Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Measuring capacity building in communities: a review of the literature

Selma C Liberato1*, Julie Brimblecombe1, Jan Ritchie23, Megan Ferguson1 and John Coveney4

Author Affiliations

1 Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia

2 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

3 School of Public Health, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

4 School of Medicine, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2011, 11:850  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-850

Published: 9 November 2011



Although communities have long been exhorted to make efforts to enhance their own health, such approaches have often floundered and resulted in little or no health benefits when the capacity of the community has not been adequately strengthened. Thus being able to assess the capacity building process is paramount in facilitating action in communities for social and health improvement. The current review aims to i) identify all domains used in systematically documented frameworks developed by other authors to assess community capacity building; and ii) to identify the dimensions and attributes of each of the domains as ascribed by these authors and reassemble them into a comprehensive compilation.


Relevant published articles were identified through systematic electronic searches of selected databases and the examination of the bibliographies of retrieved articles. Studies assessing capacity building or community development or community participation were selected and assessed for methodological quality, and quality in relation to the development and application of domains which were identified as constituents of community capacity building. Data extraction and analysis were undertaken using a realist synthesis approach.


Eighteen articles met the criteria for this review. The various domains to assess community capacity building were identified and reassembled into nine comprehensive domains: "learning opportunities and skills development", "resource mobilization", "partnership/linkages/networking", "leadership", "participatory decision-making", "assets-based approach", "sense of community", "communication", and "development pathway". Six sub-domains were also identified: "shared vision and clear goals", "community needs assessment", "process and outcome monitoring", "sustainability", "commitment to action" and "dissemination".


The set of domains compiled in this review serve as a foundation for community-based work by those in the field seeking to support and nurture the development of competent communities. Further research is required to examine the robustness of capacity domains over time and to examine capacity development in association with health or other social outcomes.