Recognising the value of community leaders

Posted on July 1, 2013

How effective is community action  in catchment management, conservation and land use planning, and how can community capacity be measured?  Although a range of social indicators, such as community empowerment, collective action and shared vision, have been proposed for the assessment of water resource projects, there have been few attempts to compare their reliability in predicting community capacity.  To remedy this situation, American researchers analysed survey data from 874 residents in four sub-catchments of the Lower Kaskaskia River watershed near St. Louis, Missouri.  They first used Principal Component Analysis to extract key factors from responses to 73 questionnaire items.  This process revealed that leadership and problem-solving effectiveness were powerful predictors of community empowerment.  Perceived fairness and trust were the best predictors of collaborative action, while perceptions of environmental threats and development issues were key predictors of shared vision.  The researchers then used stepwise regression to determine how well community empowerment, collective action and shared vision predicted community capacity.  In this analysis, community capacity was measured by five independent questionnaire items that assessed the community’s commitment to conservation, the willingness of its members to work together, the community’s resources, and its success in protecting water quality.  The most influential factor turned out to be community empowerment, which explained 39% of the variability in community capacity.  Adding collaborative action as a second factor raised the explanatory power a little (to 41%), but adding shared vision as a third factor gave no further improvement.  The geographical setting (urban or rural) had no significant influence on community capacity.  Therefore, the study showed that capacity can be determined from only a few key factors.  Effective leadership, which directly controls the political channels through which action is taken and has a strong influence on community problem-solving, was particularly valuable. 

Reference:  Brinkman, E., Seekamp, E., Davenport, M.A. & Brehm, J.M.  2012.  Community capacity for watershed conservation: a quantitative assessment of indicators and core dimensions.  Environmental Management 50, 736–749.