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Capacity Development Amid Uncertainty

Capacity development (CD) is central to NRGI’s work in the promotion of better natural resource governance. Our CD activities help to ensure that key stakeholders like government officials, civil society organizations and journalists have the necessary knowledge and skills to incorporate policy ideas into their work. As a result, approximately one quarter of NRGI’s deliverables are categorized as CD interventions, many of them being in-person courses and other training activities that take place in 15 countries.

Both in-person and online training have been staples for the past few years. However, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, in-person CD is off the table given the many restrictions on travel and assemblies. This may lead educators to reflexively decide to move all of their offerings to online platforms. This merits thoughts though, and at NRGI we are exploring how to best adapt our CD activities to this challenging context, building on what we’ve learned along the way. We’ve arrived at several lessons that we’re using in our own decision-making, and that may also be of use to other organizations facing similar challenges.

Set an objective and determine expectations

This will help not only planning but also measuring success afterward. What knowledge, skills and/or experiences do we expect participants to have at the end of this intervention? For example, do we want to strengthen their technical skills related to revenue management or is the aim to facilitate friendly dialogue among different stakeholders about the environmental and social impacts of mining projects? If we are able to clearly identify expectations, then we will be better placed to decide whether we can adapt the in-person intervention to a different modality (e.g., virtual seminars, conferences,roundtables). If the aim is to facilitate difficult conversations among stakeholders or start building trust, we will probably postpone the interventions until we can meet in person again.

Identify the audience

Identifying the objective of our intervention is intimately related to who our audience is. We need to “learn about our learners,” their interests and the virtual tools they will be able to use, given varying technological and cultural contexts. This will determine what sort of resources and platforms we choose as part of the CD intervention. Educators can use online learning to refresh and strengthen knowledge tailored to the needs of different audiences, and online training is especially appealing for learners that are geographically dispersed, cannot attend in-person activities or have limited time to dedicate to training. However, users must have reliable internet access and be willing to learn outside the traditional classroom setting.  

Understanding the audience is a critical step in the design of NRGI and partners’ online learning offerings. Traditionally our audience consisted of learners with some degree of experience in the sector, actively working in resource governance. With their learning preferences in mind we designed three massive open online courses (MOOCs) as well as Petronia, a gamified learning experience. Data show this portfolio allows us to engage with both mid-career professionals and younger learners. In the current context many of our stakeholders are likely juggling work and family commitments—such as caring for children and/or relatives—so self-paced options bring an additional value.

Design an overarching learning journey

At NRGI we have discovered that the impact of a particular online learning experience is enhanced if it is part of a longer, more comprehensive learning journey. The 2018 and 2019 editions of our MOOCs reached around 9,000 users, and more than 7,000 people have played Petronia—but enrollment doesn’t necessarily translate into completion or lead to impact unless we plan beyond each specific intervention. It’s important to design a medium- to long-term learning journey with multiple types of interventions, like training on technical skills, research dissemination, and fostering collaboration among peers, tailored to different stakeholders. By doing so, we increase the chances of alumni retaining knowledge and putting it into practice. It also incentivizes longer-term engagement so that with stakeholders we can identify opportunities for mutual support and collaboration.

Monitor, evaluate and learn

Educators need a monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework to determine whether they have met their objectives and learners have gained the expected knowledge and skills. This framework will not only have a positive effect on the CD delivery but also on the capacity of the implementing team to learn from it and strengthen their own skills. The team will be well positioned to share what they’ve learned with colleagues across the organization, ensuring the implementation of these interventions has a positive impact on skillbuilding beyond a specific team.

If the intervention, planned as in-person, moves online,  the MEL framework should be adapted to this change. Although objectives might be similar, the tools to measure them will probably be different. Online interventions, that might not involve face-to-face real time interaction, will benefit greatly from adequate monitoring, providing real-time information to inform adaptation of the delivery before completion if needed.


At NRGI we believe the unprecedented context created by the pandemic is an opportunity to think beyond specific online learning resources. With colleagues and stakeholders struggling to balance personal and work commitments in a highly uncertain situation, it might be a good moment to pause and reflect on how to ensure that CD continues playing its crucial role. But this is not just a question of automatically migrating our activities online. This requires a comprehensive rethinking of objectives, audience, and platforms, and an assessment of what our peer organizations are offering. The design of our learning journeys and specific CD interventions should align with the core objectives we initially set, informing the decision making around adaptation to this new learning context. Crisis often spurs innovation and at NRGI we’re committed to thinking creatively about CD so that we can continue to contribute to the improvement of resource governance around the world.

Online learning resources from NRGI

Margarita Batlle is a capacity development officer at the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).

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