CSU researchers develop tool to measure community capacity for resilience and successful disaster response

Multi-ethnic hands claspingWhy do some communities have better outcomes for citizens when faced with disasters and challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic? The answer has to do with institutions that communities have in place that can adapt and be resilient in the face of challenges. Colorado State University researchers have developed a way to measure and quantify a community’s democratic resources to respond. It’s called the Civic Capacity Index.

The development of the Civic Capacity Index is a project led by Dave MacPhee, interim director of the CSU School of Social Work, who is also a professor emeritus in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and a research associate in the department’s Prevention Research Center, along with Patti Schmitt, director of the Family Leadership Training Institute in CSU Extension, and David Chrislip, principal of Skillful Means and the Kansas Leadership Center.

Measuring community resilience

Portrait of David MacPhee
David MacPhee

This Civic Capacity Index measures the resilience of a community when faced with challenges and disruptions, using the framework from the CCI to understand how to take advantage of existing civic capacities, understanding what is lacking for the resilience of the community, and how to build a community-driven foundation to face any future challenges. Rural communities typically are less resilient when facing disasters because their social capital is limited by factors such as fewer community civic organizations and professional and labor groups.

In spite of some of their strengths, such as strong family ties and informal mental health supports, rural communities can be challenged by a lack of support services for families and youth. In face of the current pandemic, it is important now more than ever to understand community resilience and how to effectively prepare for adversities within communities.

“The coronavirus has revealed, not for the first time, many of the staggering issues of inequality in our country. Extension has a role in balancing the scales of justice at the local level, because programs that enhance social capital are a conduit of social justice,” Chrislip, MacPhee and Schmitt wrote in their article “Civic Capacity Building in COVID-19 Recovery Planning in Rural America” which appeared in Rural Connections magazine, a publication of the Western Rural Development Center at the University of Utah.

Boettcher Foundation funding

The Civic Capacity Index project is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation to CSU’s Prevention Research Center. The grant will support two activities in relation to the Prevention Research Center’s focus on community engagement and translational science.

The initial stage of the two-part project aims to validate the Civic Capacity Index against indicators of community resilience and well-being, equity and inclusion, and collective efficacy. In the face of the current pandemic, the CCI will be used to assess five counties with high resilience and five counties with low indicators of resilience. The communities that will be measured were selected in collaboration with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment epidemiologists.

The second stage is aimed at the translational science aspect of the project. This focuses on providing these communities with technical assistance involving training community collaborators in using the CCI. It also focuses on developing materials and effective programs for the support of facilitators and participants when planning. The infrastructure for this stage is under development in collaboration with Larimer County’s Recovery Collaboration.

Future of community resilience with the use of CCI

Implementation of the CCI can lead to a strong understanding of harmful elements that exist in communities such as racism and injustice, and how to confront them.

According to Chrislip, MacPhee and Schmit, the hope is that the CCI will be used several different ways. For example,  it can be used as an assessment instrument to help communities gauge their collective capacity to respond to challenges, as a diagnostic tool to design processes tailored to take advantage of existing civic capacity and building capacity where it is lacking, and as a framework for civic leadership development programs.

By engaging the civic capacity of these communities, it is possible to have communities of all socioeconomic standings to be better equipped to face future challenges, or to better recover from them.

“Directly engaging the full diversity of the community taps new sources of leadership and the local knowledge of lived experience, allowing systemic inequities to be addressed. Making lasting progress in the civic arena requires moving the focus of leadership from the individual to the community to learn, adapt, and innovate together,” wrote the authors.

The Prevention Research Center is in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, part of the CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Julissa Hernández Sánchez contributed to this story.