Written by Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University and MFLN Military Caregiving Team Member
Aristotle is credited with the observation that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This ancient piece of wisdom holds true today, especially as we consider working together through networks and in collaborations at the community level. The concept also applies when we are pulling together various strands of data and information to form a fuller picture of a topic, challenge, or opportunity that is before us. One of the goals of the Military Families Learning Network is to help all of us recognize how we can make the most of existing resources in our communities and beyond.
Just last week, one of our MFLN groups, the Community Capacity Building concentration area, offered a webinar on how to “Learn to Build Community Capacity through My Training Hub Modules.” The training modules are of great assistance to anyone considering how to effect positive change in their communities. Most importantly, the training modules reveal how each of us has the tools and abilities to work together to make a difference. The modules are readily accessible and are hosted on the Military One Source website.
The training modules embrace an assets and opportunity based approach rather than a deficit and problem orientation. This echoes much of what we know about the importance of combining strengths and resources to build community resilience, strengthen networks, and improve collaborative effort.
As the training modules reveal, community capacity building has many different applications. As a health policy specialist, I was especially interested in how different individuals and organizations can work together to promote healthy communities, to build and strengthen networks of caregivers, to improve health service delivery, and to better coordinate common interests and efforts among various institutions, groups, and organizations.
Caregivers and those that assist caregivers (such as Extension professionals and military family support personnel) know the importance of friends, families, and colleagues who provide advice, assistance, and support. Through these relationships, we become self-reliant but also mutually supportive. The Community Capacity Building training modules explain effectively how these arrangements serve as “Informal Networks” and serve as a bedrock for community capacity. When “Formal Systems” are added to the mix in a conscious and collaborative way, such as social service agencies and healthcare providers, the possibilities of “Collective Competency” increase allowing for overall capacity building that benefits all.
We can also make more of the sum of the parts when we are accessing information and data that provides insight and context. To make positive change, we must have an understanding of the underlying context in which we are involved. Knowing the lay of the land is absolutely essential for planning and action. Tapping into various data and information sources can help us greatly. Here again the Capacity Building training provides helpful resources for family support professionals and caregivers. For example, the session on Advanced Community Assessment (Session 4) provides links to helpful government reports and documents that help us understand underlying demographic information, health status, and healthcare assets at the community level.
The training modules identify many helpful sources of data and information. For those wanting to get the big picture of military demographics, the Department of Defense’s annual Profile of the Military Community is essential. Other resources allow you to take a closer look at specific locations at the state and community level. The US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder website provides detailed information on local communities by city, county, and zip code. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers detailed information at the state level and for many cities (see for example, this page). In addition to the resources identified in the Community Capacity Building Modules, there are other resources that are useful in knowing more about local communities and states. Especially helpful is the annual Kids Count Report that is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation which provides national, state, and local data on child well-being issues.
The insights offered in the Community Capacity Building modules are well worth the investment of time and effort to dip into and take the training. I encourage you to take a look at these by visiting the MFLN Community Capacity Building web-page, I would also invite you to share any resources with us that you might recommend. You can do this by commenting below!
To gain a better understanding of the training mentioned throughout this post and the different modules within it, please look into last week’s Friday Field Notes from Community Capacity Building: Learn to Build Community Capacity through My Training Hub Modules.
This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on April 28, 2017.