Every society, every community, every group and every person has skills, strengths and the capacity to problem solve, act creatively and work together for the benefit of their group. Community capacity is defined as the interaction of human capital, organizational resources, and social capital existing within a given community that can be leveraged to solve collective problems too improve or maintain the well being of a given community. It may operate through informal social processes and/or organized effort (Chaskin, 2001).
1. Fundamental Characteristics of Community Capacity Each community has existing strengths that enable it to function. As in all living organisms, some fundamentals characteristics are stronger, better defined or more used then others. All of the following fundamental characteristics are present in some capacity in all communities.
A sense of community-reflects the degree of connectedness among members and recognition of mutuality of circumstance, including a threshold level of collectively held values, norms, and vision.
A level of commitment among community members- describes the responsibility that particular individuals, groups, or organizations take for what happens in the community.
The ability to solve problems- is the ability to translate commitment into action and is an important component of virtually all definitions of capacity relating to community.
Access to resources- is the economic, human, physical, and political capitail within and beyond the neighbourhood (Chaskin, 2001).
2. Levels of Social Agency
Within every community there are different levels of agents and agencies which work together to help meet both the individual and the collective needs of a community. The individual level operates through human capital and leadership. Within every community there are individuals with certain skills, knowledge, and resources that can be utilized in certain tasks. Professionals within a community provide a wide variety of services to meet the diverse needs of people. Through their participation they can help to support community-improving activities. On the organizational level, businesses, services and groups within the market, government or civil society all work to meet the needs of a community and individuals within that community. This can include community-based organizations (CBOs), service providers, local businesses, and development organizations, as well as local branches of larger institutions, including banks, schools, and major retail establishments. Finally the network level focuses on how all of these social structure work together. On this level agencies and agents gather and link together to form relationships that help to increase the capacity of their communities (Chaskins, 2001).
3. Functions of Community Capacity Building
Community capacity building is when an individual or a group begins to engage particular fundamental characteristic of community capacity by socially interacting with the social agencies to create an outcome. Often this is done to help enhance a community's ability to build resilience, self-reliance and enhance development initiatives. Community capacity building will often function around four development initiatives. Each initiative will be examined in greater detail within this webpage to illustrate how community capacity building can occur.
5. Conditioning Influences on Community Capacity Building
The conditioning influences are concerned with the mediating circumstances that could facilitate or inhibit community capacity and efforts to build it. Chaskins (2001), illustrates these conditions by arguing that a sense of community could be fostered by a local action such as encouraging residents to participate in problem-solving activities, trying to prevent a development deal in their region or trying to get a local recreation facility. Other factors can either support or inhibit the possibility of creating that sense of community. For example residential stability and greater social capital can increase a sense of social cohesion and the likelihood of participation in local activities becomes greater. The existence of informal mechanisms of social control, institutional trust and a level of a sense of safety, connected to stability and existence of viable social networks can provide a framework where a sense of community can more easily be cultivated. However there can also be negative conditioning influences. For example there can be macro level influences (such as the structure of the regional economy, the influences of migration and racial and economic segregation, and the unequal distribution of resources among communities) that may restrict a particular community’s ability to use or build it's capacity. These conditions are generally not susceptible to neighborhood actions and require intervention strategies and policy action at the municipal, provincial, or federal level to effect change. On the other hand positive changes in these factors at certain times may provide a community with opportunities to take advantage of resources that were not previously available to help build capacities (Chaskins, 2001).
6. Outcomes Often there are enhancements to communities beyond the designated outcome of the capacity building initiative. This dimension is illustrated in the framework as the outcomes that result from the functions of community capacity that already exist or that are being developed through a capacity-building initiative. It can include, higher social capital, more social cohesion, more trust in institutions, or a better problem solving abilities (Chaskins, 2001). The entire framework is illustrated in the chart below. Community capacity building is designed as short-term interventions that have long-term affects. Agencies and workers who are engaging in CCB initiatives need to focus on intitaives that create short-term outcomes but that enable and grow the long-term capacities of communities .
Community Capacity Building Framework Chart
This diagram illustrates how community capacity building can occur. The rest of this webpage will be devoted to examining how different strategies can be applied to affectively build capacity. Below is a clip that demonstrates how community capacity-building can be an effective tool for increasing self-reliance, which can lead to a better quality of life and well-being.
Critique Of Community Capacity Building
Community Capacity Building has been used as political rhetoric. Given the marginal differences between the proclaimed goals and methods of community development and CCB, it may seem superfluous to introduce a new concept into the policy lexicon.
The term “community development” in the concept of CCB is applied uncritically to a very wide range of activities, many of which have little to do with the development. Such as building hotels on prime real-estate land in Indonesia after the earthquake, and passing it of as capacity building for the local community.
The motives of those promoting CCB “from the top” are pursued by powerful partners to incorporate local communities into established structures and mechanisms rather than having to face the challenges to those existing structures which effective working with deprived communities presents. That is often this strategies focus on conforming all parties to the neo-leiberal paradigm, instead of re- working the sturtures that exclude people in the first place.
The most fundamental critique of CCB is that it is based on the notion of communities being “deficient” – in skills, knowledge and experience instead of focusing on the capacities that they do have (Craig, 2007).