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Capacity Development

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.

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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?

How does Diplo implement a holistic approach?

First, we constantly develop our methodologies and tools. Our LMS is highly interactive. We use video, infographics, and animation. But the main focus is on developing awareness and skills on the human aspect of teaching and other CD activities.

Vibrant discussions on CD by leading experts evolved into the course on capacity development, where we share our knowledge with other organisations and individuals. Our researchers have also conducted landmark studies on capacity development in internet governance and digital policy such as the study: Sustainable Capacity Building: Internet Governance in Africa – An Action Plan.

What are capacities?

  • Hard capacities: Specific and explicit technical or specialised knowledge, individual competencies 
  • Soft or social capacities, including operational capacities: Intercultural communication, leadership, organisational culture and values, problem-solving skills 
  • Adaptive capacities: Ability to analyse and adapt, change readiness and management, confidence
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Who needs capacity development?

Policymakers, who have to adopt regulations on complex and interdisciplinary issues such as AI and cybersecurity; diplomats, who have to protect and promote the digital interests of their countries at the UN; and the mushrooming number of professional and technical bodies dealing with digital cooperation worldwide; civil society, who need to understand policy aspects of their cause; the tech sector, who need to learn how to incorporate human rights, ethics, and social considerations into digital technologies’ design.

How does Diplo implement holistic capacity development?

We have a highly interactive learning management system (LMS) that uses custom videos, animations, and infographics – and we constantly develop our methodologies and tools. But our main focus is always developing awareness, skills, and the human aspect of teaching, learning, and engaging. 

Rooted in our experience and involvement with leading experts for the last 20 years, we run a dedicated online course on capacity development and numerous courses on internet governance and diplomacy, where we share our knowledge with other organisations and individuals. Our researchers have conducted landmark studies on capacity development in internet governance and digital policy. 

At Diplo, we believe that good capacity development:

  • Goes far beyond training;
  • Recognises the complexity of processes which it aims to influence and the need for multiple knowledges such as topical, political, societal, traditional, etc.;
  • Provides practical and immersion opportunities to bridge the gap between theory and practice;
  • Requires a large component of communication and follow-up to foster the emergence of vibrant and self-sufficient networks.

Our long-term programmes feature:

  • Practice-oriented contextual learning activities for specific national, organisational and professional needs;
  • Multiple levels of delivery, from individual to organisation, network and system;
  • Collaborative policy research, immersion, and preparation for international summit and conferences;
  • A multistakeholder approach involving governments, civil society, business, academia, and other actors.
  • Inclusion of programme participants as partners and co-designers in future capacity development.
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What is missing?

Most capacity development focuses on individual skills and competencies. However, the lack of organisational capacity is becoming the major obstacle to sustainable participation in internet governance and digital policy. This includes developing the organisational capacities of governments, civil society, the private sector, and academia. Organisational and system-level capacity development is becoming particularly relevant in dealing with issues such as cybersecurity.

What are the capacities in internet governance and digital policy?

They include literacy and skills to develop and implement policies by government officials,  parliamentarians, businesses, and the civil and tech society. In international relations, diplomatic capacities include a basic understanding of digital technologies and skills to negotiate social, legal, economic, and other digital developments.

In addition to Diplo and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) courses; many organisations including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), have dedicated internet governance capacity development programmes.

Various regional summer schools on internet governance also contribute to strengthening capacity, in particular for developing countries. Many of the available programmes focus on telecommunications infrastructure, technical standards, cybersecurity, ICT regulation, freedom of expression, e-commerce, labour law, access to ICTs, and overcoming the digital divide.

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How does digital policy capacity development fit in global policymaking?

Capacity development is recognised in a wide range of foundational global digital documents. In the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) (2003/2005) outcome documents, capacity development is underscored as a priority for developing countries.

Likewise, the outcome document of the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of WSIS calls for further investments into capacity development. More recently, the importance of capacity development has been raised in the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation report and the subsequent Roadmap on Digital Cooperation.

Capacity building or capacity development?

The term capacity building was in use before capacity development. One of the primary reasons for the shift in terminology is that capacity building is now seen by some to imply starting at a zero-point with the use of external expertise to create something that did not previously exist.

On the other hand, capacity development emphasises the existence of endogenous development processes in all countries and communities and addresses the need to support and/or facilitate processes that are already underway.

Although there is no universal agreement, many organisations have moved away from capacity building in favour of capacity development. At Diplo, we use capacity development.

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Diplo’s capacity development principles

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.