Lessons in Capacity Development: Sectoral Studies in Sri Lanka

Date: April 2006
Type: Evaluation Reports
Capacity development; Evaluation; Social development and protection
Series: Special Evaluation Studies


Capacity development has been a thematic priority of the ADB's poverty reduction strategy, and it is one of the initiatives targeted under ADB's reform agenda. In this context, this special evaluation study assessed the success and impact of past and ongoing capacity development activities, identified generic lessons from past experiences, and provided some guidance on the design of future capacity development support.

Three sectors (tree and plantation crops, water supply and sanitation, and education) were purposefully chosen for the evaluation because there had reportedly been a degree of success in capacity development.

The study applied a conceptual model to analyze capacity development interventions at five levels (end-user beneficiary, individual employee, organization or entity, network, and enabling environment).

Key findings on the three sectors

  • Tree and plantation crop sector
    Recent projects have focused more on improving capacity in the private sector rather than in the public sector.
  • Education sector
    Most of the investment has been at the level of the institution through improved physical infrastructure and equipment for schools, better curricula, and the provision of educational materials and measures aimed at an improved school management environment.
  • Water supply and sanitation sector
    Capacity development under earlier projects focused on the main executing agency, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board; but under the two most recent projects, capacity development activities have broadened to include actions aimed at
    • strengthening beneficiary and end-user participation in selecting, designing, implementing, and operating local water supply systems
    • strengthening the capacity of local authorities to develop and manage such systems
    • assisting beneficiaries in their operation and maintenance.

Lessons identified

  • Some of the major and most extensive capacity development impacts are at the end-user beneficiary level and in the enabling environment. 
  • A strong link exists between continuity in a sector and the success and achievements of capacity development interventions. 
  • A realistic approach to policy and institutional change is important. If donors push change too hard or without proper preparation and change management, they will likely meet opposition that can jeopardize the whole capacity development effort. 
  • Capacity development usually requires a lot of consultancy, often because the expertise required does not exist within the agency. 
  • Whereas significant capacity development impacts can be achieved at reasonable cost with simple, practical training courses designed for specific needs, formal in-country and overseas training often does not have much capacity development impact. 
  • Capacity development needs should be assessed at all levels of public service, not just in the upper echelons of national agencies. 
  • What is, and is not, capacity development is still not clear in the literature or among development practitioners. For operational staff to incorporate capacity development in future country strategy and programs (CSPs), technical assistance, and loan projects, they need clearer definitions of terms and concepts and clearer understanding of ADB's purpose in making capacity development a thematic priority. 
  • If ADB decides to exit from sectors where capacity has been effectively developed through periodic changes in strategy and country priorities or to achieve greater selectivity, there is a risk that capacity may deteriorate.


  • The formulation of the CSP for Sri Lanka should include an assessment of the impact and sustainability of past and ongoing capacity development activities as one of the criteria to help guide decisions about whether ADB should continue to operate in, or withdraw from, particular sectors.
  • The Government of Sri Lanka, and those of other developing member countries, should be informed of ADB's new strategic priority for capacity development and the implications for future CSPs and other planning exercises.
  • ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department (RSDD) and Operations Evaluation Department need to cooperate with each other in clarifying what capacity development means in operational terms through the preparation of the Medium Term Framework and Action Plan for Capacity Development by RSDD and conducting a follow-on evaluation by OED to further test the capacity development model used by this study.


  • Executive Summary
  • I. Background and Rationale
  • II. Basic Principles
  • III. Methodology
  • IV. Study Findings
  • V. Recommended Follow-Up Actions
  • Appendixes