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An Overview of a Method to Observe Capacity Development

by Phil Bartle, PhD


How to measure the extent that communities become stronger – more empowered

The Problem We Face:

Our goal is stated; we want to strengthen communities. We feel that we have a methodology to do so, but how can we know when we have succeeded, or to what extent?

What we may mean by the above question, is, "How do we measure the strengthening of communities that we claim we are doing?" Put in other ways, "What do we mean by strengthening communities, by increasing their capacities, by empowering them?" We can use these three (1 empowering, 2 strengthening, 3 capacity building) interchangeably, although one or another may be more acceptable to different people.

The word "empowerment," for example, seems to appear more like a political goal, while "capacity building" appears more "neutral" (a-political), thus more acceptable to technical specialists who do not want to be contaminated with anything that might appear to be ideologically tainted or "political." The word "strengthening" may be somewhere in between.

"Measuring" and "defining," as you can see, are closely connected to each other here.

We have noticed that, in our programme of community strengthening, our objective that is least realized has been that we want to set up a systematic process (or set of procedures) of monitoring and evaluating the results of all our activities aimed at achieving that strengthening. We can not measure something unless we know what it is we are measuring, and how we are going to go about doing that measurement (what tools we can use).

By the way, just in passing, the object of our affection, "the community," is also problematical in terms of being identified precisely. See, "What is Community?" We mean here by community as something more than a collection of individual people; it is the organization (the super-organism) of the community that we wish to strengthen. If individuals in the meantime get stronger, well so be it, but it is the organization of the community as a whole whose capacity we wish to see increased.

Unfortunately, we do not have a little electronic meter that, when it moves from 62 to 78, we can say that strength has been increased by 16 points.

What can we do? Well, perhaps we can analyse the concept of "strength," "power" or "capacity," as applied to communities, look at its various components, and see if, from them, we can identify a set of observations that will indicate to us that some empowerment or increase in capacity has taken place.

The Elements of Strength:

What are those components, or elements, of community and organizational capacity, that change as a community or organization becomes more empowered?. Link to: The Sixteen Elements of Community Empowerment.

The Measurement Methods:

How can strength, or changing levels of strength, be measured? Link to Participatory Methods of Measuring Empowerment.

The goal of the community is different from the goal of the community strengthening agency. The goal of the community, for example, may be to install a water system or clinic, whatever it has decided, eg with the assistance of the enabler or animator. The agency which provides the animator, in contrast, has a different goal, ie to use the self-help action of the community as a means of strengthening that community (increasing its capacity, empowering it).

Monitoring and evaluation by the agency and by the community members, therefore differ, because they are measuring progress towards achieving different objectives. Monitoring the physical construction of a clinic is relatively easy; they can report, for example, that construction has reached the foundation level or wall level. Monitoring the changing strength of a community, in contrast, means performing some sort of a sociological measurement of the changing social characteristics of the community (as listed above).

Knowing that the goals differ, it is still important for the community itself to be part of the process of measuring strength and evaluating any increase in strength. When it builds a clinic, it has a limited or finite objective, and it is easy to see the point at which the clinic construction is completed. In measuring strength or capacity of the community itself, the goal is open ended; there is no definable finite end to the process.

The community itself (its members in a group meeting, not just a few factions or influential individuals) must be the main source of assessing if there has been an increase in strength, which (if any) of the above elements contribute to that strengthening, and if it is still desired by the community. The methods of tapping community observations, must differ between the monitoring of the construction of a facility versus monitoring the strengthening of the community which constructed it.

Workshop Handouts to Use in Measuring Empowerment:

To accompany the two substantive documents mentioned above, (1) the sixteen elements of empowerment and (2) a participatory method for measuring capacity building, several workshop handouts have also been prepared as part of this module.

These include: the Sixteen Elements of Empowerment handout, the Participants' Notes to Measuring increased Capacity handout and the Form for Measuring Change in Power handout.


A Workshop:

A Workshop

For a different (but related) approach to measuring community empowerment, see: Measuring Community Capacity Building. 1996. Washington, DC. Aspen Institute.
This is a workbook-in-progress for community leaders and citizens who want to "Improve the ability of individuals, organizations, businesses, and government in their community to come together, learn, make well-reasoned decisions about the community's present and future, and work together to carry out those decisions - that is to build their community's capacity." It contains materials that can be worked through individually or in groups. The eight key points identified are inclusivity in participation, expanding the leadership base, strengthening individual skills, fostering a vision, setting a strategic community agenda, discovering tangible and realistic goals, creating effective institutions and encouraging the better use of resources by the community. It may be obtained by contacting The Aspen Institute, Rural Economic Policy Program, 1333 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Suite 1070, Washington DC 20036; telephone 202-467-5804. Cost: $45. (Review by Kellogg)

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.08.31

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