity building success factors behind such invaluable work undertaken by CBOs. This included issues about effective engagement with local host organisations to participate in supporting such work, building agreement, consent, confidence and trusting relationships with individual MEVOs via help with pre capacity building support, as well as enabling these organisations to be sustainable to undertake agreed change efforts far into the future, by a good balanced discussion between internal and external change drivers.

Field interviews with the CBO and the programme planners highlighted that priorities for change identified by participants formed the focus of attention for capacity building efforts. While the article explained the role of a diagnostic tool-kit in aiding this, it is also interesting to consider the ways in which the literature on such matters has viewed and offered models around the involvement of people in organisations in defining and carrying out change efforts.

On this point the work of Schein (1999) has much to offer the reader by exploring the importance of consulting as a helping and facilitative process development relationship. This opens up areas for discussion and debate as to how to balance what such organisations and people have and bring to a relationship (their assets) and with help from outside the organisation, to address areas where they are weaker or need development support to both reinforce and build their areas of strength.

In this regard, giving consideration to the role of appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005) as an intervention in discussing such capacity building change approach is also of benefit, in terms of helping organisations and people develop areas where their strengths can be of greater utility. The authors also touch upon concepts such as ‘ownership’ and ‘participation’ and these could have been further explored within the context of the case exemplars they used for the study. The authors consider external funding challenges for MEVO. Further analysis looking more at the links between funding challenges and generating evidence from evaluation activities around projects, services and organisation embedding role of users and wider communities, would also be of considerable interest. From my perspective more discussion on the value of pre-capacity building development is especially useful, both for this project and also drawing on case examples from others, such as Burns (2007) who in his book talks about preparing local stakeholders for involvement in participatory action research at a number of levels.

In contrasting the experiences of CBO and others in Scotland to that of mine as a CBO working in Outer South London back in 2001 to 2004, there were other dynamics at play, resulting in a different experiences as a practitioner in terms of local engagement approaches, specific resources, and outcomes. The borough I worked within had no independent community resource specifically run or managed directly or indirectly by local community or voluntary organisations and for this reason I was not assigned to a host support organisation.  Furthermore, due to extreme fragmentation and isolation both of groups within and between MEVOs and local public services and other organisations this presented additional challenges.

The very first challenge was responding to their need for more pre-intervention meetings and preparation work with different constituents who would be connected with the organisation in many different ways to seek their approval and trust in what I was proposing to do with them, and explain what it would mean for them. Secondly I had to spend more time and effort addressing cultural and identity issues around how such bodies, organisations and people viewed themselves and others, and then work with them to argue a compelling case for developing shared agendas, goals and practices. This opened up opportunities for more pre-capacity building individual and group based development work, as well as enabling me – though not without major difficulty – to also focus on integrating internal and external change efforts of different initiatives to secure participant involvement in this particular formal capacity building change programme. While not having a host organisation that would work with me by providing complementary resources to support my capacity building efforts was difficult for me at times, surprisingly on reflection I feel this also enabled me to work with staff and vice-versa of many more local support organisations in more interesting non-formal ways that would not be possible or constrained if assigned to a host organisation. This way of working also helped me to agree a handover when I left the borough to key people in these organisations, to continue with work with local community and voluntary organisations in line with agreed action plans.

Burns, D. (2007) Systemic action research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol: Policy Press.

Cooperrider, D. and Whitney, D. (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. Berrett Koehler

Schein. H. Edgar (1999) Process Consultation Revisited. Building the Helping Relationship, Reading, MA Addison‐Wesley Publishing Inc.

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