Understanding Community Development
Jim Cavaye Cavaye Community Development “The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust Rural community development is a process conducted by community members. It is a process where local people can not only create more jobs, income and infrastructure, but also help their community become fundamentally better able to manage change. The “concrete” benefits of community development, such as employment and infrastructure, come through local people changing attitudes, mobilising existing skills, improving networks, thinking differently about problems, and using community assets in new ways. Community development improves the situation of a community, not just economically, but also as a strong functioning community in itself. Rural community development builds the five capitals of a community – physical, financial, human, social and environmental. It is through participation in their community that people rethink problems and expand contacts and networks; building social capital. They learn new skills, building human capital. They develop new economic options, building physical and financial capital. They also can improve their environment. Community plus Development Community development combines the idea of “community” with “development”. We discussed earlier the concept of community – a group of people with a shared identity. Hence, community development relies on interaction between people and joint action, rather than individual activity – what some sociologists call “collective agency” (Flora and Flora, 1993). “Development” is a process that increases choices. It means new options, diversification, thinking about apparent issues differently and anticipating change (Christenson et.al., 1989). Development involves change, improvement and vitality – a directed attempt to improve participation, flexibility, equity, attitudes, the function of institutions and the quality of life. It is the creation of wealth – wealth meaning the things people value, not just dollars (Shaffer, 1989). It leads to a net addition to community assets, avoiding the “zero sum” situation where a job created “here”, is a job lost “there”. Putting the two terms together – community development – means that a community itself engages in a process aimed at improving the social, economic and environmental situation of the community. The community is both the means and the end of community development. The community itself takes action and participates together. It is through this action that
the community becomes more vital, not just economically but as a strong functioning community in itself. Community development improves the ability of communities to collectively make better decisions about the use of resources such as infrastructure, labour and knowledge (figure 1).
Decision Making Capacity
Figure 1. Community development enhances community decisions about the employment of resources (Source: Shaffer, unpublished).
Definitions The key elements of community development are expressed to varying degrees in many definitions. Some key descriptions are as follows: • For community development to occur, people in a community must believe working together can make a difference and organise to address their shared needs collectively – Flora et. al. (1992). Community development is a group of people in a community reaching a decision to initiate a social action process to change their economic, social, cultural and environmental situation – Christenson et. al. (1989). Community development is a process that increases choices. It creates an environment where people can exercise their full potential to lead productive, creative lives. – Ron Shaffer (pers. com.). Community development is a process where people are united with those of...
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