Fundamental to an empowering approach is ‘community development’, a much discussed concept that people interpret in different ways. However, there are some basic principles involved, a key one being that community development is about communities collectively being influential and involved in priority setting. Of course, the development of groups and networks begins with individuals but, if it remains only about individuals:
- groups are vulnerable to particular individuals moving on, or withdrawing
- decisions are unlikely to address the issues of the communities on which they impact – the primary focus is more likely to stay with particular interests of certain individuals
- public bodies and partnerships don’t neccesarily work towards ‘community’ empowerment – they generally don’t have coherent communities to engage with so, whilst they might get some views represented and some change happening, it is not about communities being empowered
- it is not community development and will not achieve community development outcomes around community empowerment and well-being
What makes community development so special?
“… building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect. … changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives”. (Ref)
- recognising that groups are made up of individuals – each of whom can be powerful (or not)
- seeking to include – not exclude – challenging inequality, understanding other people’s priorities and learning from them
- working with others around common issues and concerns in ways which are open, democratic and accountable
- building positive relationships across different groups and networks
- encouraging each other to take part and influence decisions, services and activities
The whole point is that communities become empowered and this means working in ways which help this to happen. The frameworks in the axis of influence series are predicated on the belief that the key community development values of learning, participation, equality, co-operation and social justice, underpin attempts to increase the level of influence that people and communities have over the decisions that affect their lives – democracy!
Community Development Values
- Learning – recognising the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute and develop by taking action to tackle social, economic, political and environmental problems.
- Equality – challenging the attitudes of individuals, and the practices of institutions and society, which discriminate against and marginalise people.
- Participation – facilitating democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives based on full citizenship, autonomy, and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience.
- Co-operation – working together to identify and implement action, based on mutual respect of diverse cultures and contributions.
- Social Justice – enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their needs and have greater control over the decision-making processes which affect their lives
Nb. The specific wording of the values of community development varies from time to time as organisations do research to update and refresh them, but the essence remains the same. This particular wording is taken from the SCCD Strategic Framework, researched and produced in 2000 by the then Standing Conference for Community Development. Things have moved on a bit in lots of ways but this is still a useful resource today – particularly the section which provides a definition of community development and these well-researched values.
Where does community development come from?
Like many elements of welfare in the UK, the origins of community development are to be found in civil society, pioneered by voluntary organisations which were independent of the state, such as the early trade unions, churches and charitable foundations.
In the 19th Century, this manifested in the form of: informal self-help and solidarity, mutual aid and philanthropy. As the twentieth century gathered momentum, the state realised the value of a community-led approach to social welfare and we begin to see the emergence of government-sponsored community development. This occurred at home and abroad. Community development has long contained within itself a tension between the goals of the state and the aspirations of the `target’ community, with no guarantee that they would necessarily be aligned. This can instil suspicion and fear which repeatedly threatens the future of community development above the radar!