Developing Community Capacity and Improving Health in African American Communities

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Raczynski, James M and Cornell, Carol E and Stalker, Varena and Phillips, Martha and Dignan, Mark and Pulley, Leavonne and Leviton, Laura (2001) Developing Community Capacity and Improving Health in African American Communities. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 322 (5). pp. 294-300.


Community-based programs have produced mixed results. Community capacity is thought to be a major determinant of program effectiveness. Thus, enhancing community capacity may increase the beneficial effects of existing programs and enhance future program effectiveness. This highlights the need to focus on understanding the components of capacity and the methods of enhancing capacity. Although we are just beginning to examine and understand key concepts, community capacity is probably influenced by both relatively nonmodifiable characteristics (such as demographic factors, institutional resources, and social structures) and relatively modifiable characteristics (such as knowledge, skills, and the ability and willingness of members and agencies to work collaboratively). In their relationships with community members and agencies, academicians and public health practitioners may help acquire categorical funding to enhance opportunities to build community capacity and their own capacity as well. The relationship between academicians/practitioners and community members/agencies probably is influenced by a host of characteristics which determine the degree to which capacity can be built. This paper discusses: the key components of capacity; the factors that influence building capacity through collaborations; a community health advisor (CHA) model which both builds on sociocultural aspects of African American culture and is consistent with methods for building community capacity; and how modifications to this model allow it to be compatible with categorically funded projects.