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Lesson #7: Try to assess how much potential participants of a capacity building activity are genuinely interested and committed to it

Our seventh lesson is that usually the success of a capacity building activity is very tightly linked to the degree of real interest demonstrated by participants as well as their willingness to invest some kind of resources into it (time, sharing of experiences, etc.).  We have found that our activities were more fruitful and richer when participants directly demanded them (they had previously expressed interest in developing a certain capacity, for example), and even more if they decided to commit their resources to them. In fact, some attendants to regional conferences paid for their travel and lodging, some online courses´ participants volunteered to function as moderators for discussions, etc.

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This has two main implications for those designing CB interventions: first, it is important to carry out some sort of assessment of needs by participants (for example, a while ago at P&I we decided to carry out a survey aimed at informing Politics & Ideas and its partners in the process of formulating a new long-term capacity development strategy by consulting on topics of interest, preferred modalities, etc. See results here). This is one way of trying to have a grasp of participants´ readiness which is a key factor for the success of any CB activity such as Ricardo Ramírez has argued in this post.

However, as Alex Ademokun has very well pointed out in a recent post, we have to avoid conducting needs assessment simply to tick a box. He expresses that “there are many challenges with any needs assessment not least the honesty and curiosity with which the assessment is designed and carried out – are you really trying to figure out what is needed or trying to document evidence for the solutions you feel are needed?

He also highlights the importance of determining who or what needs to be assessed – is it the individual, the organisation or some combination of both? “

Second, it is important to start devising ways of ensuring some level of commitment from participants, either in a flexible way by allowing them to volunteer how to contribute to the activity or by making a concrete request, such as committing to write something that can of use for future activities, or facilitating one week of discussions on an online course, etc.

Finally, some further thoughts should be dedicated to consider financial contribution, like asking participants to pay at least part of the activity. In this direction, in his blog Goran Buldiosky has argued that “donors should charge a participation fee almost as a rule! The fee could be a percentage of the total cost (10% or more of the total costs to beneficiaries). (…) Deciding to invest in the capacity building from the scarce funds think tanks [or similar organisations/individuals] possess means they will not approach the possibilities as getting a ‘free lunch’. Instead, it is more likely that they will think through and decide if they really need it.” This is a very effective way to avoid that the sole incentive to participate in a CB activity is to make a donor happy.

Even when some individuals/organisations may experience difficulties in contributing financially for the CB, there are other innovative ways to ensure their willingness to invest resources, for example, by requiring those who have not paid to produce a case study or video, or other training material with examples for future CB activities.