Capacity Development

Capacity Development is an all-encompassing process of Learning and empowerment at different levels including individuals, organisations, sectors/networks, and communities/societies. It aims to strengthen knowledge, skills and behaviour to enable humanitarian responders and affected people to address WASH needs effectively and increase their resilience to future crises. For the same reason, Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness should also incorporate capacity development. Training and learning should support the development of key sanitation and FSM competencies and be based on job descriptions. 

Key Actions

    • Provide opportunities for formal staff development. They may be limited in the first phase of the response, but induction and on-the-job training concentrating on the specific activities that are immediately required should be provided as a minimum. Staff and volunteers can also be encouraged to set their own objectives for development and training. A coaching system for staff that ensures that they are continually trained, supervised and monitored can be useful.

    • Develop a competency framework and a capacity development plan based on a learning needs assessment. Capacity development is a continuous process; one-off training sessions or ‘workshops’ are insufficient. Each plan must be monitored and evaluated to ensure that it is achieving its aims.

    • Include budgets for training, capacity development, monitoring and supervision in project proposals.

    • Avoid didactic training methods that simply supply information instead of developing critical thinking, reflection and the practical application of what has been learned. Use a variety of methods and approaches to meet different learning needs, including classroom or workshop-based training, learning-by-doing, use of participatory exercises in the field and coaching or mentoring (both face-to-face and virtual).

    • Keep in mind that effective training provides adults with an opportunity to build on existing beliefs, knowledge and skills and to share them. Respect and relevance are critical to effective adult learning, and adults need to feel that the learning is of immediate practical benefit. Learners must feel that their existing knowledge is recognised and that they are being listened to.

    • Consider regular meetings with teams of staff and volunteers. They provide a chance for team members to learn from each other and discuss progress and field-related problems as well as strategies for managing them, changing and adapting action plans where required.

    • Keep in mind that the community-based work of sanitation practitioners may require training in facilitation and communication skills, including active listening, community participation and accountability.



Sanitation is a complex topic involving multiple levels and stakeholders. Emergency responses recruit from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds, requiring a multi-dimensional, transdisciplinary (multi-stakeholder) and interdisciplinary (multi-topical) approach. Capacity development can play a pivotal role in managing this complexity. Without developed capacity the exchange and transfer of knowledge is limited, leading to an inefficient use of available resources, poor service delivery, inadequate infrastructure that is poorly adapted to the local context and insufficient maintenance all of which deter investment.

A multi-level approach is required to address individuals, organisations, networks and the enabling environment simultaneously and in an integrated manner. Only if good practice examples are available at the individual or organisational level will institutions adapt – and only if an enabling environment is provided can organisations effectively provide sanitation services. Equally, services can only be provided if professional skills at the individual level are available. Not all capacity development interventions have to target all levels; however, recognising how the levels interact can inform more effective capacity development programmes.

A multi-stakeholder approach is needed to enable collaboration between practitioners, academia, policy and decision makers and citizens.  Collaboration with other stakeholders such as international NGOs and UN organisations is also important; they can play a crucial role in disseminating knowledge across the globe. National and international transdisciplinary networks can also enable constructive and transparent discussion about challenges, problems or mistakes.  Such collaborations need to be coordinated. Sanitation capacity development also requires a multi-dimensional approach bringing together humanitarian and development actors, engineers, health extension workers, economists, sociologists and policy makers who can manage sanitation’s various sociocultural, political and institutional, environmental, technical and financial dimensions, bring them together and look beyond their own disciplines and roles.

multi-topical approach is also needed as sanitation involves many different elements ranging from technology development and implementation to demand creation, sanitation marketing, hygiene promotion, governance, budgeting, Monitoring and Evaluation, Gender, Social Inclusion, the circular economy and Agriculture. To ensure that sanitation professionals, organisations and institutions have the right Capacity and Skills to deliver sanitation services, skills in all these elements are required.

Capacity development has to be seen as a learning initiative and a creative, evolving process. Thus, capacity development is a continuous and iterative process of understanding capacity gaps (assessment), design and implementation, and Monitoring and Evaluation.

As well as humanitarian staff, it is also important to strengthen the capacity of existing development staff to respond to emergencies by, for example, seconding staff from government ministries or local and national NGOs, helping to increase the resilience of national staff and communities to future crises.


Capacity development aims to develop and improve the ability of individuals, organisations and societies to efficiently and effectively use their resources to achieve their goals. It encourages solutions that are technical (system solutions that consider the entire sanitation service chain), cultural (solutions that are context-specific and socially and institutionally accepted), and organisational (solutions that leverage multiple stakeholders, especially the private sector) as well as knowledge and innovation.

