Community Development

What difference does community development make?

Many individuals do not engage in community or public life for a whole host of reasons to do with personal, structural, cultural/ community barriers.  A community development approach means that these barriers are addressed by the way in which you work and recognising what is going on for other people. On this page we explore these barriers a bit more and provide examples that people have told us about – they are real!

Community life – is about: Public life – is about:
Volunteering at a playgroup Being a school governor
Being a classroom assistant A magistrate
Being on the allotment committee A local councillor
Getting involved in street clean-ups Being on a health panel
A police advisory group

Personal barriers

How individuals feel about themselves, what motivates each of us and our own abilities. Personal barriers include:

  • Lack of confidence and not knowing how to take the first step
  • Fear of rejection
  • Poor self esteem
  • Feeling of being ignored
  • Physical and linguistic abilities
  • It’s scary to step into the unknown
  • Fear of public speaking
  • It’s pointless
  • Cynical about being able to change things
  • Don’t see the point – doesn’t make a difference
  • Believing you won’t be listened to

Throughout this resource we have provided these boxes for you to complete – the idea is to prompt you to have your own ideas/recollections. You can fill in the box and revisit it at any time to amend or note what you have written. In turn, your musings add to our own learning as they help us to collect current experiences to feed into our work.

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Structural barriers

When the structures and activities which are designed to engage people and communities don’t work as well as they could. Structural barriers include:

  • Insensitive community engagement
  • Meetings held in ways which exclude people and which prioritise the involvement of some people over others
  • Consultation which happens after the fact
  • Consultation without proper information about what can change
  • Engaging in space which is ‘owned’ by the local state
  • Unequal balance of power between people/community organisations and public sector representatives.
  • No thought about how to engage different groups and disaffected people
  • Inertia within public sectors
  • Favouring single issues over strategic engagement
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Cultural/community barriers

When cultural norms prevent some groups of people from taking an active part in community and public life. Cultural/community barriers include views and assumptions about:

  • Women’s roles which restrict women’s behaviour
  • Children and their role and place in the world
  • Caste and class which undermine people’s confidence and skills
  • People’s lives which create and reinforce feelings of difference and inequality
  • People who are different to the majority
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It is really important to disentangle the barriers that prevent people becoming more involved as ‘active citizens’ and to work out who and what is responsible, what we can do to change things, and what else needs to change in terms of systems and structures.

Read more about community development here


This is a ‘pick up and think’ resource. It’s an explanation and exploration of where ‘changes’ is coming from in our work around community development, community empowerment and community influence. It brings together 15+ years of our experience – and many more from those who have inspired us – into something which we find helpful in our quest to interpret the world around us and the complexity of the power relationships between people and organisations.