NIPN capacity development plan

  • Capacity development is at the core of NIPN

    This guidance note focuses specifically on capacity development for individuals and organisations involved in the National Information Platforms for Nutrition. It takes the range of capacities into account that are required for the three steps in the NIPN operational cycle: Question formulation, Analysis of data, Communication of findings. It emphasises that functional skills are as important as technical knowledge, and suggests a range of mechanisms through which capacity can be developed beyond technical training courses. Each NIPN team will tailor its capacity development efforts to its unique national context.
    Typically NIPN teams will address the following questions:

    • What are the capacities required for NIPN to function well in a country? (Step 1)
    • How is existing capacity to implement NIPN assessed and gaps identified? (Step 2)
    • What is included a NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action? (Step 3)
    What is capacity development?
    Capacity development refers to “the process through which individuals, organisations and societies increase their ability to perform, solve problems, define objectives, understand and deal with development needs to achieve objectives in a sustainable manner.
    Source: LaFond AK, Brown L & Macintyre K (2002) Mapping capacity in the health sector: a conceptual framework. International Journal of Health Planning and Management 17, 3–22.

    Capacity development also known as capacity building or capacity strengthening, is an integral part of the NIPN approach. When capacity is weak or absent, a NIPN cannot function, deliver or be sustained. As the NIPN approach, and especially the step of ‘Formulating policy-relevant questions’, is new and requires a different way of working for policy decision makers and data analysts, capacity development is essential to implement the NIPN operational cycle.

    There is no one established way of building capacity. Rather, it is a continuous learning and change process which requires a variety of tools and methods, a flexible approach, and long-term investment. Frequently, capacity development efforts translate into one-off technical trainings but these will not lead to sustained improvements unless they are part of a broader long-term approach.

    A first step for a NIPN country team is to identify the capacities that are required for effective implementation of NIPN at each of the three levels (individual, organisational and systemic), and for each element of the NIPN operational cycle (question formulation, analysis of data and communication of findings). This is largely a theoretical exercise which can be carried out during the inception phase of a NIPN in country.

  • The NIPN Capacity Framework

    What are the capacities required for NIPN to function well in a country?

    The NIPN Capacity Framework helps to understand the breadth of capacities required for the optimal implementation of a NIPN. These go beyond an individual’s capacity in terms of knowledge, skills and experience, and encompass organisational and systemic capacities. The three levels of capacities are inter-dependent. The physical capacities, tools (individual level) and infrastructure (organisational level), mentioned in the model below (Potter, 2004) encompass equipment such as computers or infrastructure such as training centers. These capacities have been included in the project formulation phase and will not be discussed in this guidance note that focuses on the development of human resource capacity.

    A NIPN will focus most strongly on strengthening the internal capacities directly relevant to implementing NIPN (at individual and organisational levels). It is also important, however, to consider the external system, as weaknesses in the multisectoral nutrition system may become obstacles to the implementation of the NIPN operational cycle.

    NIPN capacity framework

    Based on: Potter, C and Brough, R. Systemic Capacity Building: A Hierarchy of Needs. Health Policy and Planning 2004;19:336-345.

  • Step 1: Identify the capacity requirements for NIPN (1/5)

    Examples of capacities for each level

  • Step 1: Identify the capacity requirements for NIPN (2/5)

    The NIPN capacity matrix

    A NIPN capacity matrix, which is derived from the NIPN Capacity Framework, is used to organise the capacities required in a logical way. It represents the ideal and a basis for identifying the capacity gaps. The aim is to generate a list of required capacities for each empty box.

    The NIPN capacity matrix

    When the process of filling out the tables for each of the levels of the Nutrition Capacity Matrix is complete, a comprehensive list of all capacity requirements for the smooth functioning of a NIPN has been compiled.

    Functional or ‘soft’ skills are as important as technical skills and knowledge, so should be listed separately (see the text box below).

    Definition of technical and functional skills
  • Step 2: Analyse the capacity gap for NIPN (1/3)

    How is existing capacity to implement NIPN assessed and gaps identified?
    The objectives of a capacity gap analysis are to:

    • Assess existing capacity, mainly focused on individual and organisational capacity as these are the levels at which NIPN largely operates
    • Identify the critical gaps
    • Prioritise the actions to be taken

    There is no single ‘right’ way of conducting a NIPN capacity gap analysis. The exact format of a capacity gap analysis for the purpose of NIPN will depend on the country context, time and resources available. Typically, it involves gathering and analysing qualitative data.

