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Facilitating community change: The Community Capitals Framework, its relevance to community psychology practice, and its application in a Georgia community

Facilitating community change: The Community Capitals Framework, its relevance to community psychology practice, and its application in a Georgia community by  Ashley E. Anglin

Author: Ashley E. Anglin


This article aims to contribute to the discussion of holistic community development models by presenting and evaluating the Community Capitals Framework (CCF; Flora & Flora, 2004) within the field of community psychology and within a Georgia community. The CCF is a conceptual framework from the field of sociology that includes seven forms of community capital (cultural, natural, human, social, financial, political, and built). These capitals can be used to better understand how communities work and thrive through the identification of assets in each capital and the ways in which the capitals interact in specific contexts. Focusing on the assets that generate community capital is the cornerstone of the CCF and plays a transformative role in the way that the planning and development process unfolds in community settings. This is shown in the case example of South Rome, GA. Results suggest that the CCF—especially when imbued with the values of community empowerment, diversity, and inclusion/participation—is a valuable tool for helping stakeholders approach community development from a systems perspective, combat hopelessness, and foster common language and plans for the future.


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Author’s Note: The author would like to share that she lived in Rome, Georgia for 18 years and has been extensively involved in the South Rome Redevelopment process. She was officially asked by members of the South Rome Redevelopment Coalition to join their initiative as a community researcher and program evaluator in 2012. The author would like to acknowledge the community members who participated in this research and whose insights and opinions will help to create a positive future for South Rome. In particular, she would like to thank Jackie McDowell, Dean of Education and Human Sciences at Berry College; Carol Willis, Director of the Rome/Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth; Cary Ingram, pastor at Lovejoy Baptist Church; Phil Wood, Principal of South East Elementary School; and Melissa Jones, past director of the South Rome Redevelopment Corporation, who took an active role in making this research project possible. She would also like to thank and acknowledge the following organizations who sponsored this research: the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) Community Psychology Practice Council, Berry College, the Bonner Center for Community Engagement, and the South Rome Redevelopment Corporation.

Introduction: The Community Capitals Framework

Community development approaches are well suited to address multifaceted community issues that matter to local residents (e.g., Dixon & Sindall, 1994; Sorensen, Emmons, Hunt, & Johnson, 1998). Communities represent complex, dynamic systems, and combining “community” with “development” adds to this complexity. Therefore, models or frameworks are often used as a guide to assure that all stakeholders can engage in the process (i.e., by using common terms and setting common goals) and to provide a means of evaluating change as it occurs. There are many existing models for the community development process, and in choosing a model, stakeholders must assure that the framework is contextually appropriate and is able to facilitate concrete planning and next-steps, while also remaining flexible to the changing strengths and needs of the community (Cavaye, 2006). This article aims to contribute to the discussion of frameworks for holistic community development by presenting and evaluating the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) (Flora & Flora, 2004) as a guiding model and tool to facilitate community change. The discussion includes an exploration of the ways in which Community Psychology values and principles can complement and expand on the applied value of this framework and includes a case study that was conducted in a community undergoing a large-scale redevelopment initiative.

The CCF is a conceptual framework—developed in the field of sociology and grounded in literature from multiple disciplines—for exploring the assets and resources present in communities that can be leveraged for change. The CCF is a tool to help researchers and community members approach community change from a systems perspective through the identification of assets in each capital (stocks of capital), how capital is invested within a community (flow of capital), and the ways in which the capitals interact (Emery & Flora, 2006). Broadly, community capitals are assets or resources that can be utilized to produce additional resources (Flora & Flora, 2013). Focusing on the assets that generate community capital is the cornerstone of the CCF and plays a transformative role in the way that the planning and development process unfolds in community settings. Conversely, focusing on the negative, with a list of problems and no easy solutions, is often overwhelming, causing community members to become resistant to change (Emery, Fey, & Flora, 2006). When using the CCF as basis for community development, community members are encouraged to begin by identifying the positive aspects of their community, which can counteract the potentially negative conversations surrounding community change (Emery & Flora, 2006), and theoretically combat learned helplessness and hopelessness. These assets can foster positive community perceptions, empower community members, and start the process of planning for a better future.

