In my current job Capacity is a word that floats around as freely as hot air. – So before I wrote this piece I looked up the word in the dictionary and it went on about one’s potential to experience and appreciate as well as facility or power to produce, perform or deploy.
Of course no good definition of capacity exists without examining the work of Sen.
If I’m correct he argued something to the effect of a person’s capacity to vote is more than just function of a legal write, but level of literacy, awareness of issues, ability to travel to a voting booth etc… In the space of Capacity building and Development, I find that Sen sets a high bar.
I wonder (not being an expert) does Sen’s conception of functioning (all those things that impede a person from acting) include plain old values? What if people just don’t want to vote? What if they don’t value voting above some other form of access to the political and administrative systems in their countries?
The reason I’m obsessed is that right now I’m working in a country that has an institution mandated by parliament to coordinate capacity building efforts in government institutions (among other things). This institution lives and breaths capacity transfer, capacity building etc… But how do they measure their success?
Assume that development is inherently about change, and while it will happen organically it’s quite focused on specific ends. Development agents work so that people do vote, not so they just have the option to vote. We work so that girls attend school, not just so that they have no barriers to attending school.
I say this because we don’t seem content with only removing all obstacles to a persons functionings. We determine success or failure through outcomes, the number of people who vote, the number of girls getting a good eduction.
Still, if all the ‘obstacles’ are removed and people still don’t vote and girls still don’t attend school then what?
Well I posit that the underlying issue could be question of value. People may be more likely to act on issues they care deeply about. Consequently, success isn’t just about the outcomes but also the much needed shifts in behaviour required to support the change. Shifts in norms and values mean that people will pressure their government to vote, will sell of their land to send their girls to school.
Obviously, I’m not the first to examine the role of values in development. Most marketing gurus know the benefits of shifts in preferences. Some African governments have their own internal initiatives to shift values in their countries (and no not just for political gain). But, what about all those people involved in capacity building? What’s the use in training a pianist if he hates to play piano?