Community Capacity Building

photo courtesy: Mara Zanette

Capacity building describes processes and activities that maximize individual and community potential. A comprehensive approach to capacity building nurtures excellence and expansion in all areas of human and community development: physical, psychological, social, cultural, environmental and economic. In this way, capacity building helps strengthen the ability of individuals, organizations and sectors in order to develop creative solutions that address community issues.

What is this issue about?

BC Healthy Communities Society suggests that capacity building involves a number of activities, including:

  • Community Learning: Learning in community takes place in relationships that develop over time as people share common pursuits and goals. As conditions shift and new issues emerge, thriving communities will be able to learn quickly and draw upon local experiences to create local knowledge. 
  • Expanding Community Assets: Healthy communities foster the development of both tangible and intangible assets, such as: 
    • Tangible assets: financial capital, physical capital (e.g., infrastructure) and organizational development.
    • Intangible assets: social capital (relationships and networks), human capital (e.g., skills, knowledge and confidence), shared goals and values, and leadership.
  • Community Collaboration: As communities increasingly “connect the dots” between issues, they also need to increase capacity to think and act in collaborative ways that seek and expand common ground, shape a desired future, and encourage joint ownership over the issues at hand. Successful collaborations require time to build trust, relationships, and agreements about what to do together and how to choose to do things.

Communities, like people, are never really finished developing. New capacities are constantly required and emerging as communities respond to new issues over time. Thus, community capacity building is best thought of as an ongoing process of learning and development that is required for effective action. -BC Healthy Communities Society

Why is community capacity building important for health and well-being?

When it comes to health and wellbeing, strong connections across all sectors and levels of government and within communities are vital in order to improve individual and community well-being.

Community capacity building is an important component of healthy communities because the roots of many health issues are complex and varied. For example, long-term action to address significant chronic health challenges such as cancer, obesity and diabetes may involve a wide range of stakeholders with a number of complex and interrelated issues. Comprehensive actions to address the root causes of poor health involve activities in a range of areas, including employment, early childhood development, recreation services, education, food security, housing and access to health services.

The development of effective long-term solutions to community health issues will require that citizens and communities are seen as the co-producers of health and well-being, rather than only the recipients of services. This will include a long-term commitment to the development of community relationships and networks, access to local knowledge, support for the development of skills and the active involvement of multiple sectors in decision making and governance.

Why does community capacity building matter for local governments?

Because capacity building is an ongoing process, local governments can play an important role in supporting efforts to build community knowledge, expand community assets and promote community collaboration. A commitment to capacity building means developing systems and processes that ensure there is ongoing engagement and collaboration with organizations in the community to develop solutions to community problems. 

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