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Rural Health Information Hub

Building Community Capacity to Shape Outcomes of Health Equity Work

Advancing health equity may require capacity building by promoting the ability of communities that experience inequities to shape conditions that affect health and well-being.

Map Community Assets

A first step to building community capacity may be identifying community assets to understand existing community strengths and identify opportunities for intervention. The Social Determinants of Health Toolkit discusses asset-based community approaches, including the process of asset mapping.

Promote Civic Engagement

Civic engagement, such as volunteering and voting, allows community members to actively change conditions that affect health and well-being. The Community Tool Box offers a comprehensive Justice Action Toolkit that describes opportunities for communities to promote civic engagement to advance health equity.

Develop Rural Leaders

Supporting rural leadership can help shift power dynamics to be more representative of communities that experience inequities. One strategy to develop leaders is through pipeline programs that encourage young rural leaders to remain in rural communities. Training and skill-building for rural leadership development emphasizes improving communication, increasing knowledge and education, and providing opportunities for engaging community members to participate in achieving goals.

The RuraLead Learning Initiative is conducting a key study into equitable rural leadership development, including an inventory of rural leadership programs and “journeys” that detail how rural leaders have emerged in different regions of the country.

Promote the Capacity of Nontraditional Partners to Apply for Funding Opportunities

Building capacity may involve helping nontraditional partners apply for funding to realize their vision of health equity. For example, some community partners may need additional training or support to connect with and build relationships with philanthropies. Others may need legal assistance to set up the infrastructure for receiving and managing funds. For example, Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center (SEAHEC) helped a local community coalition secure legal assistance to formalize their status to a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which allowed the coalition to apply for, receive, and control their own funding.

Examples of Programs Building Community Capacity to Shape Outcomes

  • The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust's Healthy Places NC initiative is funding communities to improve health outcomes through systems change in rural North Carolina. The program emphasizes the importance of community-led efforts and capacity building for sustainable change. West Marion Inc. is a Healthy Places NC participant.
  • Alianza in the rural Coachella Valley helps elevate local resident leadership to create opportunities for civic engagement, leadership development, and collective impact.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rural Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program helps rural organizations and tribes create community development and affordable housing strategies. The program offers grantees training to support grant management.
  • The California Rural Legal Assistance's Community Equity Initiative supports rural residents with opportunities to address environmental justice and take part in improving their own communities.
  • Lake County Build a Generation works to provide opportunities for rural Lake County, Colorado, agencies to increase their health equity capacity through ongoing training and coaching opportunities.
  • The Colorado Trust's Health Equity Advocacy Strategy supports organizations to enhance the ability of community members to advance health equity. Organizations work with community members to provide leadership development training and build their capacity to engage in political processes.

Questions for Consideration

  • What is the readiness of collaborators to engage in the work? What assets and skills are already present in the community?
  • What skills are needed to advance health equity and implement priority strategies? What training or capacity building is necessary to help build those skills?
  • Who are the decision-makers in the community? Who is not represented in discussions that affect health outcomes and health equity?
  • Are there any barriers to civic engagement, such as voting, in the community?

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

AmeriCorps Evidence Exchange
Provides a database of evaluation reports from AmeriCorps-funded projects, including civic engagement and capacity-building initiatives.
Organization(s): AmeriCorps

The Brushy Fork Community Leadership Development Curriculum
Describes a curriculum to expand leadership capacity in the coalfield regions of Central Appalachia that is locally driven, affordable, and adaptable to meet the needs of rural communities.
Organization(s): Brushy Fork Leadership Institute, Berea College

Civic Engagement
Provides an overview of youth civic engagement and resources related to promoting youth civic action.
Organization(s): The Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs

Civic Engagement and Civic Infrastructure to Advance Health Equity: A Workshop
Discusses the relationship between health equity and civic engagement. Workshop proceedings are provided through a 21-video series and accompanying documentation.
Organization(s): The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Rural Development Initiatives (RDI)
Helps rural communities develop networks of rural leaders by offering leadership programs, revive rural economic vitality through customized training and technical support, and organize rural leaders as advocates for rural-specific issues.
Organization(s): RDI

Thrive Rural: Connecting Rural Development, Health and Opportunity
Works with academics, practitioners, and policymakers to blend knowledge and experience to address the racial, economic, and geographic inequality in rural communities. Focus is on what efforts work and what is needed to create a shared vision and understanding that will support and improve the health and well-being of rural America.
Organization(s): Aspen Institute, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation