Post 2: The Concept of Community in Health Promotion & Capacity Building

During the past month I’ve been writing, editing and rewriting my research paper, which focuses on the intersection between community capacity building and health promotion. The more I researched, it became clear that I’ve tackled a pretty huge topic that could take volumes to explain. So, I’ve decided to view my Monroe project as an introductory document that provides a simplified explanation of how health promotion and capacity building can be conducted in tandem. Cognizant of the fact that this is only a starting place for much more in depth investigations, it is important to frame my research in the right sociological context before continuing. Thus, in this post I’m going to discuss the concept of community and it’s relevance to capacity building and health promotion. I’ve used some information from people who can explain this more clearly than I, so excuse the citations.

Capacity building is enacted at the community level, which leads to the question “What is a community?” Communities are both “real and ideal” entities, for they exist both as groups of geographically co-located individuals within delineated boundaries and also as “intangible” clusters of communication, sharing of information and social organization (Diclemente et al. 197).  Communities possess shared ideals, values, needs (economic and otherwise) and history.  They are often centered on common goals and interests that unite community members and establish community membership as a tie greater than geographic proximity to one another (Chaskin et al.) Every community varies in the goods and services available to it, the cohesion of its members, and the composition of its members, each of which contribute to a community’s shared sense of identity and understanding.  Communities are dynamic structures that change as members come and go, compete for and/or share resources and execute actions in response to existing challenges.

It’s important to keep these concepts in mind when beginning a health promotion project, whether in the US or abroad, because they affect how one attempts to engage community members and foster collaboration with the community. For example, flooding is a safety and health issue that may be best tackled through the geographic perspective of community. Based on topography, only homes in certain locations will be affected by flooding and hence geographically co-located residents can be brought together in collective action to take steps against flooding. On the contrary, prevention of communicable disease is an issue that may be best solved by viewing a community as a social network consisting of communication and shared ideas. This is because disease can affect anyone, regardless of geographic location. Establishing lifestyle changes that prevent contraction/spread of a disease requires a collective decision by most community members to change their health habits (hygiene, sanitation etc). Consequently, information about healthier habits must be spread throughout a social network to all households and those who receive the information must acknowledge the value of making such lifestyle changes.

I hope with these brief examples it’s apparent that by using ideas from capacity building, such as the concept of community, as a lens through which to conduct health promotion, meaningful change can be achieved at the community level. Thanks for reading!

Works Cited:

Chaskin, Robert J., Prudence Brown, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Avis Vidal. Building Community Capacity. New York: A. De Gruyter,      2001. Print.

DiClemente, Ralph J., Richard A. Crosby, and Michelle C. Kegler. Emerging Theories In Health Promotion Practice And Research :    Strategies For Improving Public Health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 26 May 2014.