Despite significant investments in capacity building across sub-Saharan Africa, to date no rigorous assessment has been undertaken to interrogate the extent these efforts have effectively translated into planning and implementing climate change responses. Through qualitative data obtained from interviews with 12 Malawian government and non-government training participants and their 12 supervisors, and 12 providers of various adaptation-related training and education programmes attended, this study investigates the design, content and methodologies effective in building capacity for climate change adaptation. Findings indicate that long-term education and short-term training have complementary roles in influencing design and implementation of successful adaptation practices. Short-term training workshops are most useful when customized to particular needs of participants, are participatory in design and implementation and tailored using context-specific examples. Action planning, on-the-job training and continued mentorship after training are also effective, but are rarely used. Challenges that impede effective capacity building relate not only to training design and structure, but also the inadequacy of training needs assessments and the organizational structure in which trainees attempt to put their skills and knowledge into practice. More rigorous coordination and monitoring of training efforts-and appropriate institutional support for action following training sessions are essential to enhance adaptation planning across sub-Saharan Africa.