Understanding Capacity Building beyond individual training

With global efforts for ecological restoration expanding, understanding the role that capacity building plays is critical, particularly because of the economic growth trajectory at the price of lost biodiversity.
Understanding Capacity Building beyond individual training

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This was a topic for discussion between Temitope Adelola and Jim Barborak. Jim, Senior Adviser at Colorado State University's Center for Protected Area Management, mentors many young conservationists and organizations, and is a capacity development specialist for working groups in protected areas. He gave an in-depth explanation of what capacity building is and is not.

What do you consider capacity building? 

“Take people to protected areas, and take protected areas to the people to build public support for conservation”

 Capacity development is an essential tool for improving and scaling up ecological restoration. However, this encompasses a wide range of skills acquisition at various levels. According to Jim, the most common misconception is that capacity building is mostly about individual training, but this is not the case. To maximize impact, it is critical to understand capacity building not only at the individual level of training, but training at the three levels which are Individual, institutional, and community level training. Capacity development activities include actions that increase individuals, institutions, and society' understanding, skills, and knowledge base, as well as offering a platform for networking and information exchange among people to achieve desired goals or objectives. Capacity development assists individuals in planning, encouraging, implementing, and scaling up restoration activities by providing access to knowledge, skill sets, and networks, ultimately attaining a range of ecological restoration goals. 

The breakdown of capacity building

Individual capacity building can take place in both formal and informal settings. The formal may be earning a degree at a university, while the informal could be mastering camera traps, employing drones, or developing a library at a ranger station. All of this necessitates the development of soft skills in order to have an impact.

 Secondly, recognizing capacity building at the institutional level is critical in encouraging and utilizing the skills of their staff.

We can have training for rangers in place, but if institutions’ policies are weak, we will have highly trained but frustrated employees working in the field of conservation" 

Jim stated. Understanding the responsibilities of laws, effective policies, promotions, leadership, staff encouragement, and strong working relationships at the institutional level is critical for achieving desired outcomes. Institutions need to take advantage of the skills they have.

Lastly, understanding the community level. Society support is required to achieve conservation goals. It is important to build public support for ecological conservation. Help the communities to be users and not abusers of the protected areas.

Work with the local people, let them lead, improve their livelihood, recognize their rights, and achieve your species conservation goals”

How would you say that capacity building has been relevant in balancing species conservation and economic growth over time?

According to Jim, there has been a global campaign for restoration in protected areas and other conservation measures areas at the convention on biological diversity meetings, including the high ambition coalition to Protect at Least 30% of the World's Land and Ocean by 2030. To achieve this, we must acknowledge economic activities such as intensive agriculture and mining that contribute to degraded landscapes and species extinction. In restoring this degraded landscape, it is important to recognize capacity building as a tool, especially towards achieving the 2030 goals.

Vast areas of land have been affected by economic activities such as grazing in areas that are unsuited for intensive livestock, which has led to erosion, and landscape degradation, among other environmental problems. It is important not only to preserve biological biodiversity and restore damaged landscapes for species conservation but also to enhance watersheds and achieve sustainable development goals. As a result, it is essential to consider the agricultural landscape as a potential for restoration in order to promote habitat connectivity and species movements, such as through strengthening buffer zones and corridors. To do this, we need to work with local people, build their capacity, and livelihood, protect their rights and engage with them, not only to achieve species conservation goals but also to get their full support while supporting their livelihood and achieving the SDGs goals.

 Can you share any lessons learned in developing conservation capacity to balance species protection and economic growth?          

Put yourself in other people's shoes, be more open to people from different cultural backgrounds, and acquire soft skills”

Here are a few lessons that Jim has provided us to take note of: 

  • Understand conservation from the standpoint of humans living on the land. This means taking what matters to the people into consideration depending on the objective of conservation.
  • We need to understand the people, but also the issues that cause human-wildlife conflict. We should not be too preachy but understand what they are going through.
  • Economic activity has resulted in rural-urban migration, which has driven numerous species into the urban zone. Understanding how to create urban conservation zones, as well as the involvement of society in this process, is crucial for ensuring species migration.
  • It is important to improve communications with the local people around protected areas. Engage with them to gain strong support for conservation goals.
  • Understand your strengths, collaborate to remove your weaknesses, be a part of larger goals, and work in conservation niches to develop your knowledge.



