Focus On: Evidence for Building Organizational Capacity

Research in Action

26 Feb 2020

Capacity building has been recognized as a critical part of health promotion for decades. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines capacity building as the development of knowledge, skills, commitment, structures, systems and leadership to enable effective health promotion. Capacity building occurs at three levels:

  1. Advancing knowledge and skills in individuals
  2. Expanding support and infrastructure for health promotion in organizations
  3. Developing cohesiveness and partnerships for health in communities

Historically, many of our health promotion capacity building efforts have focused on the individual level. More recently, public health units have become interested in building the capacity of organizations and communities to promote health as a more upstream and efficient approach.  

One such health unit asked for our support in transforming their chronic disease and injury prevention department from an individual to an organizational focus. As part of the development phase of an Organizational Capacity Building (OCB) Strategy, the health unit requested a summary of the latest evidence on definitions, frameworks and intervention types used to build organizational capacity for health promotion. We conducted a synthesis of recent, good-quality reviews to gain a sense of the current state of the literature on building capacity at the organizational level. In consultation with several additional health units, we adapted the original briefing note into a new Focus On: Evidence for Building Organizational Capacity in Health Promotion

Our review of the evidence revealed two interesting findings. The first (perhaps not altogether unsurprising) is the lack of definitions and evidence on effective interventions. The second is that the most commonly cited framework or model for OCB is nearly 20 years old. Published in 2001, New South Wales Health’s Framework for Building Capacity to Improve Health contains five action areas: organizational development, workforce development, resource allocation, leadership and partnerships. These five action areas are reinforced by the more recent studies included in the synthesis. With the addition of external specialist support, as well as community development and participation, these action areas provide a framework for public health units working to build the health promotion capacity of external organizations.

Visit our Program Planning & Evaluation page for more information about building organizational capacity for health promotion. 


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Updated 26 Feb 2020