We believe that for capacity development efforts to be effective, they need to be anchored into the broader organisational, cultural, and policy contexts. For over 20 years, this holistic approach has been the cornerstone of Diplo’s global work in capacity development.
We assist states, the private sector, civil society, and the tech community with participating efficiently in global policy processes and shaping the overall evolution of digital governance and diplomacy.
For us at Diplo, capacity development goes far beyond training. It needs to recognise the complexity of the processes it aims to influence, and the need for different types of knowledge – including political, societal, and psychological. It needs to provide participants with practical and immersive opportunities to help them bridge the gap between theory and practice.
And it requires effective communication, reliable follow-ups, and support the emergence of vibrant and self-sufficient networks. Before delving further into our approach, we first need to be on the same page on what we mean by capacity and who needs capacity development why?
Diplo’s capacity development principles
- Think global, act local
The internet is a global system. However, for communities worldwide, it is the local impact of the internet that matters. Local CD action should address local needs, based on the local context, building local ownership of capacity development activities – increasing the effectiveness and sustainability of results.
- Holistic response to digital transformation
Digital transformation – the increased digitisation of institutions, industrial sectors, and the growing social dependency on digital technology – requires a holistic and interdisciplinary response. All digital policy issues need to encompass multidisciplinary perspectives.
- Involve a wide range of actors
Training and informal brainstorming should adopt a smart multistakeholder approach, bringing together actors who could benefit from understanding each other’s perspectives and developing personal relations. This inclusive approach applies to different stakeholders and actors at different levels, from the international to local. It also supports gender equality and inclusive participation of marginalised groups and minorities.
- Respond quickly, but think long-term
Training, research, and policy dialogues are initial ways to address pressing needs. However, substantive and sustainable capacity can only be developed over time. Individuals and institutions cannot internalise new skills and develop new procedures overnight. Activities aimed at long-term impact require planning, flexibility, and resources, including financial commitments.
- Start with individuals, but aim to develop institutions
Currently, most capacity development endeavours in the digital field focus on training individuals. Competent individuals form a solid basis to develop institutions, which should be the next important step in capacity development. Functional and effective institutions are key to ensuring sustainable and innovative digital development in countries and communities, both developed and developing.
- Build on existing capacities, don’t miss the bigger picture
Capacity development that effectively addresses concrete and immediate needs will capture the interest and active engagement of the people involved. However, while responding to immediate needs, it is important not to miss the wider perspective, and to keep in mind longer-term capacity needs and priorities.
- Perform capacity development ‘humanity checks’
Since new technologies – such as AI – may challenge some of the core values of humanity, capacity development should have an ethical ‘humanity check’ aimed at ensuring that training, research, and policy activities promote the enabling and creative potential of technology, while containing its threats.
- Move beyond technology towards society and economy
Currently, most capacity development in the digital field focuses on building technical skills. Capacity development should reflect the evolution of the internet from a mainly technological system to the main agent of economic, social, and political change in today’s world. Digital capacity development needs to move towards conceptual knowledge and soft skills for business people, government officials, academics, philosophers, and other technical and non-technical professions.
- Remain flexible and ready to adapt
Digital developments involve many ‘unknown unknowns’. We do not know whether AI will become – as Stephen Hawking said – ‘the best, or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity’. Capacity development should be flexible enough to adjust to changes that cannot yet be envisaged. While we all agree that technology should serve humanity, the way in which it should serve and what society will request will need to adjust very fast.
- Transparency and accountability for trust
Trust is a necessary component for practical cooperation; cooperation is essential for capacity development in digital policy. However, trust may be challenging to establish when working across different policy fields and institutions. Yet, trust can be built through transparency and accountability. The digital policy community should work towards a safe environment for sharing expertise, resources, and unique achievements and innovations, while recognising individual interests.