Bhutan - Capacities at Multiple Levels and the Need for System Connections: A Case Study on the Capacity Development Approach in the Environmental Friendly Roads Programme
Primary thematic focus: Sub-national capacity development: local solutions, national strengths
In a Nutshell:
The story showcases a systems thinking based capacity development initiative in road construction that successfully worked across different types of levels, a) different scales of human organisation: individual - team - organization – network – society, and b) geographic or administrative units: communities (micro) – districts (meso) – nation state (macro). It illustrates the importance of understanding the ‘multi-level’ nature of capacity for achieving local development objectives and MDGs.
This case study tells the story of an initially narrow-focussed capacity development (CD) initiative within a technical project, the Environmental Friendly Roads Project (EFRC), which evolved over time to bring about change in a whole sector through multi-stakeholder processes and multi-level change. The EFRC project was implemented by Bhutan’s Department of Roads (DoR) with CD support from SNV Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV).
Most development challenges cannot usually be addressed by capacities of a single actor or at one specific level of organisation. Solutions that make a difference usually require the development of adequate capacities at different levels. One level can be characterised as dealing with scales of human organisation in terms of the sequence individual-organisation-network-sector: the individual skills and working practices, the organisational arrangement within the DoR organisation and e.g. district administrations, the forms of collaboration between different organisations in road construction and finally the institutional rules of the game in the sector as a whole. Clearly these levels are interdependent, each level cannot exist in isolation but needs the other levels to function well.
A second type of level is captured in the terms macro-meso-micro and is based on geographic or administrative distinctions: the national actors and arrangements for road construction, the regional or district level organisational arrangements, and the micro or community level where rural roads are built, used and maintained. Also for the macro-meso-micro levels it is clear that effective linkages are required for adequate and sustainable results.
By bringing different stakeholders together around a shared problem and by facilitating problem analysis and solution finding, the project created a strong driver for speedier action and more realistic solutions. This driving force was triggered mainly by the realization that: (a) the reality at district levels was very different from perceptions at national level, (b) there was a high interdependence of the national and district levels for each achieving results and (c) together structural solutions could be found (for example in planning and budgeting procedures) that none of them could create in isolation. National level staff therefore became more open to understanding and addressing meso- and micro-level realities.
The micro-macro divide was also bridged by empowering communities as ‘rights holders’ and by improving processes in which they can participate and engage meaningfully with district (meso) level authorities. This was especially important in Bhutan where organized civil society is still largely absent. At the same time, the district organizations and staff need different capacities to address the community (micro) realities and to influence national policies and existing often top-down infrastructure planning systems.
Sustaining new ways of working and capacities in a sector does also require embedding them in the ‘institutions’, the formal or informal rules of the game, norms and understandings that orient people’s behaviour. One can distinguish between formal institutions, enshrined in government laws and regulations, and informal ones that are part of a society’s culture, mindset and deeper value systems. Bhutan’s Buddhist inspired development philosophy of Gross National Happiness has shown to be a strong motivator and sustaining factor for change.
The case study also highlights the importance of understanding system hierarchy and power relations. How people relate to each other is often (unconsciously) determined by underlying societal values and ethics. Through relationships individuals exercise power and patterns of relationships create social structures in society through which again power is exercised. These social structures shape identities of individuals, groups and societies and influence development approaches. They also obstruct building meaningful relationships, bridging system divides and creating dialogue on different realities at different system levels. Bridging hierarchy and power is crucial for shaping informal systems of joined meaning, values, vision and action. Unfortunately they are often ignored characteristics of systems.
Results and Critical Factors:
The environmental roads project supported the construction of 129.24 km of rural access roads, improved rural livelihoods by providing access to health and education facilities, rural markets and by substantially reducing transaction costs of the rural economy. The roads directly benefit about 3,771 households with a population of over 31,300 in five districts. The project also achieved some clear capacity strengthening objectives, which provide a solid basis for sustaining the change introduced, such as:
- Increased construction budgets, environmental policy and a quality assurance strategy and system were adopted within the sector
- Structural sector development issues were taken up by the capacitated Construction Development Board and the Contractors Association of Bhutan and translated in improved sector policies, monitoring tools, dispute regulations, performance standards and HR policies
- Improved technical specifications and contract documents reflecting EFRC adopted sector wide.
- Capacity of DoR was strengthened for the more demanding design, contract management and supervisory competences and further training is integrated in HRD master plans.
- EFRC has been made mandatory for all agricultural roads, and District level engineering units have been given a voice and structural constraints are now acknowledged by national level. Increased resources are made available for capacity strengthening of district level units.
- EFRC was integrated in the curriculum of the Royal Bhutan Institute of Technology (diploma and BSc courses in civil engineering), so that new graduates would have the right skills and competences upon entry in the market.
The case study emphasises the need to consider different levels for effective capacity development. A systems approach to capacity development is therefore most appropriate. The behaviour and performance of an individual organisation is to a large extend dependent on the relationships is has within the broader system and the subsequent demands and accountabilities arising from these relationships. Facilitating awareness of interdependencies and strengthening relationships and multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms are therefore important.
Name of Primary Contact Person: Hendrik Visser
Title of Primary Contact Person: Senior consultant Capacity Development and Change Management, in Local Service Delivery and Climate Change Adaptation