To achieve this, capacity development should be designed to: (1) increase the ability of individuals to express themselves, solve problems and reflect on their behaviour and thinking, (2) enable organisations and institutions at all levels to increase their performance and ability to collaborate, (3) develop new and deeper levels of knowledge, skills and advocacy outcomes, possibly through effective, decentralised and collaborative platforms such as working groups, alliances, user groups and networks and (4) create an enabling environment to empower a variety of stakeholders to formulate, negotiate and implement policies for the immediate response and longer-term development.

Although often overlooked, the sector level is particularly important as it defines the collective capability of a sector to identify and understand its development issues and goals, act to address them, learn from experience and generate and accumulate knowledge for the future.

Capacity development interventions are important at all levels; they are also interdependent:

    • Individual level: people possess the abilities and capabilities that contribute to the performance of an organisation or system.

    • Organisational level: individuals make up organisations – the sharing of skills, knowledge, experience and values amongst the individuals translates into the organisation’s capacity, consisting of procedures, systems, and culture.

    • Sector level: formal and informal networks support the co-creation of knowledge through collaborative systems both in-person and online. This contributes to capacity at an individual and organisational level and also supports the creation of an enabling environment.

    • Institutional level: laws and regulations inform who should be doing what (responsibilities) and how (procedures). These together influence institutional and financial arrangements and the behaviours and capacities of individuals, organisations, and networks that make up an enabling environment.

Across all four levels, sanitation capacity development targets multiple stakeholders:

    • Practitioners: local and international NGOs, the private sector, government officials and consultants engaged in supporting and implementing sanitation programmes and projects.

    • Academia: students, teaching staff and researchers undertaking interdisciplinary collaborative research work with practitioners. Course curriculum integration of relevant sanitation priorities can expand their reach and impact to enable sanitation at scale.

    • Policy and Decision Makers: higher levels of government, bilateral institutions, funders, donors and policy makers that support capacity development.

    • Citizen groups: including rural and urban community-based organisations that implement and/or initiate and manage sanitation projects as well as their informal and formal representatives at regional and national levels who emerge in the form of pressure groups and political parties.

The humanitarian (and development) sanitation sector has developed a wealth of resources, toolboxes, platforms and other capacity development offers. A selection can be found in the “Key Resources and Tools” section. Further relevant repositories can be found directly on the web pages of international humanitarian WASH actors such as the Global WASH Cluster, UNICEF, UNHCR, Oxfam or the IFRC.

Selected Toolboxes, Platforms and Capacity Development Offers 

    • The Emergency Sanitation Platform of the Emergency WASH Knowledge Portal is a comprehensive and well-structured online capacity development and decision support tool that allows real-time filtering and configuration of entire sanitation service chain solutions in emergency settings. It provides detailed information on key decision criteria for all tried and tested emergency sanitation technologies, information on cross-cutting issues and available case studies, all relevant to generate informed sanitation technology decisions in emergencies.

    • The Octopus platform is a collaborative online platform that compiles case studies from ongoing humanitarian sanitation and faecal sludge management interventions.

    • The FSM Toolbox contains a wealth of information about sanitation planning, stakeholder engagement and business models.

    • The publications and resources compiled by WEDC are designed for academics, policymakers and practitioners working in various aspects of water and sanitation engineering.

    • provides an overview on learning opportunities related to citywide inclusive sanitation, non-sewered sanitation, onsite sanitation systems, or any aspect of faecal sludge management.

    • SaniChoice is a capacity development and decision support tool that makes sanitation technology and system selection more evidence-based. It provides access to a wide range of options along with data on local conditions and preferences. This enhances transparency and encourages the consideration of technology innovations.

    • The Eawag/EPFLs Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) series on „Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development” is an open-access e-learning programme consisting of four different courses (Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage, Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies, Solid Waste Management and Faecal Sludge Management

    • provides over 1,500 free online learning resources for humanitarian aid and development professionals, including WASH.

Selected Degree-Level Studies

    • The Global Sanitation Graduate School by IHE and partner organisations aims to disseminate knowledge on sanitation through postgraduate (MSc) programmes, online courses, face-to-face courses and tailor-made training.

    • The Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering MSc by Leeds University is particularly aimed at consultants and working professionals in national and local government, non-government organisations, international development organisations and public health agencies.

Author(s) (1)
Rob Gensch
German Toilet Organization (GTO)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (2)
Catherine Bourgault
Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)

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