Feed the Future Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) Strategy Review
This review of Feed the Future (FTF) Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) strategy is based on a wide reading of documents provided by the Bureau for Food Security (BFS), and many from the broad literature on capacity development. It is also based on interviews with 34 people, many of whom are/were involved in the portfolio of HICD projects, either for USAID or as implementers. We believe that HICD is central to two core principles of development that USAID has embraced in the last five years – Local Solutions and the underlying intention of greater country ownership that informs it.
The keys to success in HICD are well known and reflected in scores of papers on the subject: focus building towards a critical mass of qualified people in the relevant institutional partners, solid up-front analysis of institutional structures and their cultural and political economy context, developing long-term relationships, being iterative in implementation so changes can be made as learning grows, finding and supporting, rather than creating leaders, and above all moving carefully and deliberately. Virtually everyone with solid knowledge of the subject, every review and every report notes that to be effective in HICD, and especially in institutional strengthening, support must be built over a long time and on a relationship of trust. It is telling that while virtually all those with whom we spoke agree with these principles, many acknowledge that the nature of demands made within USAID result in compromising many of them.
Overall, we conclude that the bulk of the HICD portfolio today is less effective than it could be. Undue speed, short project time-frames, spreading things too thinly, working with overly large and complex consortia, setting out multiple and often incompatible objectives, focusing on metrics that are often inputs rather than outcomes, side-stepping the consequences (low motivation to buy-in, low demand) of the many pressures on missions, and the lack of a clear and widely shared view of institutional capacity development, are at the root of the problem. The implicit model for institutional capacity development (ICD) at USAID (and BFS) is an idealized social engineering model, rather than a less linear, more inductive view of ICD challenges, one which begins with a careful examination of complex contextual constraints and pitfalls. As a result of all these things, quality has suffered, as have impact, sustainability, and country ownership. We believe ICD objectives would be better addressed by an iterative and continuous experiment in fostering realistic change.