Understanding capacity development theory in practice: perspectives of Thai practitioners addressing violence against women in Thailand

  • Jocelyn Perry

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Capacity development is widely accepted within the development sector as an effective and essential approach to creating change. It is applied within a variety of contexts and aspires to build multi-level (individual, organisational and societal) capacity to address a desired development goal, including complex social issues such as violence against women (VAW). However, despite the sector’s commitment, it remains contentious with limited evidence of success and tensions arising from a clear gap between theory and practice. Addressing VAW demands careful and comprehensive approaches to create change. Evidence is still emerging on how to both prevent and enhance necessary multidisciplinary responses. The current literature relating to both capacity development and VAW programs is dominated by Western perspectives and higher-income settings. Listening to diverse voices from a range of contexts is essential to understanding capacity development’s potential to address VAW and provides a new insight into the relationship between its theory and practice. This research was a collaboration with Thai practitioners addressing VAW in Thailand. It aimed to understand the relationship between capacity development theory and practice from their perspective and within the context of specific VAW programs. Constructivist grounded theory, complemented by principles of collaborative research, directed all aspects of the study. This centred the practitioners’ individual realities and voices within both the process and results. Semi structured, dialogic interviews were undertaken in a three-staged approach. The nature of knowledge exchange, partnerships, context, and strategies were explored. Fourteen practitioners participated in eighteen individual or group interviews. This thesis provides a unique perspective on capacity development and VAW programs. Significantly, within the programs explored, the gap between theory and practice was minimal. Programs were based on strong theoretical foundations which were interrelated with the individual ‘standpoints’ of practitioners and the complex contexts in which they worked. Practitioners demonstrated high levels of integrity and commitment, incorporated their nuanced understanding of power, addressed both personal and professional aspects within programs, and paid close attention to the individual and their enabling environment. In addition, capacity development programs addressing VAW were dependent on ‘informal work’ and concurrent approaches to change such as advocacy, movement building, and awareness raising. The findings of this study provide valuable insight into how practitioners interpret and apply theory in practice, while incorporating specific considerations for addressing VAW.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJosephine Caffery (Supervisor), Katja Mikhailovich (Supervisor) & Barbara Pamphilon (Supervisor)

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