ASk A Researcher

May 2014

Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework

Kathleen Tweeten is the director of the NDSU Extension Center for Community Vitality.  She is also the program leader for community vitality and a state specialist in community economic development.  Her areas of specialty are business retention and expansion and community and organization strategic planning.  She is a nationally certified TalentSmart trainer in Emotional Intelligence and is an international instructor for Business Retention and Expansion International certification courses. 

 

 

Q: What are community capitals?
Community capitals are invested assets or resources that belong to a community and represent all aspects of community life. A sustainable and entrepreneurial community wisely manages all of its capitals and resources to enhance their value and continually improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Q: What is the Community Capitals Framework?
The Community Capitals Framework (CCF) has been developed by sociologists Cornelia and Jan Flora at Iowa State University. They asked themselves, why some communities are more successful than others in addressing change. Their research showed that it has to do with the management of community resources. The communities most successful in supporting sustainable community development and economic growth,  invested in several community resources they labeled as capitals: natural (e.g., rivers, parks, agriculture), cultural (e.g., culture, tradition, language, and also the everyday ways of thinking and doing), human (e.g., skills, knowledge, health), social (e.g., the network, the trust, the link to resources), political (e.g., policy, voice), financial (e.g., jobs, money, profit, philanthropy), and built (e.g., infrastructure, technology). By considering all these areas of capital, you get a comprehensive view of the community, which then helps community leadership to identify ways of investing existing resources to obtain strategic outcomes.

Q: How is the Community Capitals framework (CCF) used in community development?
Community leaders are seeking to understand how to revitalize their economies and are looking for models that will help them decide what investments are most effective in improving quality of life and economic well-being. The CCF is a way of looking at the community in its entirety. In order to maintain a healthy and thriving community it is important to recognize the dependency and interaction that each capital has with the other capitals. It is important to remember that community capitals are not independent; changes to one can increase or decrease other capitals. For example, if we build a new park, this will increase the natural and social capitals of the community. However, this may decrease other capitals, such as financial capital, by not being able to grant community funds for needed expansions such a childcare facility, as well as future built capital, because the land/space will not be available for building affordable housing.

Another common example in the area of economic development is in the attraction of a major company. A new company may be very beneficial for financial and built capitals, but detrimental to natural capital, if the quality of air or water decreases. On the other hand, a new company may mean new training resulting in a more skilled workforce and thereby increasing human capital. A new company may also force other businesses to close, because they cannot afford higher wages, which reduces social, and possibly financial and political capitals. Each capital must be examined closely so that a certain balance is maintained and the tradeoffs are recognized and accepted by the community. Balance is critical for a good quality of life. If all seven of the capitals (i.e., social, human, built, natural, cultural, political, financial) are considered when making community and economic development decisions, results are greatly improved and development activities have greater citizen buy in.  

Q: How do you assess community assets and resources to help make informed development decisions?
To assess the assets and resources in a community, you would create an asset inventory by collecting data especially for this assessment (i.e., primary data) through observations, interviews with community officials, and other stakeholders or surveys. In addition, you would consult secondary data sources, such as state and local community websites (e.g., North Dakota Compass (www.ndcompass.org), federal websites (e.g., U.S. Census Bureau), aerial maps, architectural blueprints of community buildings, and other local documents that can provide useful information. All the data will need to be analyzed using quantitative and/or qualitative research methods to accurately depict what the data is telling you about your community.

Q: Would you like to add anything else about community capitals?
The importance of place cannot be over emphasized. This is the core piece that is kept front and center when using the community capitals framework in development decisions. The framework gives community leaders good information on which to make decisions. A final note: Decisions must be in sync with the culture and vision of the people who live in the community to reduce conflict and to increase citizen buy in.

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