Since its creation in 1970, IDRC has funded research aimed at improving the well-being of people in the poorest countries and has striven to build the indigenous capacity to do such research. Our dominant modes of funding have been individual research projects and the training related to those projects. During the 1980s international development agencies began to acknowledge that while project support has many advantages, this mechanism of assistance can, under certain circumstances, have negative effects on organizations receiving it. The lesson learned was that more attention needs to be paid to the institutional context of the project. Around this time IDRC began to place more emphasis on broader, institutional needs by funding programs and research-supporting services such as management, dissemination and training. We also began experimenting with more integrated, institution-focused grants.
Now, in the mid-1990s, there are pressures and opportunities to push the evolution in donor thinking further. For IDRC, this impetus is coming both from the South and from Canada. After years of experience with difficult political and financial environments and often with less than helpful donor policies, Southern organizations are now more directive in determining the kinds and conditions of funding they receive from internal and external donor agencies. In Canada, there are fiscal and accountability pressures on government and public agencies to demonstrate performance more thoroughly and for a wider, more critical audience than ever before. In response, IDRC is looking for ways to be demonstrably more effective in working with its Southern partners, so that maximum benefit is derived from each dollar spent. A serious problem in this regard, which this publication aims at addressing, has been the lack of tools for monitoring and assessing organizational capacity.
This book is intended to assist both external and internal efforts to strengthen organizations and to provide a framework for documenting the effects of such efforts. Still at the formative stage, it is a working document for assessing institutional capacity: ready to be tested in a variety of situations, and readily adaptable in light of the testing. This framework combines existing knowledge in a new way to yield a comprehensive approach for diagnosing and documenting the strengths and weaknesses of the kinds of institutions IDRC works with. This approach is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and the relative importance given to the various factors in the framework, and the way they are assessed, will depend on the particular contexts in which it is used. Possible applications range from internal self-assessments to external evaluations by a funding agency, and from comprehensive assessments of every aspect of institutional functioning to the assembling of a few key impressions during brief visits.
Possible users could include: a new institution or one at a turning point wanting to take stock and formulate a plan for addressing weak areas or gaps; a consortium of organizations wishing to either select or set up an institution to play a specific role; a donor looking to give support in the areas of greatest need or to assess the effects of ongoing support; and an institution preparing itself for funding requests or negotiations.
The framework presented in this book, once tempered through field testing, will move us towards three goals: helping IDRC be more effective in targeting its investments and in reporting on the results; helping our partners create and maintain institutions well adapted to serving the needs of the world's poor; and, on a global scale, adding to the tool kit available for making international aid more responsive to its intended beneficiaries. To these ends, and on behalf of the authors, I invite your feedback on the approach presented in the pages that follow.
Director, Evaluation Unit
Corporate Affairs and Initiatives Division