MfDR – what is “Capacity WORKS”?

May 03, 2011 | Adrian Gnägi | Learning Elsewhere |


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Adrian picture for sdclanby Adrian Gnägi 


20 years ago I worked as a consultant for GTZ. Those were the golden years of ZOPP (Zielorientierte Projektplanung). I got trained on ZOPP, I was forced to use ZOPP. I learned to hate ZOPP as naïve, pseudo-participatory planning tyranny. In November 2010 I attended a training workshop on “Capacity WORKS”, the approach that replaced ZOPP in GTZ. I could hardly believe what I saw and heard: a real tectonic shift, a different paradigm. In this post I will share some of the great things I learned. And yes: not everything is brilliant with “Capacity WORKS”; I will write about the weaknesses, too.


GTZ considers[i] “Capacity WORKS” as the organization’s model for managing for development results. “Capacity WORKS” has two main parts:

  • A set of  5 “success factors” that, if handled well, are believed to lead to sustainable development results
  • A toolbox with instruments to work on the success 5 factors.

“Capacity WORKS” is not focused on one single aspect of management: not on planning, as the traditional LogFrame (or ZOPP) approach used to be, nor on reporting, as the new post-Paris orthodoxy does. “Capacity WORKS” is conceived as management framework relevant for all phases of cooperation, from idea conception through implementation to closure.


The 5 “success factors” come in two forms:

  • As theoretical & conceptual constructs, detailing what they mean and how they are linked
  • As sets of questions that determine what “success factors handled well” means (there are different questions for different phases, for example questions to be considered when conceiving cooperations and questions to be considered when evaluating).

The 5 “success factors” identified in “Capacity WOPRKS” are:

  1. Strategy (a clear, plausible explanation of how what is done is related to what is expected as impact)
  2. Cooperation (who cooperates with whom in which role, who gives and who receives what)
  3. Steering structure (how are interaction and communication organized, who decides what on which basis)
  4. Processes (key delivery and management processes)
  5. Learning and Innovation (individuals, organizations, networks and political frame conditions improve).


For each “success factor”, a set of instruments is offered for managers to handle them well. “Strategy”, for example, is covered by 7 instruments, for “steering structure” there are 5 instruments, all in all 40 instruments are covered in the “Capacity WORKS” manual. All instruments have been developed into workshop approaches. Some of the instruments are cooperation practice classics, most of them are innovative or combinations of well known tools.


There are several reasons why I am impressed by “Capacity WORKS”:

  • Development interventions are understood as cooperation activities between two or more partners who all follow their specific agendas. Whatever is done or not done, and how it is done, is understood as the result of negotiations between those partners. This may be obvious in 2011, even though I am not sure it really is. It definitely is a huge leap from ZOPP-times. I remember instances where we planned what partners were going to do. No reflection on agency, no mention of their own governance mechanisms, no separation of perspectives. Now there not only is this negotiation-focused conceptual basis of cooperation, but there is detailed guidance on how to organize cooperation relationships. One instrument under “processes”, for example, is geared at improving interfaces and reducing transaction costs in interfaces. This is not only a shift in perspective, this is great support for handling one of our major cooperation difficulties.


  • “Capacity WORKS” is about “handling management challenges well”. It is a quality heuristic for MfDR. As explained below, I do have some reservations regarding the framework. But: I think nobody can deny that the instruments offered address real-world problems development practitioners are confronted with on a daily basis. How many other step-by-step quality guidance documents for the set-up and management of cooperation activities do we have at hand? The manual may not be perfect, but it sure is a brilliant support for handling the complexity characterizing management of our operations.


  • I find “Capacity WORKS” highly courageous, since it tackles taboo issues in our business. SDC, for example, established thematic learning networks, since we have a recognized need to improve our sector approaches. But there is no learning network on management issues in SDC. Does this mean SDC staffs are all experts in scenario development, actor mapping, design of change processes, definition of intervention architectures, and organizational diagnosis (some of the issues covered in “Capacity WORKS”)? I think GTZ has had the courage to denominate learning needs where many other organizations just keep silent.


I do have some reservations regarding “Capacity WORKS”, too:

  • The “5 success factors approach” is said to result from an empirical analysis of successful GTZ operations. This may be the case, but it would be more convincing if there was a description of the process. I was told there is none. “Capacity WORKS” is such a radically new way of conceptualizing what the major challenges in our business are that some additional legitimacy would really help. Cost-benefit considerations and sector knowledge, for example, get little attention. I will not forget the comment of one trainee colleague when we finished the course: “Capacity WORKS is proof that the sociologists have won in GTZ”.  


  • The same basic argument is even more pertinent when it comes to the selection of instruments. I cannot help the impression of haphazardness: I know from experience that some of the instruments proposed simply do not work, some of the best instruments I know of are not included. Difficult to understand.


