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  • Author or Editor: Marilyn Taylor x
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Voluntary and community organisations have been at the forefront of recent attempts to make welfare services more effective and appropriate. It is often assumed that voluntary sector organisations bring greater levels of democracy and accountability to welfare regimes. This article considers the capacity of voluntary sector organisations to introduce greater accountability through an analysis of notions of trust, the multiplicity of interests, the distinction between process and task and between diversity and equity. It concludes by urging voluntary sector organisations to develop more rigorous and sophisticated conceptions of accountability in order to remain at the forefront of democratic innovation.

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Since it was last reviewed in this journal (Alcock, 2010), the Big Society agenda has begun to assume a more concrete shape. This brief review re-examines some of the opportunities and challenges associated with the Big Society agenda in the light of more recent developments and then discusses the prospects for one of its key elements – the commitment to train 5,000 community organisers.

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In England, the change of government in the wake of the 2010 General Election brought with it a fundamental rethink of the relationship between state and community. This article tracks this relationship over the past 40 years, reviewing the development of what might have been described as a community movement in the 1970s to the community sector of the early 21st century. It then asks what the prospects are, under a radically new government regime, for delivering the new, more autonomous forms of community action that have been promised under the rubric of the ‘Big Society’.

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Community development offers a distinct approach to respond to the problem of diminishing free spaces where citizens can exchange views and learn about democracy and citizenship. It involves citizens as co-creators of the common world rather than as consumers. It has been supported by governments in different countries as a way of defusing tensions within communities, addressing the crisis of political legitimacy, encouraging citizen responsibility, as well as co-producing services with the state. This chapter tracks the ways in which community development has played these different roles over time and the implications for the relationship between state and citizen. It reviews its changing relationship with the state, and the critiques generated by different approaches and programmes. It concludes with an assessment of the challenges it faces in seeking to deepen democracy and foster creative citizenship, in the face of recurring attempts to shrink the state and leave the market as the principal mediating factor in society.

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The only up-to-date, accessibly written short guide to community development, this third edition offers an invaluable and authoritative introduction. Fully updated to reflect changes in policy, practice, economics and culture, it will equip readers with an understanding of the history and theory of community development, as well as practical guidance on how to do it.

This is a key text for all students and practitioners working with communities. It includes:

• a broad overview of core themes, concepts, basic practices and key issues in community development;

• an analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on community life and well-being, along with the implications for longer-term community support;

• additional brand new content on the pressing issues of democratic decline, social fragmentation and isolation, social care pressures, technological developments and climate change.

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This chapter focuses on different understandings of community development. As indicated in Chapter 1, we use ‘community development’ as an umbrella term to cover a range of different methods for working with communities:

  • to open up opportunities for collective action;

  • to improve living conditions and services;

  • to uphold and extend rights; and

  • to support individual advancement.

We set out the core principles and processes that characterise community development and distinguish it from related approaches and concepts. We review different models for working with communities, as well as exploring the relationship between community development and similar strategies for achieving change.

Internationally, community development encompasses many approaches, contributing in different ways within a set of core principles or expectations (see Boxes 2.1 and 2.2).

The European Community Development Network (ECDN, 2014) has adopted a similar common framework that brings together the values and principles shared by its members.

Many people and agencies contribute to community development. This chapter will focus primarily on the role of the community worker or organiser, who is often an outsider, usually in a paid job that involves working with residents or community members to support leaders, activists and volunteers to come together, co-ordinate their efforts and achieve the change they desire.

As we will see in Chapter 5, community work is skilled and strategic, but its starting point always involves learning to understand the community from the inside, listening to people’s experiences, identifying priority concerns and long-term goals. Arising from these conversations, the worker will help groups to form or engage with existing networks, agreeing broad aims and establishing how they want to run themselves.

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This chapter begins by tracking the way in which community development has evolved over the years and the factors that have shaped this evolution. It then identifies some of the recurrent policy themes that have driven interest in community development and describes the contribution that communities can make to these: welfare and service reform, democratic renewal, restoring community, and regenerating places and economies.

Community development today has many foundations in the past. Some lie in communities themselves: the mutual organisations, co-operatives and friendly societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, where, as industrialisation gained pace, working-class people banded together to pool their resources, meet common needs and campaign for improved rights and better conditions. Some can be found in external initiatives, such as the university settlements which, from the 1880s onwards, brought students into poor urban areas to live and work with local communities. More recently, after World War Two, the UK government introduced community development in its colonies as a bulwark against communism and to foster economic development in the interests of empire. It was then deployed to prepare indigenous populations for a peaceful transition to independence. Marj Mayo (1975) traces similar ‘colonial’ antecedents in the US, where, she argues, self-help projects were supported in order to stave off discontent among Black and minority ethnic (BME) populations and ensure a skilled and disciplined labour force.

Community development also has roots in housing and planning. The origins of the tenants’ movement, for example, lie in the rent strikes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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This chapter gives a brief introduction to some of the theoretical perspectives and concepts that inform community development. We look at ways of understanding the context within which community development works and its potential for social change.

Chapter 2 described the core values and principles of community development; these tell us what it is trying to achieve, but not how it might do so. Theories help us to understand why and how facts and events come to be as they are and provide an analytical framework to guide our judgements and actions.

Theories from a variety of different disciplines can help community development to understand the world in which it operates and to consider which strategies to pursue. These disciplines include economics, sociology, human geography, political science, psychology and management theory, for example. There are theories that help to explain how communities function (or not), how power works, how policies are made, how democracy works, how people can be mobilised and what motivates them, how collective action can be organised and how systems operate and adjust to change.

A short guide cannot do justice to all the theories that might prove useful to the student or practitioner of community development but in this chapter we set out some of the ideas that we have found most helpful. For deeper insights, we recommend that readers follow our signposts to further reading.

We start by exploring the idea of community and associated theories of social capital. We then discuss some psychosocial concepts that shape the processes involved in community development as well as recent thinking about identity, individual motivation and collective efficacy.

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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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