Capacity Assessment and Capacity Audit

This chapter describes and delivers practical recommendations on how to prepare and conduct capacity assessments and audits. They represent the starting point in the process of capacity development planning as they provide information about the capacities already existing or missing, allowing the setup of objectives and measurable targets to be achieved.

The concepts of assessment and audit are complementary. A capacity assessment supports a better understanding of desired and existing capacities, assets and needs. By this, it provides information about capacity development – in the sense of what needs change and or how this can be brought about. A capacity audit verifies whether capacities are in line with pre-defined standards or criteria that have been specified by certain guidelines, regulations, policies or programmes.

Therefore, the capacity assessment should be understood to be a dynamic participatory process in which audits are carried out regularly and at different stages of policy making / implementation. This creates a clear picture of the current situation, allowing monitoring of progress and enabling future interventions to be implemented. Moreover, an audit is important not only as a product for capacity assessment but also because of the knowledge and capacity building experience it provides to the individuals or organization conducting it.

Capacity assessments and audits can be used for a range of purposes. They can vary in their scope and focus but besides providing important information for and about capacity building and development they can also have the potential to:

  • act as a catalyst for action and help to build consensus on priorities;
  • build political support for an agenda;
  • offer a platform for dialogue among stakeholders;
  • provide insight into operational hurdles in order to unblock a programme or project;
  • contribute directly to capacity building (awareness, motivation, learning).

Moreover, they are often conducted for preparing national, regional or sectoral strategies and plans and as well with regard to international programmes. They can be used to develop capacities at different stages of policy making:

  • Assessments (what kinds of capacities are in place to conduct assessments and which of them should be further developed?)
  • Policy formulation (how to develop capacities)
  • Implementation and evaluation (e.g. by capacity audits).

Preparing and conducting capacity assessments and audits means converting some of the theoretical frameworks presented in the previous chapter and adapting the tools to the respective contexts and purposes. Frameworks and tools are not prescriptive and should not be followed as such but rather be understood and adapted as needed.

Consequently, the practical recommendations must not be taken as a construction plan or recipe. They have to be adapted to specific settings, aims and available resources. They should support people in conducting capacity assessments on a small scale (e.g. for an organization, for a specific aim etc.) as well as on a large scale. They have to be used in a pragmatic manner and in line with available resources and capacities. Even if an extensive capacity assessment is not possible, capacity assessments of limited scope might still prove beneficial.

Next: Approaches to consider