Where to Learn More About and Practice Capacity Building
Capacity building is not only essential for lasting community work, it is also an important skill to have for your career. If you want to learn more about capacity building or want to have an opportunity to improve your capacity building skills, there are many opportunities on and off campus to gain practical experience in building capacity. For example, you might
- Participate in service-learning or civic engagement activities that include capacity
building with community partners as a key component.
- Work as a resident assistant in the residence hall, where you organize activities
to strengthen the living/learning community.
- Sign up for workshops or trainings in facilitation, leadership, or community organizing
that emphasize shared leadership and ways of conveying knowledge and skills to others.
- Serve on a board of an organization, on or off campus, where the group focuses on
underlying causes of issues instead of the symptoms of a community issue.
- Lead alternative spring break trips, where you focus on strengthening local organizations
more than providing free labor for projects.
- Be an active committee member in a community group, where you work to ensure smooth
leadership transitions over time.
- Serve as an intern in a nonprofit organization, government agency, or faith-based
organization, where making a long-term difference in the community is a goal.
- Work on a community-based research project, where you collaborate with the community
partner during the research and support them as they collect and analyze the data
(instead of you doing it for them).
- Join a political organization, participate in training on community organizing, and work to address a social justice issue through grassroots organizing.
Through these opportunities, you will be able to learn about and practice different elements of capacity building. Over time, you will learn how to adopt a capacity building mindset and frame opportunities for both you and your community partner to learn, grow, and change in ways that are reciprocal, generative, and sustainable in the long term.
A Video Solution
One day, at a staff meeting, the accountant gave them an ultimatum about inaccurate paperwork and showed them a short, funny video he had made about the right way to complete the forms. Everyone loved the video. Since it was always available, no one had to remember how to do the paperwork—they just had to remember where to find the video, watch it, and follow the directions.
Since the video was such a hit, Ryan thought a similar video might work for helping Riverfront staff learn the steps for uploading new content to their webpage. Alicia was thrilled with this suggestion. She had just learned how to make videos in a class on campus and was dying to try it out. Right away, she went to talk with Zoe about the possibility of a webpage update video. Zoe liked the idea and even offered to help make the video. Together, Alicia and Zoe made the web video. When they shared it at staff meeting, it was a big hit with everyone.
In her service-learning journal, Alicia wrote: It was so helpful to have talked with Ryan about the accountant's video. Ryan let me in on "how things work around here at Riverfront." On my own, I would have never thought about making a how-to video. I was thinking of some kind of cheat sheet or manual, which probably wouldn't have worked. It was so much better to build on something that was already known to be a success at Riverfront.
In the end, I was so happy to know that my webpage work at Riverfront would continue even after my service-learning placement was over. Capacity building wasn't as difficult as I thought at first. I'm so glad I made an effort to try it. Making sure my work had a lasting impact gave me a huge sense of accomplishment—more than a few new webpages ever could.
How might you tap into local knowledge to come up with successful ideas to make your
community work last beyond your service-learning placement? How might you find ways
to build capacity in addition to your service?
If you aren't quite sure where to begin, take a minute to review the nine bullet points above. Each of those items provide you with suggestions on how you can get started with capacity building.