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The Australian National University

Capacity development in the international development context: Implications for Indigenous Australia

Discussion Paper 278 / 2005


Capacity development has become a key concept in international development in recent years. Older approaches involving technical cooperation, in which knowledge and skills were to be transferred to developing countries, have been unsuccessful. In contrast capacity development is viewed as an endogenous process within organisations and communities which are themselves embedded in wider systems. Understanding the features of these systems which might support rather than inhibit capacity development is therefore important.

The paper first clarifies aspects of the term ‘capacity development’ and then draws on recent research and experience of capacity development to draw out some of the key international lessons, especially in relation to the ‘enabling environment’. It then outlines a number of community and organisational approaches to capacity development, but cautions that cross-cultural issues may affect capacity development at different levels.

The paper concludes by raising questions about the implications of this international development experience for thinking about capacity development in Indigenous Australia. It particularly argues for a greater focus on removing the constraints in the enabling environment in order to better foster Indigenous capacity.

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