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Background: Communities play a central role in strengthening their health, but conventional community health promotion often adopts paternalistic and top-down approaches. Conversely, agentic approaches are critiqued for tasking marginalized communities to create change without opportunities. Taking into consideration these shortcomings, we ask how communities may be most effectively and appropriately supported in their pursuit of health.

Methods: We review community health literature to articulate how community health is understood, moving from negative to positive conceptions; determined, moving from a risk-factor orientation to social determination; and promoted, moving from conventional to agentic approaches. We develop the concept of resourcefulness as a pathway to strengthen positive health, and explore how this approach may be applied in diverse communities through fieldwork in Kenya, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and the US.

Results: Through resourcefulness-based approaches to community health, communities cultivate agency to 1) conceptualize what constitutes their health and assets and 2) pursue and sustain health agendas driven by local priorities, needs, and learning, while they also work to 3) change power imbalances that drive inequitable patterns of resource distribution and 4) nurture ecologically sound relationships with their local environment.

Conclusions: We discuss how resourcefulness addresses tensions between resource use and sustainability, and how communities leverage partnerships for change. We make practical suggestions to apply resourcefulness as a process-based, place-based, and relational strategy, while recognizing that contexts and scale matter and limit the viability of community-based solutions.