    Some general principles that can be followed include:

    1. Follow a phased approach
    2. Ask for support from an expert
    3. Adopt a variety of methods
    4. Use the NIPN Capacity Matrix to develop questions
    5. Focus the analysis on identification of gaps
    6. Prioritise areas for capacity development

    1. Follow a phased approach

    The SUN Movement has provided detailed guidance on how to conduct a nutrition capacity assessment and suggests a phased approach (see text box). Make use of the Capacity Development Framework presented in this Guidance Tool.

    SUN Movement Nutrition Assessment Guidance 2016
    Two SUN Movement guidance documents have been produced to support countries to conduct nutrition capacity assessments. These assessments are focused on the systemic level, and are comprehensive assessments of the capacity to plan, coordinate, finance, implement and monitor nutrition programmes. Whilst this remit is much broader than is required for the purposes of a NIPN, the guidance provides some useful tips and sets out the three phases for carrying out an assessment.

    Source: SUN UN Network. September 2016. Nutrition capacity assessment package - Part I - Guidance note & Part II - Tools and Resources.

  • Step 2: Analyse the capacity gap for NIPN (2/3)

    2. Ask for support from an expert

    Capacity gap analysis requires a specific set of skills, expertise and time. It is advisable to seek external specialist technical assistance before embarking on the process.

    In Ethiopia, for example, technical assistance was provided by IFPRI’s Head of Capacity Strengthening to guide the process of NIPN capacity gap assessment and analysis (see the case study on Ethiopia below). The REACH (Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and undernutrition) partnership has facilitators who focus on strengthening the capacity of national stakeholders and institutions and may provide a source of expertise in the countries in which they work. Other development partners may also be able to provide specialist technical assistance.


    3. Adopt a variety of methods

    It is good practice to adopt a number of different methods to gather and triangulate qualitative data and validate quantitative data e.g. questionnaires, workshops, on-line survey, and focus group discussions (see the Chad example and Ethiopia case study below).

    Example: Chad Nutrition Capacity Assessment 2018
    Taking the form of a qualitative study, and supported by REACH, information was gathered using three methods:
    • a desk review,
    • key informant interviews and
    • focus groups with representatives from government and the respective SUN networks.

    The study focused on the functional capacities of the Permanent Technical Food and Nutrition Committee and the newly established food and nutrition committees in five regions – Guéra; Logone Occidental; Ouaddaï; Tandjilé; and Wadi Fari – looking at their respective capacity to plan, manage and coordinate nutrition actions. The assessment identified a series of capacity development needs, and documented strengths and achievements.
    Source: SUN UN network

    Country case study
  • Step 2: Analyse the capacity gap for NIPN (3/3)

    4. Use the NIPN Capacity Matrix to assess the gaps

    The completed NIPN Capacity Matrix contains a checklist of capacities that can be transformed into questions to ask during a gap analysis. The table below includes examples of questions relevant to the first step of the NIPN operational cycle: Policy-relevant question formulation. Similar and additional questions need to be formulated for the other steps as well.

    Gap assessment using the capacity matrix

    5. Focus the analysis on identification of gaps

    Large amounts of qualitative data can be difficult to analyse systematically. It is important to adopt some kind of system so that gaps can be identified. Examples of techniques that have been used are:

    • Grading’ the level of capacity in a particular area from 0 = no capacity to 5 = complete capacity. This can be done either by participants in a workshop, respondents to a questionnaire or by the NIPN country team based on the information collected. Although this form of grading is based on subjective judgements, it can help to identify where capacity is strong and where it is weak.
    • Thematic analysis where emerging ‘themes’ are identified and the number of times that a ‘theme’ is mentioned is counted. NIPN Guatemala used this technique to analyse the responses to their questionnaire on capacity gaps and assess where there was greatest demand for capacity strengthening.

    6. Prioritise areas for capacity development

    The final step of the capacity gap analysis is to prioritise areas for NIPN capacity development. It is essential to involve national stakeholders to ensure that they are fully on board with the final list of priority areas and types of actions being considered. This is best done through a series of consultations or a consultative workshop.

