Lesson 08: Sustainability


Capacity building needs to ensure post-mission sustainability.

Capacity building is a long-term endeavour. This requires particular attention to be given to the question of how to sustain the work long enough to produce lasting results. Capacity builders must ensure that changes in individual and organisational practices remain in the medium- and long-term. For instance, one way of improving the likelihood of sustainability being achieved is to impart more information on how participants can train other people to use existing training materials.

Sustainability requires a good knowledge not only of what end goal capacity builders seek to achieve, but also of whether the local actors will be able to financially sustain the new practices, resources and technologies. Introducing a costly technology (for example, new software) where local actors do not have the financial resources to pay for future licences or to maintain new equipment will only result in frustration and wasted resources in the medium- and long-term (see EU-CIVCAP DL 6.1). Moreover, this might also be counter-productive as it could result in long-term dependency on external actors as local actors will seek more external funding and/or equipment. In sum, the ambition of donor programmes should be tailored to the resources available to support them. There is a danger that grand claims to effect transformation will founder in the face of local challenges and insufficient donor funding, thus jeopardising the sustainability of the reforms and the credibility and legitimacy of donors. Feasibility and impact assessments should be completed before and after capacity building activities take place and should be conducted both by internal and external evaluators.

Fostering local ownership can also serve to mitigate the sustainability problems of the reforms. As Timothy Donais put it, the notion of local ownership ‘conveys the commonsense wisdom that any peace process not embraced by those who have to live with it is likely to fail’. Where the reforms are actively supported by local actors, it is more likely that practices will continue even when international actors have left. By contrast, where initiatives and programmes are designed without input from local actors and maybe even against their interests, this will result in the lack of meaningful implementation of reforms. Thus, it is important to address capacity building activities as a process of continuous and inclusive dialogue with local actors so as to maximise its long-term impact. As stated by Donais, durable settlements require the provision of resources from both outsiders and insiders, as well as the progression of a process of consensus building between locals and internationals, and among locals, that will lead to a ‘negotiated hybridity’.


Greater thought needs to be given as to how material, training and resources might be maintained after the completion of capacity building initiatives. Feasibility and impact assessments need to be carried out. Capacity building activities also need to develop specific strategies to ensure the sustainability and durability of the implemented programmes (e.g. ‘train the trainers’ programmes).