The conflict between individual capacity and institutional capacity is an illusion

Project: Learning ProjectTalent Development 12th February 2018

“If strengthening organisational capacity is a principle of capacity development, then strong individual staff capacity is an indispensable element of this approach”

– Feedback from a responder to the Talent Development project needs assessment

What are the best approaches to programme design to ensure sustainable solutions and community leadership in preparedness programming? How can we inform future programming to ensure we have the right people with the right skills at the right place and time to prepare for and respond to disasters in the most appropriate way? In the upcoming global conference ‘Preparing for Shock: Is Preparedness the New Frontier?’ we will explore enabling approaches and obstacles to sustainable preparedness programming and hear from local implementing staff,  national networks, global programmers and researchers who have first-hand knowledge on these areas.

In the first blog of our conference series Shahana Hayat, country learning advisor and former Talent Development project staff, explores the divide and perceived conflict between strengthening the capacity of individuals and institutions:


Sharing experiences

We often debate the issue – should we target individual capacity strengthening or organisational capacity strengthening? In my experiences capacity strengthening is a programmatic process for capability development.

The Talent Development project (TDP) under the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) carried out a needs assessment at the country level to build on DEPP’s capacity development learning in the country context. The needs assessment tried to identify the interface between individual and institutional needs. The first question asked was:

“Are there links between the capacity needs of the institution/organisation and the learning and development needs of the individuals/staff within them?“


The assessment outcome showed that individuals with high capacity improve the capacity of the institutions themselves; there should not be a conflict between institutional need and individual aspirations. The second assessment question asked:

“Is there a way that individual learning and development needs can be addressed in a way that also addresses organisational capacity needs? Can these needs be addressed to ensure that the benefits are felt by the organisation as a whole and not just the individual staff?”


The Talent Development project’s capacity building approach includes blended methods to build the humanitarian skills, knowledge and attitudes of individuals at entry, mid and senior level.  On the other hand the Shifting the Power project (StP), another DEPP project, focuses on strengthening organisational and institutional capacities such as improved MEAL system, proper documentation and management processes creating an environment where individual staff can also perform better.

From the Talent Development project’s experience in Bangladesh we had mixed experiences with the results. In some cases humanitarian training benefited individuals without necessarily strengthening the capacities of their institution. Individuals performed their responsibilities more efficiently during deployment in the Haor flash floods, and the Rohingya response, but this did not directly translate to strengthened capacity of their organisation. On the other hand, we saw cases where individual humanitarians who had benefited from high quality training under the Talent Development project were not able to put their newly acquired skills to good because their organisation/institution were inexperienced and did not have the capacity to change with them, or at times even negative to such skills application. Lack of understanding and appreciation of these newly acquired skills led to a mismatch of supply and demand.

Therefore the Shifting the Power project’s focus on strengthening organisational capacity and championing values that enable individuals to carry out functions and achieve their development objectives over time is also important.

The bottom line is that both an individual’s ability to strengthen the capacity of the institution and the institution’s capability to engage individual staff are equally critical for improved preparedness and humanitarian response. Therefore, my strong learning from the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme is that we should not choose between prioritising individual capacity strengthening over institutional improvements, or focus on institutional change over individual capacity strengthening –in the next phase, let us combine the two.

The ‘Preparing for Shock: Is Preparedness the New Frontier?’ global conference is taking place in Geneva on the 14th and 15th March. For more information about the conference visit our events page here


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