This guest post is written by Nicole Enns, a third-year marketing student at the University of Calgary.
In simple terms, community capacity is what makes communities “work”. It is the concept of a community working collectively to manage its human capital, develop its resources, and drive change from within.
Yet, if you dig deeper, community capacity is actually a fairly complex concept – most prominently due to the fact that many of us have an insufficient understanding of the term community. Community is such a common term that many people tend not to recognize that it is actually quite abstract, and according to Dr. David M. Chavis and Dr. Kien Lee, Principal Associates at Community Science, there are four key aspects that make up the meaning of community.
Firstly and most importantly, a community is all about people. It is not a place, but is rather a set of relationships that people form to meet common needs and goals. Neighbourhoods, schools, and so on are commonly misconstrued as the communities themselves yet they are actually the environments within a community.
Secondly, since meeting a common goal is the driving force behind communities, many people actually identify with multiple communities rather than just one. The rise of technology has generated a much larger network that people are able to connect with and in turn there are more communities people are able to participate in – often based on faith, politics, and recreational interests.
Thirdly, communities are made up of both formal and informal institutions. More easily recognized are the formal institutions – large institutions such as law enforcement and government that help communities effectively achieve their goals. Yet, there are also informal institutions that are equally as important, such as the Our High River community group in the Alberta town of High River. These institutions help to look out for all individuals in the community, ensuring everyone feels that they have a voice and the community's wants and needs are being met.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that every community is organized in a different way. Communities generally are organized to meet members needs and aid in achieving their goals, yet they all operate differently and not one community will react exactly the same in a given situation due to different cultures, affiliations, and the experiences of their members.
All this leads to the conclusion that every community will have a slightly different definition of how they believe their relationships are expressed. Still, there will be many consistencies. Communities will always be about the people, despite the fact that they may be focusing on entirely different aspect of one's life, they may be formal institutions or informal ones, yet they will always maintain a goal of satisfying the members needs, and many communities will have overlapping members from various groups.
Building Community Capacity
On the other hand, there is a very clear goal when it comes to community capacity – which is reaching a point where a community can successfully leverage local resources and skills to solve problems, build relationships, enhance decision making, and improve the collective well-being.
However, there are are a variety of factors that communities must be able to leverage to successfully reach this goal. Such as:
Connection & Belonging
To successfully build community capacity there must be network for connection and there also must be great importance on personal relationships within the community. Communication aids in developing a collective mindset and will bolster decision making, while personal relationships will encourage individuals to want to engage in the community and will increase their willingness to offer their areas of expertise.
There also must be a vibrant economy - an economy that provides a variety of opportunities to learn, work, and play in order for individuals to feel engaged and excited about maintaining their community.
Education & Personal Enrichment
A diverse range of recreation and education opportunities as well as strong leadership roles are also very important. Leadership will enhance commitment to the community and aids in solving all collective problems, while education encourages members of the community to be there best.
Living standards are also a very crucial factor to take into account when aiming to build community capacity. The community must welcome affordability and accessibility to all members to encourage complete engagement.
Lastly, to fully build a community's capacity there must be a welcoming and strong environment for decision making. A community needs to be able to solve problems to grow and expand it resources.
Overall, building community capacity relies largely on the abilities of the individuals in the community to make use of their current resources and reform them into something new and better. Members must be willing to connect with one another and share ideas, and they must work together to reach a common goal.
Yet, to do this communities need to have a network for communication. Communities are no longer made up of handfuls of people but rather hundreds or thousands, so how can one effectively manage a community if they can’t reach them? The answer is a simple platform where members can feel their questions are being heard, and their answers are being met. This will encourage members to stay involved in the community and will aid in quick decision making.
Communities are not managed by a single person; they are all for one and one for all. Therefore, to build community capacity a community needs to work together and realize their members potential and in the end they will thrive.