Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Capacity means “the maximum amount that something can be contained.” It also means “an individual’s physical or mental ability;” and “the facility or power to produce, perform or deploy” 

So, to build capacity would include anything that is done to strengthen or increase ability/capability, space, or production, right? 

That seems simple enough when you think of expanding a room (or adding chairs) to increase capacity or taking a class, reading a book or getting a certification to build your personal capacity to accomplish a task. Let’s apply Capacity Building to whole communities and how we address complex issues like health, poverty, justice, or education. 

At Partners for Impact, when we talk about capacity building for community change, we are talking about interventions that happen at the individual, interpersonal, organizational and systems level. Our thinking about this is informed by Sheryl Petty and Mark Leach’s Systems Change and Deep Equity (2020, July 15; Change Elemental). In this monograph, they have a conversation about addressing deep equity across the layers from individual, interpersonal, and institutional, to systemic and societal. They say that within each of these levels there are basic tenets of complex systems change, impediments to deep equity, and pathways forward. 

As our consultants work with communities across North Carolina and Michigan, we focus on the following elements across all four levels to develop and build capacity for community change: 

  • Growth and development
  • People
  • Policies/rules
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflection/evaluation
  • Resources
  • Strategic thinking
  • Stories
  • Values


Let’s unpack just one example – Capacity Building for Community Change through Growth and Development

At the individual level: Within every project, we include time for meeting with leaders. In part, this is to keep communication lines open for project adjustments and managing expectations, deliverables and timelines. It also creates opportunities for building relationships with project leaders and allows us to provide deeper support through education or coaching. Philosophies, beliefs, values and mindsets are all formed at this level.

At the interpersonal level: Our coaching work often focuses on the interpersonal as we walk alongside executive leaders to challenge and support them in managing relationships, setting boundaries, strengthening the leaders within their teams, and engaging stakeholders. Power dynamics begin to play out at the interpersonal level. It is where we begin to act on our beliefs. 

At the organizational level: Organizations form cultures as the various values and perspectives of its members interplay with one another. Growth and development at the organizational level can look like team building, training, or intentional interventions to shape organizational culture. 

At the systems level: System level growth and development begins as individuals, organizations and groups across a community, engage in dialogue that expands the collective thinking. We create and facilitate iterative processes of community engagement to move this kind of thinking forward.


Each layer of capacity building work builds and strengthens the next layer. In future blogs, we will talk about some of the other elements that Partners for Impact consultants address as we work with our clients to build capacity for community change.