To create the best possible outcomes for city projects and planning, local governments need appropriate capacities at all levels. These capacities exist in different forms and in an urban context are arguably especially important on a local level.
The need to build and strengthen the capacity of all actors with a part to play in managing the development of towns and cities and administering the delivery of urban services has been widely recognised for several decades. However, as the outcome of attempts to meet the targets set for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 2000-2015) have demonstrated, in few cities in countries beset by economic stagnation, extensive population growth and social and cultural change are they adequately or appropriately equipped to address either the scale or rate of change of recent and current urban conditions.
Thus operational strategies for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2015-2030), particularly the ten targets of Goal 11, must be underpinned by a strong emphasis on capacity building.
Why capacity building?
Capacity building for effective, sustainable and equitable urban development is part of a paradigm embracing the principles of ‘local democracy’, ‘good governance’, ’transparency’ ‘accountability’ and ‘empowerment’, ‘enabling’ and ‘partnerships’ that has underpinned conceptual and practical approaches to urban development policies, planning and management for four decades.
Empowerment for the governance and management of cities and settlements is about subsidiarity – recognising and giving responsibility to the most effective (most immediate or local) level of authority.
Enabling is about ensuring that those who are empowered have the capacity (information, technology, skills and support) to exercise their authority (power) responsibly and effectively.
What is capacity building?
To many people capacity building means training or human resource development. Certainly this is a major component of it. However, if decision-makers, managers, professionals and technicians are to operate at full capacity, they need more than just their own abilities. They need an institutional and organisational environment conducive to, and supportive of, their efforts, energies and capacities. Institutional and organisational constraints present as great an impediment to the effective management of cities and settlements as the inability of professionals, technicians, legislators and managers. To be effective, capacity building must embrace all three aspects simultaneously and within the framework of an agreed common policy:
Human resource development (HRD) is the process of equipping people with the understanding and skills, and access to information and knowledge to enable them to perform effectively.
Organisational development is the process by which things get done collectively within an organisation. It is to do with management practices and procedures; rules and regulations; hierarchies and job descriptions – how things get done. It is also to do with working relationships; shared goals and values; teamwork, dependencies and supports – why things get done.
The increasing demand for more flexible and responsive management styles for the development and management of cities and settlements, calls for new and very different organisational structures and relationships, particularly within local administrations. It also calls for new relationships between different organisations that have a role in urban development and management.
Institutional development encompasses the legal and regulatory changes that have to be made in order to enable organisations, institutions and agencies at all levels and in all sectors to enhance their capacities. It embraces such issues as regulations controlling the financial management, borrowing and trading capacity of government agencies and municipal authorities; the ability of local authorities to negotiate contracts and form partnerships with private enterprises and community organisations; and democratic legislation that allows, enables and encourages communities to take responsibility for the management of their own neighbourhoods and services. Such institutional issues generally need the political and legislative authority of national government to bring about effective change.
Whose capacity should be built (the demand)?
Capacity needs to be built at every level and across all fields of activity that impinge upon the development and management of cities and settlements. However, in every situation there are priorities that vary with the particular circumstances of any specific country or region, though it is becoming increasingly apparent globally that the weakest link in the chain are local authorities.
Municipal governments and administrations are the key actors in the management of towns and cities. Yet, over the last 40 years, in all but
a handful of developing countries they have been starved of authority and resources. They have been constrained by obsolete legislation, restrictive practices, outmoded equipment and inappropriately trained staff. Many of their traditional development and management roles have been usurped or bypassed by central government corporations and utility companies. But the new paradigms are changing all this and calling for an urgent and massive exercise in re-building the capacity of local government and administration. This can be crudely characterised by three types of activity:
First, is the task of equipping municipal governments and administrations, and the private sector and communities with which they interact, enabling them to confront and command the new urban agendas. These are dominated by the issues of the globalisation of urban economies and capital markets; the sustainability of urban environments and climate change; the reduction of urban poverty; the new concern for democratic, gender-aware and accountable government and the elimination of corruption.
Second, is the task of ‘re-tooling’ local authorities, enterprises and citizens’ organisations to enable them to initiate and sustain a new style of operation. This includes the processes of decentralisation, devolution and, where appropriate, the privatisation of the delivery and maintenance of urban infrastructure; the formation of new partnerships for the supply and management of public services and amenities; the provision of enabling supports to households and communities in the control and management of their own neighbourhoods and dwellings.
