There are a number of defining characteristics for capacity building (eg. Alaerts et al 1991, UNDP 1998) however, all agree that:
- Capacity building is a process of change, it is about managing transformations.
- Capacity building is a long-term process, not a once-off intervention (but there can be short-term results)
- Capacity building is an internal (endogenous) process, meaning that change needs to be driven from within an individual and/or organisation to build a self-sustaining model.
- Capacity building involves all stakeholders (across organisations and hierarchy)
- Capacity building measures obstacles, progress and outcomes
- Capacity building goes beyond improving the human resource capacity to encompass the organisational and institutional contexts.
Clearwater uses a model developed to define capacity in the Australian water context (Brown et al 2006), which illustrates the different aspects of capacity in four spheres: