Capacity Development is the Foundation of Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Projects

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Cities with well-managed and staffed municipal institutions are, more often than not, capable of facilitating the smooth implementation of infrastructure projects. Not all cities have these institutional strengths, but the good news is that they can achieve them through holistic capacity development efforts.

As she focuses on several projects with developing cities in Asia and the Pacific, CDIA Capacity Development Specialist Kathleen Jovellanos offers some key insights into what makes a holistic capacity development process effective for city governments.

Capacity development for urban development projects has evolved from upskilling to include institutional strengthening

In many cities, capacity development has traditionally been centered primarily around training events and seminars. While said training is indeed essential to upskill key personnel in urban institutions – and does provide city officials with crucial insights – much of it takes the form of singular events that only enable short-term solutions.

Kathleen says that, now, most cities and development organizations realize that they can achieve more impactful capacity development outcomes by embedding training sessions into holistic capacity development programs that also provide the basis for medium and long-term interventions. Capacity building is also now recognized not only as a driver of human resource development – but for organizational and institutional development as well.

With this perspective in mind, cities need to craft their own capacity development roadmaps that provide detailed actions to take at designated short, medium and long term intervals. Broadly, the actions in these roadmaps are intended to not only develop individual and organizational capacities but also strengthen cities’ policy, legal and institutional frameworks.

The roadmaps, which are essential for infrastructure development, can be supported by project preparation facilities such as CDIA.

Successful capacity development roadmaps are designed for long-term outcomes

The first step to creating a capacity development roadmap is performing a comprehensive capacity needs assessment.

Key inputs for the needs assessment include a SWOT analysis that identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as relevant to the city’s institutional capacity, as well as inputs from individual and organizational stakeholders and focus groups.

“With CDIA, the capacity and training needs assessment is always conducted at the very early stages of the project preparation studies,” shares Kathleen. “This allows CDIA to understand the immediate needs the cities have, and the additional support that we can provide to help the city strengthen further their capacity to implement the project.”

After performing the needs assessment, CDIA’s specialists then create the institutional and capacity development roadmap.

The short-term component of the roadmap addresses the immediate capacity gaps of the city during the preliminary stages of project preparation. It considers what training activities – such as advisory and technical assistance for project development – the city requires.

Kathleen says that these actions could also include reorganizing relevant offices and accelerating the hiring of personnel to enable the effective implementation of urban management services.

City-to-city peer learning sessions also hold much value in the short-term. For example, CDIA facilitated in 2020 a learning exchange and field visit during which officials from Tbilisi (Georgia) shared insights on their sustainable mobility program with the First Deputy Mayor of Yerevan (Armenia) and his transport department.

The roadmap’s medium-term capacity development plan concerns activities – such as business plan development and procurements – that will support project implementation. In this phase, Kathleen explains, many city officials need to work toward developing the specific capacity to appraise and set key performance indicators and set up an enabling environment to implement the climate resilience measures. She adds that it is crucial for city officials to intentionally develop operations and maintenance (O&M) skills; these skills will help ensure the sustainable management of their implemented infrastructure.

The medium-term section of the roadmap, which is generally focused over a five-year time frame, also helps to foresee and address any institutional or policy bottlenecks that could hinder project implementation.

Finally, the long-term objectives of the roadmap are to develop capacity for the time period after project implementation. This helps ensure the project’s sustainability – that city administrations and the relevant municipal departments are able to operationalize and manage the project when development partners have “left the field.”

Kathleen adds to this by mentioning that a key overall objective for capacity development is to enable assets and systems to be flexible in response to any number of potential future scenarios. The roadmap should therefore be regularly evaluated and updated in response to changes in development plans and urban policies and budgets.

“With the rest of the projects that were implemented in the past, a lot of the policies that were crafted at the start, were not followed through because of some political concerns when the development partners were already gone,” says Kathleen. “That is why it is important to address this longer-term component of capacity development to prepare for the sustainable implementation or the operation of the project.”

Capacity development is integral to CDIA’s preparation processes

CDIA has evolved its approach to capacity development over the past decade, transitioning  from mass one-off training events in favor of holistic capacity development programs tailored to the cities it works with.

Now, CDIA generally provides two types of comprehensive capacity development support; the organization either integrates capacity development into the framework of an infrastructure project preparation study, or it engages with a city solely with the intention of  developing its capacity to prepare and implement an infrastructure project.

CDIA’s engagement with Chattogram, a city of 2.9 million people in Bangladesh, is an example of integrating capacity development into a project preparation process. In October 2021, CDIA urban development specialists began collaborating with Chattogram city officials on a PPS for the proposed Chattogram Metropolitan Sewerage Project for North Kattoli Catchment.

Besides technical consultations on the preliminary engineering design of a wastewater and fecal sludge collection and treatment infrastructure, CDIA will also develop an institutional and capacity development roadmap, which aims to prepare a qualified workforce and strong institutions capable of taking the project forward and managing the infrastructure in the long term.

Meanwhile, CDIA is assisting the government of Bhutan and city officials in Thimpu, Phuentsholing, Nganglam, Samdrup Jongkhar and Trashiyangtse to collaborate on a focused capacity development program.

These capacity development efforts are expected to address any individual, organizational and institutional gaps that could hamper the implementation of the in-progress Green and Resilient Affordable Housing Sector Project, funded by the Asian Development Bank.

To this end, CDIA will provide a full suite of capacity development support for climate and disaster resilient planning and design, enabling environment reforms, and the effective and efficient implementation of the affordable housing project.

While discussing CDIA’s various capacity development engagements, Kathleen stresses that climate resilience is a critical – and for most funders, a non-negotiable – component of urban infrastructure projects. With this in mind, CDIA includes climate resilience and disaster risk-related training in every capacity development intervention.

Capacity development support helps cities “own” their infrastructure projects

Kathleen points to the now in-progress Climate Resilience in Bac Kan and Ha Nam Project in Vietnam, where the EU-funded WARM facility will utilize the capacity development roadmap that CDIA prepared to implement a full-fledged technical assistance program for the two provinces.

Such a program will help the cities of Bac Kan and Phu Ly better monitor flood risk, improve their water resource management and operate the new infrastructure in a sustainable way.

These are some examples, Kathleen says, of how cities can utilize the power of holistic capacity development to form the foundation of an effective and sustainable infrastructure agenda that will increase livability for their people.

CDIA is offering Virtual Clinics for city officials across Asia Pacific region dedicated to capacity development to help them strengthen their institutions to prepare sustainable and bankable urban infrastructure projects. Register for a clinic to receive one-on-one consultation with CDIA here, or apply for CDIA’s support here.

**Cover photo by Asian Development Bank (ADB)

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