Mapping community assets into groups creates community capitals that represent all aspects of community life. These capitals may be tangible (e.g., parks, businesses, roadways) or intangible (e.g., political influence, pride of heritage, norms of community service), and can be invested, saved, or depleted (Flora & Flora, 2004). Communities invest capital when they use those assets to improve the community. Capital can also be depleted or wasted. This might be the case when, in response to outside forces or through the influences of a few businesses, financial resources, time, and skills are invested to create a new strip mall that is not needed or wanted by community members; it therefore fails to contribute additional assets to the community. To better conceptualize the distribution of assets within communities, the CCF includes seven forms of community capital, discussed in detail in the following section.

The Seven Forms of Community Capital

The CCF includes seven forms of community capital—natural capital, cultural capital, human capital, social capital, political capital, financial capital, and built capital. Specific examples of each form of capital summarized from the literature can be seen in Figure 1.

Natural capital. Natural capital consists of assets that are tied to specific locations and include geographic location, natural resources, climate, amenities, and natural beauty. According to Ruggeri (2009), the existing definitions of natural capital can be broken down into four categories: 1) those that identify natural capital as a stock of resources used to produce market goods and services (e.g., European Environment Agency, 2007; - World Bank Group, 2004), 2) those that add ecosystem services to the resources-to-goods production (e.g., Berkes & Folke, 1992; Hackett, 2001), 3) those that identify the spiritual and aesthetic aspects of the natural environment (e.g., Gilpin, 2000; Pearce, 1988), and 4) those that recognize the role natural capital plays in supporting life and survival (e.g., Anielski & Willson, 2005; Olewiler, 2004).

Cultural capital. According to Flora and Flora (2013), “cultural capital determines what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is to be achieved, and how knowledge is validated” (p. 55) through the community power structure (Weber, 1947; Williams, 2004). It includes the values, language, traditions, and world-views of community members and reflects the way people know and interpret the world around them based on their multiple cultural identities (e.g., Harrison, Huntington, & Samuel, 2000; Sen, 2000; Williams, 2004). Cultural capital is a practical resource as people use stories, rituals, symbols, and traditions to make decisions and to pass on a legacy to their children, which is especially important because it directly affects the choices and opportunities that are available to youth in the community (Flora & Flora, 2013).

Human capital. Human capital is comprised of the attributes of community members that can be used to develop and increase resources both within and outside of the community, including their ability to earn a living, strengthen sense of community, and contribute to community organizations, their families, and their own self-improvement (Becker, 2002). These attributes include, but are not limited to, educational and technical skills, a healthy lifestyle, and personal attributes such as honesty, leadership skills, and work ethic (Flora & Flora, 2013).

Social capital. The connections among community members and organizations that allow people to come together to foster change (both positive and negative) are reflected in social capital (Flora & Flora, 2013). Within the field of sociology, social capital has been explained in terms of norms of reciprocity and mutual trust (e.g., Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988). Social capital can be built through the encouragement of community adaptability, responsibility, and initiative (Flora & Flora, 2013), and by promoting interactions that strengthen group members’ commitment to their group’s values and goals (Coleman, 1988).

Political capital. Political capital includes community members’ abilities to engage in community betterment and to make their voices heard regarding community issues (Aigner, Flora & Hernandez, 2001; Emery & Flora, 2006). Additionally, this form of capital encompasses organizations, connections, norms, and values that are officially organized into enforced rules and regulations. Political capital reflects how power is distributed, and the access that community members have to organizations, shared resources, and power brokers (Flora & Flora, 2004).

Financial capital. Financial resources that can be invested in community capacity-building to create new business, to accumulate wealth for future development, and to promote entrepreneurship, are the primary components of financial capital (Emery & Flora, 2006; Lorenz, 1995). Although the term financial capital often translates to money, money is not always financial capital and financial capital is not always money (Flora & Flora, 2013). Financial capital does, however, consist of resources that are translated into monetary instruments, which means that they are highly liquid, or able to be easily converted into other forms of capital.

