The Complexity of Community

Posted on November 13, 2012

Dakota Resources
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From the Immediate Past Chair Jon Farris

Communities are complex systems. When approaching issues and opportunities in community development we often only focus on what is immediate and obvious without consideration for the inter-relatedness of the people, organizations, and institutions

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which exist in that community. The community capitals framework, developed by Cornelia and Jan Flora along with Susan Fey and Mary Emery, provides a tool for analyzing how communities work. Every community has its own unique “ecosystem,” where resources and dynamic forces interact in complex ways. By examining those complex forces through a framework that identifies the elements inherent in each community, we are not only able to compare successful strategies, but also assess that communities greatest challenges and strengths. Thinking of each element of community dynamics as “capital” helps us to realize that these vital components can be utilized, invested, blended together and exchanged to enhance the community in significant ways. By regarding the various community capitals as bank accounts we can see them as fundamentally fluid parts of the working assets of a community— and we can build, use, or invest them in the ways that do the most good for that community. Human capital is the “people” account, including leadership, knowledge, information, and skills possessed by the people who live in the community. Social capital is the “networking” account, bringing together family and friends, as well as other people and organizations, such as those in government office who can help us understand the system. Natural capital is our “environmental” account of natural resources such as air, soil, water, and natural beauty—things we depend upon for our quality of

life. Financial capital is the “money” account related to financial resources and access to funding including savings, credit, grants, and tax revenue. Built capital covers our buildings and infrastructure, including houses, schools, businesses, clinics, libraries, water systems, electrical grid and communication and transportation systems. Cultural capital is our way of viewing the world as well as our habits and attitudes, bringing in dances, stories, food, and traditions and also our values and spiritual connections. The last of the seven “community capitals” is political capital, representing

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power and our connections to the people who have power, necessary as we unite to solve controversial issues both inside and outside our community. By assessing and using our community capitals we can formulate more effective plans for the future and achieve a healthy

ecosystem, a vital economy, and social well-being for all our citizens.


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