Third, is the task of developing an enterprising and challenging work environments and career structures within local administrations that attracts and motivates the best professionals, technicians and managers and rewards their creativity and innovation.
Some of the knowledge and skills required to carry out these tasks are readily available. Others, such as working with local communities and with the private financial sector are new and need to be developed before they can be applied. And some global, regional and local processes, such as new regional development agreements and progressive and supportive international city twinning arrangements affecting the development of cities are so new and complex that substantial basic research is necessary before they can be usefully transferred to those who need them.
Community-based organisations and local NGOs rank very close to formal local government in the league of priorities for capacity building. The emerging role of neighbourhood and community groups, as a new tier of local governance that comes between individual households and municipal authorities, is almost without precedent. (Though, in many countries, there are parallels with traditional village, guild or parish or waqaf councils, there is a fundamental difference in that, although such urban communities are rightly taking on many of the traditional management functions of municipal authorities, it is important that they remain non-governmental in the formal sense so that they can maintain a ‘watch-dog’ role over municipal authorities, monitoring and guarding the interests of their constituents). The capacity building support that they need has generally as much to do with the skills of political negotiation as it has with community management and the administration of local infrastructure, services and finance.
The private sector, which by definition is only in the game to make a profit, must generally take responsibility for building and maintaining its own capacity to compete. There are situations, however, where the informal private sector and some formal sector enterprises, notably SMEs, need assistance in the form of legislative deregulation and incentives that encourage and enable them to enter the market, particularly for the production of low cost housing and infrastructure. In many situations there is also the need for easy access to management training for small and informal sector enterprises. This is often as much in the interests of small contractors’ clients as in the interest of their own competitive ability.
Who builds capacity (the supply)?
There are institutions and organisations that rightly specialise in supplying capacity building services – institutions that build the capacity to build capacity. Training establishments, agencies, institutes and departments play the dominant role in the HRD component of capacity building and should continue to do so. However, their inability to respond to the current conditions of radical and rapid change is often a major constraint. Many training establishments are trapped by tradition, inertia and lack of contact with the real and fast moving world of municipal and metropolitan development and management needs. They tend to be ‘supply-based’, offering a fixed menu of training courses of marginal relevance to the new and changing roles and responsibilities of their clients and are unable to respond to demands for training in topics or skills other than those offered by their entrenched syllabuses.
Thus in many countries, there is an urgent need for a review and re-definition of the roles and practices of training establishments, leading to the development of a new generation of ‘demand-led’ training institutions that see their role as one of initiating changes in approaches to urban development planning and management and supporting the practices to sustain them. Such strategies for redesigning training systems and institutions will generally require fundamental changes, not only in approaches to the delivery of training, but also to the relationships between the suppliers and their clients; that is, agencies of local governance and management. This, in turn, will require a substantial support system able to build the capacity of the capacity builders.
Intermediary capacity building organisations (ICBOs) operating at regional and international levels can, and already do, provide such support to local authorities and training establishments. In addition to developing and supporting new processes of human resource development, ICBOs have a potentially very major role to play in both the organisational and the institutional aspects of capacity building.
Their role in organisational development goes well beyond the traditional conduct of training needs assessments or the design of performance improvement programmes. It must be much more proactive, assisting municipal organisations to initiate and implement managerial and, where necessary, structural changes, that will enable them to operate effectively within the new paradigm. This may well entail new types of relationships between executive authorities, such as local councils, management consultants and training establishments at different levels and across several fields of operation. They should also use their position and resources to assist the restructuring and upgrading of the local training establishments through which they operate.
In the field of institutional development ICBOs have an important innovative lobbying role to play in bringing pressure to bear on governments to reform legislation, regulations and controls that currently inhibit the effective development and management of cities and settlements. They should assist the formulation of national and local capacity building strategies and the design of sustainable implementation programmes and procedures for them.
What is to be done?
The third United Nations bi-decennial conference on Human Settlements (Habitat III, in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016) has the objectives of securing renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development and addressing new and emerging challenges, significant amongst which is that of building and strengthening capacity for sustainable urban development planning and management, globally. The conference will result in “…a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document -‘The New Habitat Agenda’…” that will impact upon regional and national plans of action and strategies for the implementation of the SDGs 2016-20302.
It is important that integrated capacity building for urban development is strongly supported internationally at Habitat III and throughout the fifteen years of the SDG implementation process.