Built capital. Built capital consists of the built infrastructure that supports all of the activities and capitals described above (Flora & Flora, 2004). Built capital also facilitates production, through buildings (which enable companies to make retail products), roads (used in the transport of raw materials to a production factory), and power plants (Flora & Flora, 2013).

Community Psychology and the CCF

Social justice and social change are primary concerns for the field of community psychology, and to address these issues practitioners need a detailed understanding of context and contextual issues, as well as methods that can be utilized to increase this understanding (Foster-Fishman & Behrens, 2007). Despite the attention that has been given to understanding context in the field, the abilities of many community psychologists still cannot address the growing need for transformative change within any given society (Foster-Fishman & Behrens, 2007). Research with the CCF is useful as it conceptualizes communities as dynamic systems comprised of community capitals, and the tracking of changes in capital assets over time has the potential to present an informative representation of systems change in progress.

In addition, in the introduction to the American Journal of Community Psychology special issue on systems change, Foster-Fishman & Behrens (2007) state that based on current research, changes to discrete system parts may be an outcome of systems change efforts, but may fail to create sustained change in a system or alter the status quo. A change in one part of a system will only lead to large-scale change if that component also leads to change in other system elements; the parts of systems are interrelated and interdependent.  Therefore, the focus should be on “understanding and shifting the interdependencies within systems and the consequences of those interactions” (p. 194). The CCF is a useful tool to help community members visualize the flow of resources and set specific priorities. By mapping existing assets within each capital and evaluating these over time, community members can work together to explore which changes or interventions can have the greatest impact.  

Finally, mental models, or cognitive frameworks, have also been found to play an important role in systems change efforts (Foster-Fishman & Behrens, 2007). The CCF provides a conceptual framework that promotes systems thinking and helps to organize and identify common strengths. When thinking in terms of community capitals, all stakeholders speak a common language and their assets and suggestions can be more easily compared and discussed. The CCF can also shift thinking about how change should occur when community members see change as building community capital for the future. For example, instead of thinking only of discrete changes (e.g., the construction of the new school), stakeholders have a common mental model that allows them to think about the multiple ways in which that one discrete change may prompt further change (e.g., the growth in social, cultural, and human capital that results from the construction of the new school). It can also be useful to help community change agents identify other stakeholders that should be brought into the process.

Community Psychology Values: Expanding the CCF

Beyond contributing to the common goals of community psychologists, the CCF is also compatible with the discipline’s values and can be enhanced through integration into the field. First, research with the CCF has the potential to promote empowerment and instill a pro-change community culture (Emery & Flora, 2006). Research methodologies and techniques from community psychology, such as participatory action research (PAR), can be used along with the CCF to further the potential for empowerment. A characteristic of PAR is that it is a strengths-based approach that capitalizes on personal and relational assets and community resources (Rappaport, 1994). In this way, the fundamental assumptions of PAR and the CCF are parallel when it comes to empowerment, suggesting a fruitful combination. Specifically, these goals and strategies include diminishing the traditional researcher-participant boundaries present in psychological research, focusing on constructing individual and collective identities, creating of a common language between researcher and community (Taylor et al., 2006), and adding elements of social action (Lewin, 1946).

Second, the community psychology value of diversity can guide the community development process to ensure all voices are heard, included, and valued. Though it is not directly addressed, the CCF assumes to some extent that resources are uniformly distributed in communities, waiting for residents to find and utilize them. However, valuing diversity means considering variation in perception, experience, and accessibility. From a community psychology perspective, exploring barriers to and diversity in community assets should be integral to the process (Rappaport, 1994).

Third, the community psychology principles of inclusion and participation can be further infused with the CCF by assuring that all interested residents are invited to participate. By focusing on inclusion and participation, research with the CCF can lead to the creation of new settings and conversations. As will be discussed in the following case study, residents involved in community change efforts often join together in official or unofficial groups to continue the work and/or to connect on newfound mutual interests.

