A Guide to Five Dimensions of Organizational Capacity
Support for Realizing Your Agency’s Potential
Child welfare systems strive to implement, strengthen, and sustain effective practices that will improve outcomes for children, youth, and families. Capacity building can play an important role in supporting systems’ efforts to achieve their goals. This guide introduces a framework for understanding organizational capacity used by the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative (the Collaborative). It also describes key capacity building concepts and provides information and links to resources on different aspects of organizational capacity.
The guide is designed to support child welfare professionals to:
- Understand organizational capacity and its various dimensions
- Set a foundation for assessing organizational capacity needs and gaps
- Think about capacity as part of agency and program improvement initiatives
You can read the guide in its entirety or focus on specific dimensions of interest.
What Is Organizational Capacity?
“Organizational capacity” refers to the potential of a child welfare system to be productive and effective.
Child welfare systems can realize this potential by developing their human and organizational assets and using them to successfully implement effective policies, programs, and practices. These assets can include things like fiscal resources, processes, institutional knowledge, leadership, and relationships.
What Is Capacity Building?
The Collaborative defines “capacity building” as an ongoing, evidence-informed process used to develop a system's potential to be productive and effective.
The Collaborative’s capacity building approach draws from what’s been shown in research and practice to create lasting organizational change. Capacity building often involves completing a series of deliberate action steps and using a combination of complementary strategies—such as assessment, strategic planning, information sharing, training, technical assistance, coaching, resource development, and evaluation—that support organizations to achieve current and future goals.
Why Is Organizational Capacity Important?
An agency’s organizational capacity influences its ability to initiate and sustain change. Healthy and well-functioning agencies often have strengths that can enable success, while struggling agencies frequently have capacity needs that prevent it. Child welfare agencies must routinely assess and develop multiple aspects of their organizational capacity to effectively respond to the complex and continually evolving environments in which they operate. Ultimately, organizational capacity helps agencies achieve positive outcomes for children, youth, and families. One key measure of child welfare programs and agency performance on safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes is the Federal Child and Family Services Review.
Key Dimensions of Organizational Capacity
The Collaborative has organized different aspects of organizational capacity into five categories or “dimensions.” Each of these dimensions has multiple subdimensions.
Concrete materials and assets
Organizational structure, protocols, and processes
Organizational knowledge and skills:
Staff expertise and competencies
Organizational culture and climate:
Shared beliefs, values, and attitudes that influence behavior
Organizational engagement and partnership:
Intraorganizational and interorganizational relationships and connections
The dimensions and subdimensions of organizational capacity presented in this online guide reflect the collaborative work of the Children’s Bureau (CB) and several CB-funded technical assistance and evaluation projects over the last decade. These projects include the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative, the National Child Welfare Resources Centers and Child Welfare Implementation Centers, and the cross-Center and cross-site studies that evaluated them. The dimensions were originally distilled from research literature, categorized, defined, and documented in unpublished briefs for CB by James Bell Associates under contract #HHSP2332001400026C.