Tribal Capacity Building as a Complex Adaptive System: New Insights, New Lessons Learned

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American Indians face severe cancer disparities, including high mortality rates and limited access to prevention and treatment resources. The Southwest American Indian Collaborative Network (SAICN) was established to build the capacity of tribal communities in the southwestern United States to address gaps in cancer education, access to services and policy and to promote community-based participatory research. A comprehensive evaluation of the five-year project identified numerous successes and struggles faced by the project. The evaluation was challenged, however, to fully describe and measure the cultural and community dynamics of capacity building in the participating Tribal communities. A complex adaptive systems framework was employed to more fully understand and describe project outcomes. Adapted from the biological sciences, complex adaptive systems theory offers a non-linear, non-mechanistic approach to understanding how individuals act and respond within a larger system. This framework revealed important understandings about the project and identified important lessons learned for future programs, particularly with regard to the cultural context and cross-cultural learning.


Biology; Cancer; Cancer—Prevention; Cancer—Treatment; Health services accessibility; Indian reservations; Indians of North America; Medical care; Mortality; Tribes


Biology | Cancer Biology | Community-Based Research | Health Policy | Sociology of Culture


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