Community Building Toolkit


There are many ways to understand and describe a community. One of the primary research approaches in community building and development is that of the Community Capitals Framework (CCF), developed by sociologists Cornelia and Jan Flora at Iowa State University. According to their research, communities most successful in supporting sustainable community development and economic growth paid attention to seven types of community capital (i.e., natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial, and built). The capitals interact among each other in such a way that investments in one capital can lead to asset building in another.

Community capitals are assets or resources that belong to the community which instead of being wasted or saved for future use are invested in order to create new resources and additional benefits. A sustainable and entrepreneurial community wisely manages all its capitals and invests them in a way that enhances their value, in order to continually improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.

The seven community capitals include:

  • Natural capital: Natural capital refers to natural resources that can provide valuable goods and services into the future if managed in a sustainable way (e.g., fossil fuels, metals, minerals, wood, food, water, energy, ecosystem services, and natural beauty).
  • Cultural capital: Cultural capital is the product of shared experience through traditions, customs, values, heritage, identity, and history. It includes values and symbols as well as the lens through which people view and understand the world. Enhancing cultural capital implies consideration of traditions and values, heritage and place, the arts, diversity, and social history.
  • Human capital: Human capital is represented by the health, education, skills, knowledge, and competencies of people in the community and their ability to pursue and achieve individual livelihood objectives. Human capital is shaped through training, education, and experience and it needs investments throughout one's lifetime.
  • Social capital: Social capital reflects the connections among people and organizations and also reveals the social glue that holds our communities together. It involves informal social networks, as well as formal attributes related to institutions and social development programs. Two types of social capital can be found in a community. A bonding social capital refers to close ties that build community cohesion, while a bridging social capital involves weak ties that create and maintain bridges among organizations and communities.
  • Political capital: Political capital reflects access to power and power representatives, such as access to a local, county, state, or tribal government official (e.g., a local office of a member of Congress). Political capital focuses on the ability of a group to influence and enforce standards, rules, and regulations.
  • Financial capital: Financial capital refers to the public and private financial resources available to invest in business and social enterprise development and the accumulation of wealth for future community development. Financial capital also shows the personal financial resources available for people to achieve positive well-being and generate wealth through goods and services production.
  • Built capital: Built capital is the infrastructure that supports the community and the other capitals, such as roads, bridges and buildings, cultural facilities, etc. It also includes other material resources, such as equipment, machinery, and other infrastructure that can be used to produce goods and a flow of future income. Built capital is often a focus of community development efforts.

It is important to note that the seven capitals are not independent. Changes to one can have an influence on other capitals. For example, investment in developing parks and recreation areas help build social capital by providing more opportunities for people to interact. As pollutants in the air increase, an increasingly large percentage of the population is likely to experience increasingly severe adverse health effects. An increase in the access to and development of natural resources, such as oil and natural gas in the western part of the state, has resulted in the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and the highest rate of population growth.  However, the access to and development of natural resources has also created significant strain on infrastructure, a lack of available and affordable housing, and a changing sense of community. In addition to the seven capitals and their interaction, special attention should be given to the local government and community development organizations and consideration of  their implications on community development.

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

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