This book is a joint undertaking of the Evaluation Unit of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Universalia Management Group. Its original purpose was to help IDRC program officers and other personnel strengthen their understanding of the Centre's partner institutions. Towards that end it provides a framework and a common language with which to approach institutional evaluations. The framework is now being applied with success in a variety of situations around the world, and IDRC hopes that it will be of interest and use to other donor agencies.
Development agencies like IDRC are beginning to think of the monies they disburse as investments, and to view the researchers, projects, and institutions they choose to support as an investment portfolio. These choices are truly investment decisions, and value for dollar is an important measure of both individual and institutional performance in fulfilling mission and objectives.
While strengthening the capacity of organizations has always been the desired end result of IDRC's involvement, the prevailing investment mode has been and continues to be project support. Recently, as part of IDRC's internal reorganization, a discussion has ensued on how to disburse IDRC funds most effectively. Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of short-term project support in isolation from the broader institutional context, while interest is growing in modes of integrated support that address larger organizational needs. Consensus is building that IDRC must clarify its concepts of institutional capacity and how best to strengthen it.
To redress any "capacity gaps" in funded institutions requires taking a close look at what conditions might be constricting performance or output. The framework set out over the following pages is meant to serve as a guide to profiling IDRC's partner institutions so as to generate data that will permit research-based funding decisions.
The framework touches on four main dimensions:
Important considerations within each dimension are suggested as the focus of organizational assessments. Probing these should contribute to an in-depth understanding of the organization.
It is hoped that a systematic process of organizational analysis will help IDRC target resources to areas of greatest need in selected partner institutions and ultimately result in wiser investments. As time goes on, such analyses could serve to document progress resulting from IDRC's and other donor institutions' investments in capacity strengthening.
In the spirit of partnership, a driving force in IDRC's mission and culture, it is recommended that key personnel in IDRC-funded institutions receive this guide, become familiar with the framework, and use it to inform their own self-studies or to help structure their own formal organizational assessments.
The strengthening of capacity is a complex, problem-solving process, and one for which there is no single formula for success. Many approaches can and have helped research institutions in the developing world gain momentum. Just as there is no one formula for strengthening capacity, the assessment process itself must be robust enough to capture the emerging reality of capacity in development.
To develop this framework for IDRC, the authors surveyed recent literature on performance and capacity building and examined several models currently being used to evaluate research centres worldwide (see Bibliography). The social science literature dealing with the constructs of organizational capacity and performance is quite scanty as pertains to research institutions. In the absence of definitive academic work, we relied more heavily on practical experience and observations to gain insight into the workings and outputs of research institutions. Moreover, Universalia Management Group has carried out organizational assessments worldwide for well over a decade, primarily for the Canadian International Development Agency. Our framework reflects what we consider the best ideas and techniques from all of these sources. (Note: While we understand the formal distinction between an "institution" and an "organization," the former being an organization that has become an accepted part of the social fabric, nonetheless we use the two terms interchangeably, in more colloquial fashion, to represent any of the research partners receiving IDRC support.)
Some of the ideas in this framework (for example, "niche management") are just now being talked about and implemented in North American institutions. They have emerged from the authors' long experience in both the literature and practice of examining whole organizations, and they are presented here as part of a total package of considerations important to organizational relevance. Depending upon the specific research organization, it is our hope that IDRC and its partners will extract from this framework the concepts that are appropriate to the institution's stage of development and context, and adapt and adjust these to fit each assessment process.
The performance of organizations can be conceived as falling within three broad areas: performance in activities that support the mission (effectiveness), performance in relation to the resources available (efficiency), and performance in relation to long term viability or sustainability (adaptability).
Capacity strengthening is an ongoing process by which people and systems, operating within dynamic contexts, learn to develop and implement strategies in pursuit of their objectives for increased performance in a sustainable way.