Case Study: Community Development in South Rome using the CCF

The context of this case study is South Rome, Georgia, which is located in the larger city of Rome, Georgia, in the southern United States. South Rome has a population of approximately 4,364 and the median resident age in 2010 was 34. Within South Rome, 37.4% of community members reported an ethnicity of White/Non-Hispanic, 55.3% Black/Non-Hispanic, and 14.2% Hispanic (higher than the City’s overall Hispanic population of 5.3%). Residents of South Rome primarily live in rental units (52%) and of the 1,342 housing units, 1,222 were occupied as of 2010 (United States Census Bureau, 2010).  When entering South Rome, the historical legacy of the context is instantly apparent. This feeling of history is a true representation, as the housing within this community is the oldest in Floyd County (the county in which the entirety of Rome City is located). The median year of structure construction is 1949, compared to 1970 for the County and 1963 for the City. However, despite a history of prosperity, for many years the community had been in a state of decline in terms of the infrastructure and job opportunities, with a growing crime rate and poverty level. Beginning in 2010, community stakeholders have come together to take action with the goal of transformative and sustainable community changes.

As momentum for the redevelopment process grew, members of the South Rome Redevelopment Coalition—which includes a resident advisory group, two local colleges, the neighborhood school, a school system, one national and three community organizations, and a state corporation—expressed the need for a framework to guide their program development, maintain a positive focus, foster community collaboration, and assure that they approach community change holistically. As with any community work, it is vital first to assess whether the methodologies, approaches, and tools considered for use are relevant to the context. This is often a difficult process, which involves significant, meaningful collaboration and a deep understanding of the cultural, historical, institutional, and sociopolitical forces that exist within a community. The assumption is that these forces can have a profound impact on diversity and group dynamics (Harrell & Bond, 2006) as well as on a community’s capacity for change (Goodman, et al., 1998). Therefore, before selecting an approach or tool to facilitate the redevelopment process, time was spent discussing the goals and aspirations of community members and change agents, and all those involved in the project spent time exploring and discussing the aspects of the community that make it unique.

After much discussion, the CCF was selected by members of the South Rome Redevelopment Coalition as the chosen framework for their efforts. The potential for the information generated through research using the CCF to be used for community action was enhanced by community stakeholders’ support of the CCF and the collaborative method in which it was selected. In order to sustain changes, community members need to have a sense of collective efficacy and hope that their community can experience positive change (Foster-Fishman, Cantillon, Pierce, & Van Egeren, 2007). These efforts and enthusiasm combined with the local knowledge of community members set the groundwork for using the CCF to facilitate the community change process.

The Process Unfolds in South Rome

In order to explore the existing assets of the South Rome community, the coalition developed a mixed-methods approach that involved conducting community workshops to uncover community assets and distributing activity books that consisted of both established scales that measure constructs proposed to be community capital components as well as open-ended questions and activities related to each form of capital. Representatives from several participating organizations recruited additional community residents by invitation. Recruitment also occurred through recommendations by other participants (snowball sampling).

A total of 38 community members participated in the workshops. The first workshop was held at Berry College with student members of the South Rome Boys and Girls Club (six female and four male with a mean age of 15.87). The second workshop was held at the newly constructed Etowah Terrace, a housing development that caters primarily to low-income, retired adults. These participants ranged in age from 58-86 years (M = 65.8; 4 female and 4 male). The third and final community workshop was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and was conducted predominantly in Spanish, the primary language of all 10 participants (6 female, 4 male, with a mean age of 32.34).

During the workshops, residents responded to the following prompts: 1) “Think about a time that you were proud of your community (South Rome). This can involve: people, places, activities, etc. Please describe this time.” 2) “What about this time made you feel proud?” 3) “What do you value the most about living in South Rome?” (for the stories of past success); and 4) “We would like to hear your story about what you would like the future of South Rome to look like. Share your short story here” (for stories of future aspirations).  The assets and aspirations generated by community members were mapped onto the community capitals outlined by the CCF, providing a picture of what strengths the community has to work with when planning for the future. As an example, current assets and dreams related to cultural capital are presented in Table 1.

