Building Capacity. Building Power. Citizen Power.

Capacity for best health ebbs and flows. That’s life. Some call citizen capacity – “patient engagement.” But that’s too weak. Growing and sustaining citizen capacity is citizen power. Our personal and community health depends on it.

Four Stories

I’m going to tell you four stories:

I’m unsteady when tired. I get tired more often. I’m more likely to fall when tired. My capacity diminishes. I resort to mobility aids to increase my capacity. First one cane, then two canes, now occasional wheelchair.  Preventing injury maintains my capacity. Mobility aids build my capacity. At the same time maintaining and building capacity sustains hope in me. Hope creates capacity. It’s reinforcing.  I am one person building my capacity.

When I was 16 (I know, I’m old), I started preparing for the draft. I went to a church for draft counseling and enrolled in a course that trained people to be draft counselors. It started me on a career of obtaining profound knowledge of the law and regulations to manage within them.  I ended up counseling young men for almost two years. It served me well in my own mission not to be drafted. I built personal capacity, personal power, and guided others to exercise their power.

I’m podcasting now. I joined a community – The Podcasting Fellowship. The sponsors of the community, Seth Godin and Alex DiPalma, created a seven-week course about podcasting and a platform for about 330 international aspiring podcasters to learn together and support each other. About 90 of those original participants are still meeting, six months later, learning and supporting each other. Somewhere between 90 and 250 of the 300+ are actively podcasting. Sustainable community capacity building.

Garrett County, MD Health Department (population 30,000) created a platform for promoting the collaboration of almost 40 groups of local residents working together to solve the problems afflicting all communities, most with larger populations and resources – drug misuse, loneliness, immunization, food insecurity, oral health, medication management, maternal/fetal health, chronic disease management, transportation, homelessness. Community capacity building. Leveraging their resources!

Build Citizen Power for Best Health

Synonyms for capacity include competence, effectiveness, efficiency, potential and POWER. As in life, capacity ebbs and flows. Power ebbs and flows. I care about citizen capacity and citizen power. Some call it engagement, as in patient engagement. But that’s too weak. Building citizen capacity adds to the base of community capabilities and sustains it.

Where do we need to build citizen capacity?

  • First and foremost – Habits for best health (personal and community)
  • Coordination of care
  • Policymaking
  • Planning care
  • Caregiving
  • Informed decision-making
  • Paying for healthcare
  • Team building
  • Leadership
  • Storytelling, blogging, podcasting, vlogging, writing
  • Advising governance, design, operations, and learning across healthcare
  • Community services
  • Community accessibility
  •  Lot’s of opportunity for building citizen capacity

Success Factors for Citizen Power

What does it take to sustain citizen capacity building? Sustaining capacity is cultural, habitual, and repetitive. Here’s my partial list of success factors:

  • Community (any definition) self-identifies a problem and is dying to solve it
  • Common values, common language, trust
  • Content in byte-sized (and bite-sized) pieces sensitive to people’s most comfortable learning style
  • Small support groups, mentoring
  • Doing, more than listening
  • Any level of participation works
  • Continual learning
  • Ongoing synchronous (face-to-face or voice-to-voice) and asynchronous (participate when convenient) sharing and feedback
  • Transparent governance – how the capacity building process is managed
  • New blood welcomed
  • Have fun doing it

Yes! Citizen Power-Good for what ails you.


This blog post and podcast are for Mary Sue, Sue, and Ellen. Thanks for the feedback.

Next week’s podcast will continue the Young Adults with Complex Conditions Transitioning from Pediatric to Adult Care series. I’ll be interviewing Morgan Gleason whose YouTube video went viral and led to articles in Forbes and the New York Times and several conference gigs.

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Find FULL TRANSCRIPT at the top of this page or download the printable transcript here


The Podcasting Fellowship

Seth Godin

Alex DiPalma

Garrett County, MD Health Department

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More: Journal for Best Health

Community Capital – a prescription for best health

All posts on best health


Music by permission from Joey van Leeuwen, New Orleans Drummer, Composer

Photo by Peyton Sickles on Unsplash

About the Show

Welcome to Health Hats, empowering people as they travel together toward best health. I am Danny van Leeuwen, a two-legged, old, cisgender, white man with privilege, living in a food oasis, who can afford many hats and knows a little about a lot of healthcare and a lot about very little. Most people wear hats one at a time, but I wear them all at once.  We will listen and learn about what it takes to adjust to life’s realities in healthcare’s Tower of Babel.  Let’s make some sense of all this.

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Danny van Leeuwen

Danny van Leeuwen

Patient/Caregiver activist: learn on the journey toward best health


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