"You are very good at asking direct yet very open questions. Your whole attitude, charm, is anything but offensive. People respond super well to it, and it really gets us forwards".1
My interest in capacity development stems from my time as a teacher / trainer for professionals from all over the world at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development (IHS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Here I was inspired by a decades strong tradition of capacity development, both in country and at the institute.
With time, as I started working within NGOs, my understanding of capacity development broadened. Such as when bridging silos within organisations, fostering communication across layers of an international organisation, or liasing between various essential stakeholders in different (country)offices to troubleshoot an issue, e.g. financial.
To me, capacity development is an authentic interaction between equal experts - yet in different fields. Capacity development, in my experience, can be in many ways similar to interdisciplinary teamwork. Sometimes the one professional teaches the other something from his/her field of expertise, and - even in the same session, or later on - the roles turn.
'Only dialogue truly communicates', as Freire wrote (1974 - 2013, p. 43). It is not a one-way direction, which is why I prefer not to use the term capacity building.
My approach to capacity development is that of an 'alongsider', and of asking questions. By 'alongsider' I mean that as a professional I like to be alongside another professional and see what s/he is already doing. To listen first. And to then start to ask questions. Ideally, I am able to ask good questions; questions to stimulate new understandings, connections, realisations on the way forward, questions rooted in the expertise the professional already has.
Important to mention is that in this approach I do not necessarily know the answers to the questions, since it may not be my field of knowledge. But that, to me, is exactly what capacity development is also about (as opposed to merely the transfer of knowledge and skills in a one way direction).
The greatest influence and inspiration on me as a teacher and technical advisor, has been that of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who speaks of education for critical consciousness, and the Italian pedagogue Malaguzzi who works a.o. with curiosity, play, creativity and questioning. In essence, my approach comes from a genuine love for the art of asking a good question.
1. Feedback received from an independent consultant. I collaborated with her in preparation for an inception workshop for a large WASH project. Her feedback refered to the way I approached (over skype) the local team in the country office.
Freire, Paulo 1974 (2013). Education for critical Consciousness. Bloomsbury Academic, London/New York (UK USA).
Smidt, Sandra 2013. Introducing Malaguzzi; Exploring the life and work of Reggio Emilia's founding father. Routledge, Oxon (UK)