In addition to the workshops, community activity books were distributed to South Rome community members, which consisted of several established measures that assess constructs related to each form of capital (see Table 2), mapping activities, open-ended questions and listing of assets in each capital (basic definitions of related constructs were provided), and envisioning/story-telling activities. The coalition team felt that it was important to go beyond just using the CCF to facilitate the listing of assets and aspirations (those in Figure 2).  It was also important to include survey measures related to each of the capitals because the team realized that many community assets are inherent in individuals. For example, the environmental attitudes of residents are an important component of natural capital, but because they are implicit attitudes, they might not be readily accessible (see Connectedness to Nature Scale).

A total of 157 South Rome residents completed the community activity books (107 female, 39 male, 1 transgender, 10 gender unreported). The diverse sample ranged in age from 12 -74 years (M = 34.22, SD = 16.44). The majority of participants identified as “Black” (78.3%) followed by “Caucasian/White” (8.9%), “Multi-ethnic” (5.7%), and Hispanic/Latino/a (0.6%) and the reported length of residency ranged from .5 years to 64 years (M = 12.81, SD = 13.49). The mode level of education was “High School or Equivalent” (47.1%), followed by “Some College” (20.4%), and the mode area of employment reported was “Student” (30.6%), followed by “Unemployed” (15.9%). The median family income for the sample as a whole was $10,000-$19,999.

Out of the total sample, 68.8% of participants generated one or more strengths for each of the community capitals (see Figure 2), and all participants (100%) provided at least one suggestion for the future. Community stories of past success and future aspirations were also grouped thematically to illuminate shared experiences and goals. For example, community members’ stories of past success were a wonderful reflection of what the community once was and what participants would like it to be again. These stories were encompassed by the themes of Social Events, Helping Behavior, Safety through Togetherness. When asked to share what they most value about the South Rome community, the vast majority of participants mentioned their friends, family, and the sense of community they have developed. From these stories, it was clear that residents most value the social and cultural domains of their community and that building on these strengths is the key to future success.

As demonstrated by the variety of assets listed, stories told, and individual characteristics identified by this study, the CCF was effective in promoting holistic thinking and organizing community resources in this context. When the coalition first came together many years ago, it started by brainstorming existing resources. While this was a helpful exercise, the team was only able to identify 15 unique assets. By using this framework and by bringing in additional community members, the total number of assets listed soared to 754, 85 of which were unique (i.e., not duplicated across the capitals). Additionally, these did not include those implicit attitudes and values uncovered by the activity book measures, such as environmental attitudes, the value of education, attitudes toward diversity, and social capital. Many residents and coalition members directly expressed how by “thinking in capitals,” they realized just how many community strengths they had been ignoring. Even more importantly, when we grouped the total assets together by capital a clear picture of how assets are distributed within the community emerged, highlighting strengths in natural and built capital and needs in human and political capital (see Figure 3).

As the process unfolded in the South Rome context, the CCF became more than just a way to collect assets. It helped the community to set priorities and make plans for the future and it helped them to better understand how the community works as a system of overlapping and interacting capitals. Once the workshops were completed and activity books were collected, community stakeholders worked together to analyze the results and to create action plans based on the findings. Below is an example of a community priority and accompanying action steps developed by the coalition:

  • Create programming aimed at bridging the generational gap in the community.
    • Action Items:
      • Search for and contact local artists about participating in the South Rome historical mural project. Ideally, this mural would be the work of several diverse artists, and include both youth and adults. Reach out to partner organizations or small-grant programs to discuss funding the supplies that will be used to create the mural once the new school has opened. Also, coalition members should speak with Etowah Terrace [local retirement community] residents and other long-term community members regarding their interest in creating programming (e.g., storytelling days) to go along with the new mural.
      • Contact Anna K. Davie, [local school] teachers, staff, and parents and Etowah Terrace residents and staff about their interest in serving as the project coordinator for the intergenerational mentorship program. If multiple people are interested in serving, elections can be held. The elected coordinators at both sites should then meet with coalition members to discuss the vision for this program. Additional leadership roles could then be established for those who expressed interest in helping with this initiative, but were not elected to the coordinator position.