  • There seems to be an imbalance between efforts put into concept development for “Capacity WORKS”, and effort put into the finishing of the manual. At places the text is just difficult to understand, process guidance for the instruments proposed often is minimalistic, complexity of procedures proposed sometimes is intimidating (see the instrument “strategic options”, for example, where there is a cummulation of the weaknesses mentioned). As another colleague put it at the end of the course. “This is a fantastic support initiative for the suffering consultancy industry; I will need one of those guys for every single management challenge”.


Capacity WORKS is treated somewhat secretively by GTZ. It is difficult to find detailed information on the web. But there are many 2.5 day courses offered over the year. Participants even get a certificate (wow!), and more important: they get the manual (hardcopy and CD with d, f, e, es language versions). Time and money well invested, I found.



[i] In early 2011, GTZ merged with two other German development agencies into GIZ. I am not aware whether “Capacity WORKS” will keep in GIZ the privileged position it had in GTZ.


Comments to“MfDR – what is “Capacity WORKS”?”

  1. Dear Adrian,

    as you may know, we were involved in the cross evaluation of GTZ programmes that embarked Capacity WORKS ship with the five success factors (jointly with Helmut Willke, a scholar of Luhmann). Later on we developed a couple of the instruments … at least these ones have proven its value in practice, e.g. the PIANO and more. And of course, I agree, the toolbox is not closed, there are further useful instruments beyond the CW toolbox. (I even regret that GIZ has added some instruments for conventional reasons that even contradict the basic CW concept.)

    Meanwhile we have run more than 30 CW workshops in different regions and programmes, making us more intelligent through practical applications.

    I think the major value of CW goes back to the basic understanding of developmente programmes. (1) Understanding programmes as contributions to reforms conducted by our partner countries institutions and CSO. (2) Understanding programmes as networks / cooperation systems that rely on negotiation (instead of command) as its basic mode of operation.
    I would appreciate if we could once deepen the concept and use of CW during a workshop …
    Thuri Zimmermann

  2. As mentioned earlier, I am interested in this discussion and I would like to contribute in a more formal way (e.g. working group). Success is the result of collaboration of people. In development cooperation, these people sit in a rafting boat … (remember the presentation some years back at the annual meeting of the Novartis Foundation).

  3. Rupa Mukerji says:

    A very information, and may I say, reassuring article. Was a bit skeptical about this new `mandatory for GIZ’ approach that one could only learn from expensive, accredited European trainers. But appears this would be a worthwhile investment – some training capacities in the south should also be built to give momentum to the adoption of Capacity Works.

    Best regards,


  4. Manu Etter says:

    Dear Adrian
    A few years ago I invited the GTZ country director to a review workshop of our programme in Ukraine. In his intervention he mentioned (“ the way”) the fact that GTZ now used the Capacity Works approach as you described it above and that ZOPP, LogFrames etc were just some out of plenty of possible tools available in the toolbox, while the success factors are considered much more decisive. Yes indeed, what a shock, what a destabilizing experience to hear that the masters of planning are becomming the masters of flexibility and contextual conduct. But after a while, digesting the concept one cannot but find it more and more attractive and real world proof, much more than so many carved in stone ZOPPs!
    I truly support your recommendation, to get aquainted with the concept.

  5. My colleague James Hradsky from the OECD recently returned from a workshop on Capacity Works and he also praises the model quite highly: “Viewed from the OECD, where we cast a gaze across the full complement of donor systems, few have succeeded as well as GIZ to date. It has built the model on the basis of its field experience successes/failures a couple of years ago, and has been field testing it since…. The international community should make an effort to understand it.” (

    However, I think it would be even better if the methodology were publicly available! Apparently you have to take a training course if you want to learn about it. I suppose that helps guard against applying the methods poorly or only in part measure, but it really limits access.

  6. Thanks to Adrian for this insightful and balanced picture of Capacity WORKS as well as to those of you have commented on it up to now. As one of the team of developers of Capacity WORKS in the GIZ I can say that it is always important that the Model stands up to the scrutiny of professional peers and colleagues.
    We didn’t go public with the Model at the beginning for two reasons; firstly we wanted to make sure that the Model worked (therefore a lengthy pilot process and subsequent changes) and was really implemented in the GIZ – so we could be sure that we are practicing what we preach. Secondly we still regard it rather as an internal quality assurance process that enables us to achieve better results than a marketing or public affairs issue.
    Since we have now the pilot and the implementation phases behind us and can really credibly claim to have Capacity WORKS as a core process, we are happy to communicate more in peer networks about this. James Hradsky’s comments come from such a recent workshop.
    We are sure that Capacity WORKS is a relevant and appropriate contribution to the development debate and are pleased to enter into the international debate about capacity development and managing for development results with it.


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