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Core Concepts - Capacity Assessment

Capacity development is essential to the long-term success of electoral institutions and processes. Credible elections are more likely to occur if the authority charged with organizing them is independent and professional; has adequate resources; and can carry out its mandated functions. The numerous capacity development activities appropriate for periods between elections include post-election reviews, legal and technical reforms, strategic planning, staff development and reorganization, system testing and improvements in election procedures. In looking across the spectrum of UN electoral assistance, capacity development tends to be more of a focus for UNDP programmes than for DPA/EAD support.

Effective support to capacity development through electoral assistance rests on knowing what capacities already exist and what additional capacities may be needed to reach national objectives for development and democratic governance. Capacity assessments generally follow the initial needs assessment for electoral assistance. Mapping capacity assets and needs, and comparing desired capacities against existing capacities, are important steps towards formulating rigorous and practical capacity development programme initiatives.

Without a thorough assessment, capacity development may focus on less important priorities or be limited in scope, as happens with an emphasis on one-off training events. It may not be incorporated into investment planning, which compromises long-term sustainability. Capacity assessments also help in seeing how capacity needs may vary across the electoral cycle, and pinpointing connections that may be mutually reinforcing.

A systematic approach

UNDP’s systematic yet flexible methodology for conducting a capacity assessment consists of the UNDP Capacity Assessment Framework, along with a process for conducting a capacity assessment and supporting tools outlined in the Capacity Assessment Methodology User’s Guide.

The UNDP methodology is different from many other assessment methodologies in that it:

  • Focuses on capacity and not, for example, on organizational design, functional roles and responsibilities, or a risk analysis;
  • Enables both quantitative and qualitative assessment;
  • Self-assessment that highlights both current capacity and future desired capacity (capacity gap);
  • Emphasizes the link between a capacity assessment and a capacity development response and thereby sets the stage for moving beyond analysis to action;
  • Establishes indicators for capacity development and benchmarks for measuring progress on it.

Capacity assessments should look at broader or macro levels, as well as at how institutions and individuals function under them. For elections, macro considerations involve the level of political representation. They include the political and security environments, degrees of public trust and the commitment of national authorities to democracy. Institutions comprise the components of the electoral apparatus, such as the EMB, courts, the legislature, political parties, and available resources and technology. Individuals encompass members of the electorate, political candidates and staff of public institutions. See more on capacity assessment from the UNDP Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide.

Key local stakeholders—particularly the EMB—are best placed to determine priorities in capacity needs, responses and recommended investments. They must participate in each step of the assessment, including in adapting the framework to suit their needs, deciding the scope and analysing findings. Gender equity and respect for human rights should be incorporated across this process.

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