Highlights from Voices From the Field II: Reflections on Comprehensive Community Change, by Anne C. Kubisch, Patricia Auspos, Prudence Brown, Robert Chaskin, Karen Fulbright-Anderson, and Ralph Hamilton. Washington, D.C.: Aspen Institute.
Community capacity: the interaction of human capital, organizational resources, and social capital existing within a given community that can be leveraged to solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of that community. It may operate through informal social processes and/or organized efforts by individuals, organizations and social networks. (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh & Vidal, 2001).
The key features of communities with capacity are a sense of community among residents, a commitment by residents to organize and act to improve the community, an ability to act to solve problems, and access to resources within and beyond the community.
Because residents are the core of a community’s assets, they represent the first level in the ecology of community change. As both agents and beneficiaries of community change, they can play a central role in shaping, implementing, and sustaining the change agenda. In many low-income communities, however, residents lack opportunities and support for those roles. Efforts by recent community-change ventures to increase residents’ capacity involve developing them as leaders, creating social connections, and organizing people to participate in change.
Our definition and discussion of leadership development draws heavily from a recent publication on community capacity (Chaskin, Brown,Venkatesh & Vidal, 2001), which describes the following characteristics: [Leadership development] attempts to engage the participation and commitment of current and potential leaders, provide them with opportunities for building skills, connect them to new information and resources, enlarge their perspectives on their community and how it might change, and help them create new relationships.
Methods range from formal training programs, which convey information or develop particular skills, to on-the-job training in which participants become members of boards or planning teams, serve in apprenticeships or co-staffing positions, and receive coaching or other training that prepares them to assume new roles. These approaches can be used to cultivate individual leaders or cadres of individuals who can participate in any stage of the community-change process: developing the overall vision, creating the plan for change, performing activities to implement the plan, tracking progress, and spreading the news about results.