Public administration researchers and practitioners have placed a heavy emphasis on the theme of programme performance. More recently, there has been a growing sentiment in the literature about the integral role of organisational capacity in achieving performance. While this is often expressed in the (re)iteration of a ‘management matters’ mantra, we see some disarray in the broader capacity literature both in definition and application. As scholars call for more integrated models of governance that link, for example, capacity and performance, we see a growing need for an analysis of the concept of capacity. Using bibliometric and content analyses to explore scholarly treatment of capacity constructs, this article assesses whether the perceived disarray is real, and if so what consequences it might have. We do so by reporting on capacity's meaning and measurement through an analysis of four decades of the private, public and nonprofit management literatures. While specific definitions of capacity are, by nature, context dependent, we conclude by distilling a general, conceptual framework of capacity for public management researchers and practitioners. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.