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Building Community Capacity
by Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator

Community Capacity

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Often when we think of the term community, we think in geographic terms. Our community is the physical location (i.e. city, town, village or neighborhood) where we live. It means there are defined boundaries that are understood and accepted by community members. Defining communities in terms of geography, however, is only one of the possible ways of looking at them.

Communities can also be defined by common cultural heritage, language and shared interests. These are sometimes called communities of interest. In urban metropolitan areas, communities are often defined in terms of particular neighborhoods. Most of us belong to more than one community, whether we are aware of this or not. For example, a person can be part of a neighborhood community, a religious community, an ethnical community and a community of shared interests at the same time. However, for each of us, relationships with the land or with people define a community.

All people and communities have a certain amount of capacity. No one is without capacity, but often we need to develop it. Community capacity building involves many aspects and considerations. There is no clear agreement about what should or should not be included when discussing capacity building. Most often it refers to skills, knowledge and ability of community members but can also include such things as access to community resources, leadership, infrastructure, time and commitment. What is important to realize is the heart of capacity building is people. If neighborhood or development groups cannot mobilize people, gather resources (what can not be done without people) and help people learn to work on the problems/issues effectively, few people and neighborhoods will benefit.

Capacity is simply the ways and means needed to do what should be done to improve the quality of life in a particular community or neighborhood. Most often, it includes the following components:

  • people who are willing to be involved /citizen participation
  • skills, knowledge and abilities
  • inclusiveness of the community diversity
  • understanding of community history/community values
  • ability to identify and access opportunities
  • motivation to carry out initiatives
  • infrastructure, supportive institutions and physical resources
  • economic and financial resources
  • community leadership
  • community organizing
  • inter-organizational collaboration/social networks
  • partnership among organizations, constituency, funders and "capacity builders"
  • flexibility and the use of a variety approaches
  • acknowledgment of contributions/celebration of successes
  • encouragement of new people and organizations to become involved/expanding of your energy pool
  • good communication through the process/exchanging, transferring and understanding of information

There is a common misconception that capacity building is just another way to describe community training and skills development programs. It has a wider meaning than just training and development of individuals; the long term goal of capacity building is to take control and ownership of the process. Capacity building is much broader than simply skills, people and plans. It includes commitment, resources and all that is brought to bear on the process to make it successful. Give people time to express themselves, to adapt to change and to learn. This is best done when the community members have a voice and are in charge of the process.

”Real capacity building involves giving groups the independence to manage resources. Not just training them how to work on committees. Training is often helpful, but it is not sufficient in its own right." (Jupp, B. (200) Working Together: Creating Better Environment for Cross-Sector Partnerships)

Sources: Flo Frank & Anne Smith "The community Development Handbook" 1999; Jupp, B. "Working Together: Creating Better Environment for Cross-Sector Partnerships" 2000; Mayer, S. "Building Community Capacity: How Different Groups Contribute" 2002

For more information, contact:

Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator
e-mail: ymitrofanova2@unl.edu
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528.
Phone: 402-441-7180

(This resource appeared in the August 2004 NEBLINE Newsletter. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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