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What is it?

Institutional assessment and capacity development is a reference document in the Tools and Methods series offering a conceptual framework for institutional capacity assessment and development, as well as guidance through the processes.

What can it be used for?

The reference document can be used as guidance when working through partner institutions, particularly, but not exclusively, in the public sector. It complements the Toolkit for Capacity Development, allowing engagement through dialogue with stakeholders and institutional development specialists. Originally designed to support a sector approach, the reference document can serve as a useful basis for budget support analysis as well.

When can it be used?

The Institutional assessment and capacity development guidelines offer a framework for country-led dialogue and joint analyses of institutional capacity. This guidance should be used in parallel with the design of the intervention, allowing for operational formulation of expected institutional development objectives and results.

Who can use it?
  • EU staff and partner country organisations, when tasked with assessing or developing the capacity of a sector, subsector or individual organisation.
What are its strengths?
  • Offers a conceptual framework for analysing elements influencing institutional development in terms of capacity, highlighting the endogenous character of the process.
What are its limitations?
  • While it offers useful and practical definitions and dimensions of analysis linked to capacity development processes, it is more a broad guidance than a methodology.


Key elements

The assessment of institutional capacity is based on an open systems approach which looks at organisations in relation to their context, recognising the influence of external factors in all dimensions – including capacity. A five-step approach is proposed:

Step 1: identify the vantage point for assessment. Determine the set of organisations and actors to be analysed. The assessment should be linked to the objectives of the supported intervention and based on the expected changes proposed by it.

Step 2: Focus on the outputs. Outputs (i.e. the direct products and services of an organisation or network of organisations, and the immediate effect of organisational performance) are considered good proxies for capacity. Focusing on the specific products and services will help partners in looking at existing outputs and defining the expected changes.

Step 3: Understanding the context. In a system perspective, capacity development support takes place in a dynamic context involving multiple actors with different backgrounds and interests. It is useful to identify structural and institutional factors, as well as organisational and individual actors, which may influence – or be influenced by – the capacity development process.

Step 4: Identifying inputs or resources. Traditional analysis often focuses on identifying need in terms of a lack of resources in the organisation; this is answered to with the introduction of external inputs (technology, financial support, staff etc). However, the assessment should also consider redistribution of resources already existing in the organisation (or available externally), particularly in terms of matching organisational goals and effective allocations.

Step 5: Looking inside organisations and networks. After analysing outputs, context and inputs, it is important to look within organisations so as to understand the factors which shape their organisational capacity. This analysis is built on a six-box model which highlights the role of leadership in the institutional development process and the importance of rewards (motivation) for staff (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Six-box model

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Source: Institutional Assessment and Capacity Development, Figure 2

The five-step open systems approach can be used to analyse networks (e.g. composed of central ministries, local governments, civil society and the private sector) in terms of:

  • interdependence,
  • goals,
  • patterns of interactions.

Based on this analysis, four focus areas for capacity assessment are proposed, as outlined in Table 1:

Table 1: Four action fields for promoting change

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Source: Institutional Assessment and Capacity Development, Box 2


Data/information. Every capacity development process will require analysis of the specific context.

Time. Capacity and capacity development are primarily considered to be endogenous and domestic processes. The time needed will depend on the scope and objectives of the analysis, but mainly on partners' availability.

Skills. An institutional development specialist, aided by a sectoral expert, may reinforce the quality of the analysis.

Facilities and materials. N/A

Financial costs and sources. N/A

Tips and tricks

  • Many capacity development efforts suffer from over-specification of technical inputs and under-specification of change management tasks and functions. More comprehensive change demands leadership engagement and support as well as ownership by partner organisations. The guide can help to widen the focus of capacity development planning beyond its technical aspects.
  • Staff as well as leadership should be involved in the assessment process and in capacity development design.


Where to find it

The European Commission (EC), 2005, Tools and Methods Series. Reference Document Nº 1. Institutional Assessment and Capacity Development Why, what and how? 

Complementary guides, methodologies and tools

The European Commission (EC), 2011, Tools and Methods Series. Reference Document Nº 6. Toolkit for Capacity Development.

Department for International Development (DFID), 2003. Promoting Institutional & Organisational Development.

Norwegian Development Aid (NORAD), 2000. Handbook in assessment of institutional sustainability.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, 2007. Tools for Institutional, Political, and Social Analysis of Policy Reforms.

United Nations Development Programme, 2017. Guidance Note. Institutional and Context Analysis for the Sustainable Development Goals.

United Nations Development Programme, 2012 Institutional and Context Analysis – Guidance note