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Community Development

Community development starts from the premise that within any community there is a wealth of knowledge and experience which, if used in creative ways, results in high levels of participation and can be channelled into collective action to achieve the communities' desired goals. We can define 'community' either geographically or by interest.

The key purpose of community development* is to bring about social change and justice by working with communities to tackle inequalities and challenge discrimination and oppression. It usually involves: a) identifying local needs, opportunities, rights and responsibilities; b) planning, organising and taking action; and c) evaluating the effectiveness and impact of the action.

People involved in community development work alongside people in communities, build relationships with key people, organisations and groupings to facilitate the identification of common concerns, and help build autonomous groups. They create opportunities for non-formal learning which will help to increase the capacity of communities, and by enabling people to act together, they help to foster social inclusion and equality. Education and training needs are based on core values and processes characterised by autonomy of individuals and groups, change and development, justice and equality, collective action and skills in participatory learning.

The photo to the right shows an active community group in the tiny village of Pasiause, Lithuania. We supported a local initiative to put together a book about the village. This involved co-ordinating people to collect stories, take photographs and write up histories; it also encouraged a general tidy-up with derelict buildings tackled and new areas planted. The book was presented to a packed village hall and now has a place of honour in the village library. (photo: Natalia Utenkova)

Good Practice

The principals and values at the core of community development are:

  • social justice - respecting and valuing diversity and difference; challenging oppressive and discriminatory actions and attitudes; addressing power imbalances between individuals, within groups and society; committing to pursue civil and human rights for all; seeking and promoting policy and practices that are just and enhance equality whilst challenging those that are not
  • self-determination - valuing the concerns or issues that communities identify as their starting points; raising people’s awareness of the range of choices open to them, providing opportunities for discussion of implications of options; promoting the view that communities do not have the right to oppress other communities; working with conflict within communities
  • working and learning together - demonstrating that collective working is effective; supporting and developing individuals to contribute effectively to communities; developing a culture of informed and accountable decision making; ensuring all perspectives within the community are considered; sharing good practice in order to learn from each other
  • sustainable communities - promoting the empowerment of individuals and communities; supporting communities to develop their skills to take action; promoting the development of autonomous and accountable structures; learning from experiences as a basis for change; promoting effective collective and collaborative working; using resources with respect for the environment
  • participation - promoting the participation of individuals and communities, particularly those traditionally marginalised / excluded; recognising and challenging barriers to full and effective participation; supporting communities to gain skills to engage in participation; developing structures that enable communities to participate effectively; sharing good practice in order to learn from each other
  • reflective practice - promoting and supporting individual and collective learning through reflection on practice; changing practice in response to outcomes of reflection; recognising the constraints and contexts within which community development takes place; recognising the importance of keeping others informed and updated about the wider context.

*   This definition of community development is essentially that of the National Occupational Standards for Community Development Work. Other material on this page has been taken from http://www.cdx.org.uk/ with minor editing.