  • Step 3: NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action (1/4)

    What is included in a country NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action?
    Again, there is no one ‘right’ way of setting out a NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action. It will depend upon the findings of the nutrition capacity analysis and the particular country context.
    Some general principles can be followed:

    1. Decide on priorities for implementing the NIPN operational cycle
    2. Make a planning with short- and long-term objectives and corresponding activities
    3. Include technical and functional skills
    4. Consider a mix of capacity development tools / activities
    5. Capitalise on existing opportunities
    6. Define an M&E framework
    7. Cost capacity development actions

    1. Decide on priorities for implementing the NIPN operational cycle

    It is important to focus on the priorities identified by stakeholders rather than produce a long ‘wish list’ that will be difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the focus should be on the organisations and individuals that are most critical for implementing a NIPN. Though a poorly functioning national nutrition system can present considerable challenges for the implementation of NIPN, others (government and development partners) working through initiatives such as the SUN Movement can take the lead on systemic capacity development, with support from the NIPN country team.


    2. Make a planning with short-term and long-term objectives and corresponding activities

    Experience in NIPN countries has shown that there may be short-term capacity strengthening needs which can be addressed immediately. In Ethiopia, for example, the NIPN country team responded to immediate needs by organising three short training courses to develop skills in the statistical software STATA, in analysis of household survey data and in doing a literature review (see the Ethiopia case study on page 9).

    It is vital that short-term capacity actions are linked to a longer-term strategy for a number of reasons. High staff turnover means that staff with skills and experience are continuously being replaced by staff who may not have the same skills and experience. Without on-going support and mentoring, the benefits of short-term efforts such as a one-off training can be lost. Longer-term strategies may include building NIPN related technical and functional skills into pre-service and in-service training of nutritionists and cadres working in nutrition-related sectors, such as food security, WASH, health, social security.

  • Step 3: NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action (2/4)

    3. Include technical and functional skills

    Individuals involved in the implementation of NIPN require both technical knowledge and functional skills. The latter are often neglected in favour of the former but are just as important. In recent years, more attention is being paid to the development of functional skills and there are courses to help enhance these skills. One example of this are the European and African Nutrition Leadership Programs (see the text box below). Follow up after the course will ensure that the benefits are sustained. Technical assistants providing in-country support to the NIPN team can play an important mentoring role and help to develop skills such as leadership, negotiation, conflict management, team-building across sectors and groups, communication, advocacy, and problem-solving.

    Example: the African Nutrition Leadership Programme
    Its aim is to create purpose-driven teams and organisations that effectively lead result-oriented nutrition change interventions.
    Developing and integrating managerial – leadership skills with existing technical skills is a critical success factor in effectively implementing nutrition interventions, The idea is not new, but its application in multisectoral teams working in nutrition, is.
    The programme creates awareness of leadership orientation, strengths and gaps, personal values and purpose and helps to develop amongst others communication, conflict management, decision making, and problem solving skills.

    4. Consider a mix of capacity development approaches

    The choice for one or another capacity development approach will depend on the objective, the target audience and its size, and the budget available. A range of different approaches to develop capacity exist and are listed in the table below. It is recommended that countries identify a balanced mix of different approaches based on their relative cost-effectiveness.

    Range of NIPN capacity development approaches
  • Step 1: Identify the capacity requirements for NIPN (3/5)

    Completing the NIPN matrix: individual level

    Starting at the individual level, take one box at a time and compile a list of capacities for each of the 3 steps of the NIPN operational framework by addressing the following questions:

    • What specific technical skills do individuals require?
    • What specific functional skills do individuals require?
    • What level of decision-making authority and responsibility does an individual need to perform effectively?
    Examples of required skills at individual level
  • Step 1: Identify the capacity requirements for NIPN (4/5)

    Completing the NIPN matrix: organisational level

    Repeat the same process for the organizational level by addressing the following questions:

    • What do NIPN host institutions require to function effectively?
    • What organisational support do staff require to work effectively?

    The organisational capacities are the same for all three elements of the NIPN operational cycle.
    The below table provides examples of NIPN organisational capacity requirements but needs to be completed for each country context.

    Examples of required skills at organisational level
  • Step 1: Identify the capacity requirements for NIPN (5/5)

    Completing the NIPN matrix: systemic level

    The systemic level refers to the national system or ‘enabling environment’ for nutrition. The systemic capacities are the same for all three elements of the NIPN operational cycle.