This priority emerged from discussion of the finding that older adults in the community remember the “old South Rome,” when the community was thriving, while younger residents tend to see the community as static and unchanging. The stories of the older residents provide an example of what the community was and what it can be again. Coalition members also saw the benefit to several capital domains of investing existing cultural capital embodied in the older adults through this programming: creating new connections between youth and adults (social capital), sharing the stories of the past (cultural capital), and supporting the school system and giving the youth a safe space to spend time after school (human capital). Similarly, all six additional priorities set by the coalition were intentionally designed to take existing strengths and invest them to meet the needs of the community.

Lessons Learned and Suggestions for Practice

Overall, one of the greatest strengths of the CCF is in its flexibility and compatibility with collaborative processes. It can be applied in multiple settings in a way that best fits with the needs and goals of community members. Because the framework is accessible and includes a wide variety of domains, it facilitates the inclusion of a broad diversity of co-researchers and allows for the values of the community to drive the process. In the South Rome community, the original plan was to only conduct workshops to discuss and list community capitals. However, based on their knowledge of the community and strong value of inclusion, two leaders at a local organization mentioned that not everyone in the community has time to attend a meeting, or may not be able to find someone to watch their children while they attend, and they should not be left out. By raising this issue, the community activity books were created. Once work began on the activity books, others mentioned the need to assess residents’ internal strengths, so the survey measures were added. Using the CCF does not necessarily require expert knowledge of research methods, but it does open the door for meaningful collaboration between researchers and community members where appropriate.

The strengths-based focus of the CCF also provides added value to community change efforts by reframing the discussion. It is often very easy to make a list of “what’s wrong” in the community. The focus on the negative, with a list of problems and no easy solutions is often overwhelming, causing community members to become resistant to change (Emery, Fey, & Flora, 2006). Assets, on the other hand, foster positive community perceptions, empower community members, and start the process of planning for a better future. In South Rome, when all of the assets were combined, the impact on all of those involved in the process was substantial. It renewed a sense of hope to see such a long list of what is going right in the community and it helped them to take their first steps in building on those strengths.

However, when using the CCF it is important to think of it not simply as a way to create a list of strengths, but also as a way to collect and combine community stories in a manner that is inclusive of diverse voices and values the experiences behind residents’ perspectives. The stories, explanations, and experiences that accompany each asset are just as informative as the assets themselves. For example, in South Rome one resident listed “Churches” as an asset within natural, built, social, and cultural capital. When used only to calculate a variable or percentage, the perceived reasoning behind assigning “Churches” to four different capitals is lost. However, combined with the stories and experiences of the community member, the way that “Churches” can fit within multiple capitals was revealed. From this resident’s perspective, churches generate natural capital because they provide beautiful landscaping and places to sit outside; built capital because they support community activities and are, in many cases, historic buildings; social capital through their programming and events; and cultural capital by bringing together a diverse group of people.

Finally, the CCF can be more than a tool for collecting primary data when it is integrated into a long-term planning and evaluation process. In South Rome, the continuation of this community-based research as an evaluation tool for the South Rome redevelopment initiative as a whole has been useful to shed light on how and to what impact community change has occurred. The information collected through the workshops and activity books serves as a baseline for the South Rome community that will be repeatedly evaluated and assessed as the revitalization process continues. Tracking the changes in capital assets over time will present an informative representation of systems change in progress. By using the CCF in this way, community members can take an active role in understanding and enacting community change, from data collection to planning, to evaluation.


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Figure 1: Community Capitals Composition Based on Literature Review
Table 1: Workshop Assets and Dreams for Cultural Capital
Table 2: Table of Measures Included in the Community Activity Books
Figure 2. Frequently Mentioned Assets in Each Capital in South Rome
Figure 3. Community Assets Overall For South Rome


Ashley E. Anglin Ashley E. Anglin

Ashley Anglin, PhD is the coordinator of the Healthy Communities Program in the Atlantic Center for Population Health Sciences at Atlantic Health System in Morristown, NJ. Broadly, her aim is to collaborate with community residents and organizations to conduct research and develop programs that promote holistic wellbeing, with special attention to the diversity of communities and the ways in which the circumstances in which people live, as well as larger forces—such as economics, social policies and politics—influence the wellbeing of individuals and communities. Email: Corresponding address: 475 South Street Morristown, NJ 07960. 

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