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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 2 years ago

Thank you very much @Temitope Rebecca Adelola and @Jim Barborak for collaborating on this lessons learned contribution; it's an interesting read. I especially liked how you shared about capacity development at different levels (e.g. individual, institutional, community).

@Jim Barborak : could you perhaps add a short explanation about what you refer to above as "soft skills"? This would be of benefit to those of our members who are not yet familiar with this term. 

@Temitope Rebecca Adelola :did you make this amazing graphic? If yes, could you share with us how you did it? 

Thank you both for this inspiring piece! I will make sure to feature it in our Highlights newsletter. 

Go to the profile of Jim Barborak
about 2 years ago

Dear Thirza:

It was great to be able to chat with Temi!  Regarding soft skills, they are not really "soft" and many employers actually think they are "harder" to master and just as or more important than traditional natural science or engineering skills!  This refers to things usually not learned in university but vital for professional success, such as negotiation skills; conflict management skills; fundraising and proposal writing ability; interpersonal oral and written communcation skills; mastery of social media and social marketing; ability to work on and lead teams; leadership;  and project management abilities.  Hiring managers and recruiters are usually keen on finding individuals with these skills, which are harder to outsource or automate as well.  Here is one good reference on the subject: https://virtualspeech.com/blog/importance-soft-skills#:~:text=Soft%20skills%20are%20personal%20attributes,and%20dependability%2C%20and%20lead%20teams


Jim Barborak

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 2 years ago

Dear Jim,

Many thanks for this useful explanation and resource.

Building on that, I refer to these skills as contextual skills in my PhD work: See Supplementary Table 2 here for an overview of contextual skills in a work performance framework I found useful. I know others in our community have been revising this term as well, on the back on the 2019 Capacity for Conservation International conference. Linking into this conversation @Kay Farmer, @Andrea Santy, Leo @K Curran@Marianne Carter , @Jamie Copsey , @Henry Duffy @Rod Sterne @Menladi M. Lormie @Laura Owens: have you found any other terms, explanations or resources that could be useful additions to this important discussion about 'soft skills'? Thanks everyone!

Thanks again Jim, it was great hearing you enjoyed your chat with our aspiring Conservation Catalyst Temi! 

Best wishes,


Go to the profile of Temitope Rebecca Adelola
about 2 years ago

Thank you, Thirza. I created the graphic using canva.

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 2 years ago

That's amazing, Temi, that you made it yourself and many thanks for sharing about the tool you used! Perhaps you could share a quick video demo on how to make graphics using canva with our Conservation Catalyst team, either live or recorded, sometime? 

Go to the profile of Lara Reden
about 2 years ago

Thanks for sharing, @Temitope Rebecca Adelola and @Jim Barborak!  Nicely put together. I'm looking forward to reading more of your contributions.

Go to the profile of Rebecca Hansell
about 2 years ago

Some amazing insights into capacity development here, it's so interesting to think about how lessons can be learned at different levels of influence. Thanks for sharing! 

Go to the profile of Christine Tansey
about 2 years ago

Really enjoyed this @Temitope Rebecca Adelola and @Jim Barborak, particularly thinking about the role of capacity building at a community level.

Go to the profile of Jamie Copsey
almost 2 years ago

A little after the fact, but....

...An interesting discussion around soft skills.  I too find this term rather demeaning and not very descriptive either- they can be the hardest skills to both learn and apply!  I would see them more as universal or foundational skills that we should all become competent and confident in applying if we want to be the most effective conservation practitioners we want to.  Here is a useful recent paper from a colleague of mine highlighting how the application of such skills within the context of species conservation planning is contributing to improved species status: Lees, C.M., Rutschmann, A., Santure, A.W. and Beggs, J.R., 2021. Science-based, stakeholder-inclusive and participatory conservation planning helps reverse the decline of threatened species. Biological Conservation260, p.109194. 

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
almost 2 years ago

Thanks for sharing this useful resource, Jamie! I have shared it with a few of my contacts who are working on similar topics. Here is a direct link for anyone who would like to download this paper by Lees et al. 2021. 

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
almost 2 years ago

@Gemma Harding : If not seen already, perhaps the Lees paper is also of interest to you? (see above comment)