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Food Systems

What is Community Capacity?

Excerpted from: Goodman, Robert M., Marjorie A. Speers, Kenneth Mcleroy, Stephen Fawcett, Michelle Kegler, Edith Parker, Steven Rathgeb Smith, Terrie D. Sterling and Nina Wallerstein. 1998. Identifying and Defining the Dimensions of Community Capacity to Provide a Basis for Measurement. Health Education & Behavior, Vol. 25(3):258-278.

There is no question that the concept of community capacity requires clarification. Often, capacity is used interchangeably with other, similar concepts such as community empowerment, competence, and readiness. All of these concepts have contributed to our current understanding of community capacity. But using them interchangeably minimizes important differences that each concept contributes to the development of community health initiatives...In this article, we view community power as one of several dimensions of community capacity...We view capacity as a potential state and competence as an active state. That is, capacity reflects a community's potential for addressing present health issues, whereas competence signifies how skillfully capacity is applied. Capacity is most similar to readiness in that both are potential states that may lead to community action.

The dimensions of community capacity identified by the working groups at the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] symposium include:

- participation and leadership,
- skills,
- resources,
- social and interorganizational networks,
- sense of community,
- understanding of community history,
- community power,
- community values, and
- critical reflection.

Community - Source: Microsoft Office Online Clipart

Community
Source: Microsoft Office Online Clipart

...[Community capacity] is a process as well as an outcome; it includes supportive organizational structures and processes; it is multidimensional and ecological in operating at the individual, group, organizational, community, and policy levels...; and it is context specific. Also, communities can lose as well as gain capacity. Capacity exists in a dynamic state and develops in stages of readiness...

We do not believe that the dimensions of community capacity that we have identified are exhaustive, and we further recognize that capacity is a construct that has different meanings in different contexts. Further reflection and reaction from diverse communities will undoubtedly alter and enrich the construct...

The complexity of community capacity as a construct and the current lack of adequate measures suggest the challenge that remains for operationalizing [or defining] ways to assess capacity in communities. However, even at this early stage, we believe that the dimensions can be used by citizen groups involved in efforts to assess and develop community capacity.

Explore on Your Own!

Which communities have the highest rates of voter turnout? Is there a difference between rural and urban communities with respect to voter turnout or number of community organizations and groups? Why do you think they might be different?

Launch the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool

Using the tools of the Oregon Communities Reporter you can examine community capacity across the state using the following variables:

  • Voter Turnout: Two measures used:

    The percent of registered voters who cast ballots in the biennial elections. 1992 data used for 1990.
    Formula: ([# of individuals who voted]/[# of registered voters])*100
    Source: Oregon Secretary of State, as reported by the Oregon Progress Board Benchmark Reports.

    Percent of population over 18 that cast votes in the 1992 presidential election. 1992 data used for 1990.
    Formula: ([# votes cast]/[total population 18 and over])*100
    Source: Pennsylvania State University, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development

  • Census Mail Response Rates: Percentage of mailed census surveys returned.
    Formula: ([# census surveys returned completed]/[# of surveys mailed out])*100
    Source: Pennsylvania State University, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development

  • Number of Community Organizations and Groups: Number of establishments of the following types reported in County Business Patterns, compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau: bowling centers, civic and social associations, physical fitness facilities, public golf courses, religious organizations, sports clubs, membership sports clubs and recreation clubs, political organizations, professional organizations, business associations, labor organizations, other membership organizations, and not-for-profit organizations (number of not-for-profit organizations from National Center for Charitable Statistics). 1997 data used for 2000.
    Source: Pennsylvania State University, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development

Sources

Goodman, Robert M., Marjorie A. Speers, Kenneth Mcleroy, Stephen Fawcett, Michelle Kegler, Edith Parker, Steven Rathgeb Smith, Terrie D. Sterling and Nina Wallerstein. 1998. Identifying and Defining the Dimensions of Community Capacity to Provide a Basis for Measurement. Health Education & Behavior, Vol. 25(3):258-278.

Compiled by Lena Etuk, Social Demographer, Oregon State University Extension Service (2008)