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Developing a civic capacity index: measuring community capacity to respond to civic challenges

David D. Chrislip (Skillful Means, Boulder, Colorado, USA)
David MacPhee (Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Prevention Research Center, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA)
Patti Schmitt (Office of Engagement and Extension, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 16 December 2022

Issue publication date: 9 March 2023




Some communities in the USA are remarkably better at responding to civic challenges than others. These communities are more competent at marshaling their resources – material and human – in service of their own needs. The authors’ purpose in this paper is to enhance their collective understanding of ideas related to community-driven change and to describe the development of a civic capacity index (CCI), a measure of a community's capacity to respond to civic challenges and disruptions like COVID-19.


The authors used a concept mapping process (akin to grounded theory) to develop the CCI. Using this process, a panel of 34 scholars and practitioners of civic leadership and civic engagement worked together to create measurable descriptors of civic capacity.


The CCI measures dynamic processes related to collective leadership, inclusion of diverse voices, how institutions and coalitions address shared challenges and collaboration among community members. Sample data from several states show the CCI's scales to have high internal reliabilities and to correlate strongly with validation scales such as collective efficacy, social justice and community connectedness. Confirmatory factor analyses support a bifactor model of a general CCI factor and six CCI scales.

Practical implications

With the help of the CCI, civic actors can take advantage of existing civic capacity, understand where it is lacking and build resilience for the future.


To date, most scholars have used qualitative research to determine the elements of civic capacity. The authors wanted to know what civic capacity looks like in sufficient detail to assess the extent to which it is present or not in a community. Other efforts to quantify or assess civic capacity or related ideas are less comprehensive or lack the specificity to provide guidance for building and mobilizing it in communities. This work enhances our understanding of leadership in the civic arena, a little understood aspect of leadership studies.



The authors would like to acknowledge partial funding from the Boettcher Foundation and the expert panel participants. Data collection and analyses were supported in part by a grant from the Boettcher Foundation.

The authors also would like to thank the expert panel members for providing their time and expertise to this work: Karla Alder, Lisa Auer, Audra Bishop, Paul Born, Martin Carcasson Ph.D., David Chrislip, Barbara Crosby Ph.D., Yoni Dobie-Geffen, Doug Easterling Ph.D., Bill Fulton Ph.D., Chris and Sara Green, Vaughn Grisham Ph.D., Jodi Hardin, Lynn Hempel Ph.D., Darrin Hicks Ph.D., Darcy Hutchins Ph.D., John Kefalas, Carl Larson Ph.D., Carolyn Love Ph.D., Joyce McEwan-Crane Ph.D., Ed Morrison Ph.D., Meaghan Overton, Dawn Paepke, Bill Potapchuk, Kerry Priest Ph.D., Alice Pugh, Jodie Riesenberger, Patti Schmitt, Magdalena Serpa MD-MPH, Ana Soler, Racquel Thiesen, Allan Wallis Ph.D., Liz Weaver and Scott Wituk Ph.D.


Chrislip, D.D., MacPhee, D. and Schmitt, P. (2023), "Developing a civic capacity index: measuring community capacity to respond to civic challenges", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 14-30.



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