Community Capacity Building

photo courtesy: Mara Zanette

Capacity building describes processes and activities that maximize individual and community potential. A comprehensive approach to capacity building nurtures excellence and expansion in all areas of human and community development: physical, psychological, social, cultural, environmental and economic. In this way, capacity building helps strengthen the ability of individuals, organizations and sectors in order to develop creative solutions that address community issues.

What is this issue about?

BC Healthy Communities Society suggests that capacity building involves a number of activities, including:

  • Community Learning: Learning in community takes place in relationships that develop over time as people share common pursuits and goals. As conditions shift and new issues emerge, thriving communities will be able to learn quickly and draw upon local experiences to create local knowledge. 
  • Expanding Community Assets: Healthy communities foster the development of both tangible and intangible assets, such as: 
    • Tangible assets: financial capital, physical capital (e.g., infrastructure) and organizational development.
    • Intangible assets: social capital (relationships and networks), human capital (e.g., skills, knowledge and confidence), shared goals and values, and leadership.
  • Community Collaboration: As communities increasingly “connect the dots” between issues, they also need to increase capacity to think and act in collaborative ways that seek and expand common ground, shape a desired future, and encourage joint ownership over the issues at hand. Successful collaborations require time to build trust, relationships, and agreements about what to do together and how to choose to do things.

Communities, like people, are never really finished developing. New capacities are constantly required and emerging as communities respond to new issues over time. Thus, community capacity building is best thought of as an ongoing process of learning and development that is required for effective action. -BC Healthy Communities Society

Why is community capacity building important for health and well-being?

When it comes to health and wellbeing, strong connections across all sectors and levels of government and within communities are vital in order to improve individual and community well-being.

Community capacity building is an important component of healthy communities because the roots of many health issues are complex and varied. For example, long-term action to address significant chronic health challenges such as cancer, obesity and diabetes may involve a wide range of stakeholders with a number of complex and interrelated issues. Comprehensive actions to address the root causes of poor health involve activities in a range of areas, including employment, early childhood development, recreation services, education, food security, housing and access to health services.

The development of effective long-term solutions to community health issues will require that citizens and communities are seen as the co-producers of health and well-being, rather than only the recipients of services. This will include a long-term commitment to the development of community relationships and networks, access to local knowledge, support for the development of skills and the active involvement of multiple sectors in decision making and governance.

Why does community capacity building matter for local governments?

Because capacity building is an ongoing process, local governments can play an important role in supporting efforts to build community knowledge, expand community assets and promote community collaboration. A commitment to capacity building means developing systems and processes that ensure there is ongoing engagement and collaboration with organizations in the community to develop solutions to community problems. 

Take Action

Policy and Planning

Support organizations and committees that address social development issues as a key component of healthy communities.

The City of Revelstoke provides support to the Revelstoke Community Social Development Committee. The committee works with a paid municipal staff member to achieve a range of objectives, which include: to provide support for community organizations to work together to address community social challenges and opportunities; to provide information and recommendations to the City on priority social issues; to develop, maintain and update Revelstoke’s action plan for development in the community. 

Establish a Social Development Strategy that is linked to the Official Community Plan.

In 2002, the Nanaimo Social Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) initiated a collaborative process with key community partners to create Nanaimo’s Social Development Strategy. The 12-month process included participation by a range of social and economic interests, including public agencies, non-profit organizations, private businesses, local merchants and schools. The process included the development of the Social Status Update, as well as the development of the Social Development Strategy for Nanaimo that focuses on actions in the areas of education and learning, employment and income, community and health services, housing and shelter, safety and security, and community life.

Articulate a role and support strategy for community capacity building in Official Community Plans and other documents.

In Williams Lake, the Manager of Social Development played a crucial role in the development of Imagine Our Future: Integrated Community Sustainability Planning Framework, which includes capacity building. The framework takes a 25-year view of issues related to community sustainability and is intended to guide the development of a series of five-year community plans.



Play a convening role in bringing together stakeholders to address complex community issues.

In 2001, the mayor and council of the City of Prince Rupert convened a Social Issues Summit that brought together community organizations to articulate concerns about social issues in the community. The resulting report was used to communicate with funders, senior levels of government, and others able to provide resources to address critical community issues.

Partnerships and Programs

Address complex community issues through the development of community partnerships.

In 2004, representatives from the District of Sechelt and the Town of Gibsons took part in a planning committee to organize a community forum on affordable housing on the Sunshine Coast. [pdf] The forum attracted over 100 participants representing all levels of government and a range of community organizations and individuals. One of the recommendations of the forum led to the development of the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Study [pdf] that includes detailed information on existing housing stock, a profile of the housing needs of Sunshine Coast residents, a summary of actions that municipal governments in other locations have taken, and priorities for action in communities on the Sunshine Coast.

In 2009, the City of Chilliwack consulted several advisory committees, examined action plans, and led a series of public engagement events to determine the community’s highest priorities. The process led to forming the Chilliwack Healthier Community Stewardship Council in 2012, now known as the CHC partnership. Read more about the CHC in a PlanH community story here.

Participate in community capacity-building networks, events and plans.

Many municipalities in British Columbia are active participants in the BC Rural Network. Formed in 2004, this non-profit society exists to enhance the capacity of rural British Columbia to address issues facing rural and remote communities. Membership includes non-profit organizations, businesses, governments, and individuals with an interest in rural community issues. BC Rural Network activities include annual regional forums, newsletters, online resources, and a biennial BC Rural Communities Summit.