based on an article by Louise King
What is community development?
Community development is a way of working with people that emphasises their right to do things in their own way. It is a process where people in a community (be it geographical, cultural, age or interest based) undertake activities to meet their own perceived needs. It is about building on and making the most of the assets that already exist in the community such as community centres and skills of individuals.
The role of a community development worker is to resource and support people to address their needs. However, you don't need to be a community development worker to practice community development principles.
Community development involves direct participation by those in the community you are working with. However community development can take different forms that may influence how much participation is really involved.
At the conservative end it can be simple consultation: ask young people what they want and take the information away to develop projects in response to these needs. This approach ensures young people are provided with opportunities to have their say, which can often go some way towards empowering them and giving them confidence. They may then use this confidence and experience of being involved in a consultation to take part in other community consultations. However, this is really community development at its minimum, young people are given few skills and resources to take away.
Government departments often use consultation as a way of 'being seen' to be 'talking to the people'. But consultation does not necessarily lead to communities having real control over the solutions. How many youth workers have been involved in a process where governments have consulted with young people and workers and then done their own thing regardless of what a community has said?
At the more radical end community development is tied closely to action: resourcing young people to address structural inequality for themselves. This may involve organising training for young people in media skills, political systems and facilitating their own consultations. This will then allow young people to take their skills with them and use them to address issues they identify.
Community development should be more than consultation. Youth workers who are committed to a community development approach will always respect the community's need to be a part of not only decision making, but actively involved in implementing their own solutions.
People in the community are most aware of their needs and capabilities, however, it may be that they need additional skills, information and support to address these needs. This is your role as a "community builder". Remember, young people are the experts on being a young person!
Tips for practising community development
If you choose to use community development as a process for achieving goals with young people, their aims may be better achieved by:
- Ensuring that the community development process is open and open to comment and change by young people.
- Doing activities with young people, rather than for them wherever possible.
- Providing opportunities for young people to receive information and develop their own skills to carry out activities.
- Involving young people in policy development in your organisation.
- Ensuring all young people get equal opportunities to participate, regardless of their capabilities.
- Ensuring young peoples' and the community's participation in the definition and solution of problems.
- Looking at social and political factors, rather than the individual in locating the cause of the problems.
- Building up strong and valuable networks with young people, the community and services. This is important not only locally, but regionally and at a government level.
- Ensuring the community has knowledge of, and access to, the resources they need.
- Emphasising the 'process' as crucial and not just the goals. Being involved in the process allows young people to learn skills they might take with them.
- Being aware of your accountability to the young people and the organisation you work for and with.
- Encouraging the autonomy of groups and knowing when you are no longer needed.