5: Effective and ethical community development

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As we saw in Chapter 2, community development is fundamentally concerned with enabling communities to organise collectively and gain greater influence over decisions that affect their lives. Its purposes are:

  • to promote the common good;

  • to challenge injustices; and

  • to nurture individual and collective capabilities.

Community development has a number of core commitments that workers strive to incorporate into their beliefs and practice. It is primarily concerned with mobilising people and assets to overcome disadvantage. It is frequently deployed in places where the whole community is stigmatised and excluded, for example in areas where there has been social breakdown or long-term failure of the local economy. Such communities are characterised by low levels of voluntary activity and often lack suitable spaces to meet socially and to organise. Consequently, within these populations, informal networks may be unravelling and there will be further tensions caused by different forms of oppression, such as transphobia or ageism. Community development interventions sometimes start from supposed problems and deficits, because these difficulties are constantly eroding the capability of communities to tackle the issues they face without additional support and funding. Consequently, existing strengths and assets may be overlooked that have enabled communities to survive, if not exactly thrive.

This chapter will look at the methods, resources and attitudes that assist communities to develop a sense of their own rights and responsibilities, while growing their capacity for collective action. It reminds us that important principles underpin community development and considers what is needed to support effective practice, including recognised skills and techniques. In doing so, it will address long-standing debates over whether community development is best seen as practical activism, an occupation, a profession, an intervention or a movement.

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