    In most NIPN countries, a landscape analysis has already been completed to assess the national nutrition structures and system. This has either been done by the NIPN country team or entities such as the SUN Movement Networks. This landscape analysis can be used to identify where the system is functioning sub-optimally and requires to be strengthened. Though the main purpose of NIPN is not to strengthen the systemic nutrition capacity in a country, a NIPN may support other agencies that are doing so.

    Examples of required skills at systemic level
  • Step 3: NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action (3/4)

    5. Capitalise on existing opportunities: be aware of other capacity-building initiatives in the country and aim to collaborate

    Examples of capacity development opportunities for NIPN which are already in place include:

    • Peer to peer learning through regional and international NIPN workshops and webinars organised by the Global Support Facility.
    • This set of Guidance notes on a range of aspects of the NIPN process
    • Mentoring and hands-on support in NIPN countries by NIPN technical assistants.
    • Knowledge brokering (see text box below) which refers to the role of ‘middle men’ or brokers who make research and practice more accessible to others.
    System’s capacity building through knowledge brokering
    Knowledge ‘brokering’ ensures that knowledge commonly available to researchers or global experts is being shared with policy makers, planners and implementers across different types of local organisations. It is important in the context of NIPN because academics have access to global resources and skills (such as the ability to analyse complex data or policy questions, conduct literature reviews, link to global databases and knowledge) which can support and strengthen processes and decisions in the national multisectoral nutrition coordination system.
    Examples of knowledge ‘brokering’ include:

    In Ethiopia IFPRI / NIPN are organising monthly nutrition policy and research seminars which support informal capacity strengthening by bringing together researchers and policy-makers to:

    • Disseminate existing research findings with the objective of promoting nutrition knowledge among decision makers.
    • Promote interactions between decision makers and researchers.
      These seminars have focused on themes such as Food Systems and Diets in Ethiopia and Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture.

    Newsletters and websites
    Circulating nutrition-related research findings to a broader audience can be done through newsletters, E mail updates and websites.
    The European Union Delegation in Ethiopia circulates a weekly e-newsletter containing relevant nutrition-related articles. The newsletter is circulated to over 100 nutrition partners in Ethiopia as a means of broadening the nutrition knowledge base.
    A similar approach has been taken by POSHAN (Partnerships and Opportunities to Strengthen and Harmonise Actions for Nutrition in India) led by IFPRI. Research Notes, which present a concise summary of research studies conducted by POSHAN and its partners, are available on the POSHAN website and help to extend access to the evidence base to a wider audience.

  • Step 3: NIPN capacity development strategy and plan of action (4/4)

    6. Define an M&E framework

    It is important to establish and M&E framework in the capacity development strategy so that progress can be fully monitored. An example based on the SUN Movement Nutrition Assessment Guidance 2016 is presented below.

    Proposed M&E logframe for capacity development
    The long-term goal of capacity development should be formulated as a learning or transformation process and should combine both technical and functional capacities.

    The specific objectives are the changes to be achieved through a capacity development programme in the medium term. These are the changes at the outcome level.

    Outcomes describe a specific change for individuals and organisations and are linked to outputs. Outcomes can be thought of not only in terms of new products and services but also in terms of facilitated processes (e.g. participatory process initiated/activated/expanded, collaboration increased among different organisations).

    Focusing outputs on capacity development creates the foundation for sustainability of the intended results. To formulate outputs, the following questions can provide guidance: Whose capacity is developed? What capacity is developed? How do activities ensure that capacities are developed?

    Activities are the modalities of the interventions, e.g. training and technical assistance.

    Indicators are targets that show progress. When defining capacity development indicators, a distinction should be made between:

    • Process indicators: Measure processes that have been facilitated so that dynamic changes are encouraged through implementation of participatory approaches (e.g. process through which stakeholders have been engaged in a NIPN).
    • Product indicators: Measure concrete results that have been achieved (e.g. formulation of an answerable policy question).

7. Cost capacity development actions

Costing the plan of action is an important step as it will help to take the most cost-effective decisions. For example, it may be much more cost-effective to provide on-going technical assistance and mentoring to a NIPN team involving 5 people, or an in-country training course on statistical tools for NIPN data analysis component and data analysts of the host organisation, than to fund one individual to complete a degree course.

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