Enriching community capacity for better health

Project title: Methods for evaluating transformative systems change

Start date: December 2016

Estimated end date: July 2018

What is the issue?

Community health interventions, a mainstay of public health, aim to create change in social systems that ultimately support better health. This process is vitally dependent on the communities having the capacity to adapt and change. How this capacity is identified, generated and harnessed in the intervention process is poorly understood.

This project seeks to develop more effective population health interventions by understanding how to harness communities’ existing capacity for change and how to generate new capacity to adapt to ongoing challenges.

Harnessing existing capacity involves identifying resources that allow communities to adapt and make changes in their daily patterns. These resources include value systems and narratives, and social structures, such as social networks.

Generating new capacity involves reshaping social roles and networks to redistribute and transform existing resources. It also involves supplying new resources that can be combined with existing resources to enrich a community’s resource base, providing a greater ability to adapt to ongoing challenges.

Ultimately, a greater understanding of these processes provides a basis for developing more sophisticated economic tools that can more accurately assess the costs and benefits of the intervention process.

How is the project addressing the issue?

 The project will take a systems approach to understand how capacity for change is generated and harnessed in population health interventions. Initial work will define resources and develop a model of resource use in interventions. The model will then be tested through engaging with policy and practice partners.

The aims of the project are to:

  • Provide a definition of resources relevant to population-level health interventions
  • Examine resource use in existing health interventions
  • Develop working models of resource use
  • Develop models of resource distribution and transformation to assist with program planning and evaluation.

Relevance for practice

Understanding how capacity for change is identified, harnessed and generated in population health interventions will lead to more effective planning and implementation, increasing the likelihood that interventions will be successful. This knowledge will also provide the basis for conducting more sensitive economic evaluations.

What are the expected outcomes?

  • A literature review identifying important resource conceptualisations and resource classifications from a range of disciplines
  • A theoretical paper examining resource-related processes in a range of prevention interventions, including those operating at the individual, community and inter-organisational levels
  • A pilot empirical study that seeks to test the conceptualisation of resources using data from an existing community intervention
  • A research plan co-developed with one or more preventive health agencies. This research will seek to validate the new resource model in community settings through using a systems approach to promote population health and/or reduce inequalities in health
  • The development of tools to allow for more sensitive economic evaluations.


Project lead

Dr Shane Kavanagh, La Trobe University

Project team

Professor Penny Hawe, University of Sydney

Professor Alan Shiell, La Trobe University

Mark Mallman, La Trobe University

Kate Garvey, Department of Health and Human Services Tasmania

This project was funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Ministry of Health, ACT Health and the HCF Research Foundation.


NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Government Health, HCF Research Foundation, ACT Government Health, hosted by Sax Institute

  • The empirical study in Tasmania has been designed and completed and data from the study analysed.