Capacity building has been prominent in development projects of various kinds for the last decade. Capacity is, in this context, an amorphous term broadly defined as the ability of people, organizations, and communities to handle all the aspects of existence that relate to them (Vincent-Lancrin, 2006). Capacity building generally refers to efforts to develop this ability among particular groups, resulting in enhanced potential to manage their own needs (Potter and Brough, 2004). Capacity building and the associated process of capacity development have been considered central in improving governance, civil society institutions, and local administrations in developing countries (Brinkerhoff, 2000). The World Bank, with its emphasis on strengthening governance, has made capacity building a focus of its programs and leads the development of relevant models and evaluative measures (Wilhelm and Kushnarova, 2004; Straussman, 2007).
Despite its importance in development circles and a quantity of scholarly consideration, the effects of capacity building initiatives are difficult to document and evaluate, and the concept has generated criticism as well as support. Though many aspects of capacity building have been elucidated, one issue that remains less thoroughly studied is the concept’s meaning to target populations. This paper considers the meaning and nature of capacity building in Indonesia, including local perceptions of the concept. This, it is hoped, will offer insight into the whole question of capacity in that nation and that this discussion will inform future development efforts.