To attain sustainable and meaningful life changes we must seek a framework that addresses the vulnerable among us and mindfully encompasses all strata of society. This process can be attained through Community Development as a praxis. We are going to define the core elements that constitutes Community Development and outline some pathways, processes and methodologies that embodies Community Development as a catalyst for upward mobility. This ‘all encompassing’ journey can only be successful through conscientious engagement.
At the community level, community development initiatives are likely to achieve long-term outcomes such as stronger and more cohesive communities, which will be evidenced by changes in social capital, civic engagement, social cohesion, community safety and improved healthy living standards both in mind and body as the reinvestment in self intensifies.
Community Development embodies two of the seven principles of Kwanzaa’s Nguno Saba.
UJIMA. & Collective work and responsibility,& UJIMA refers to uplifting your community.
UJAMAA. Cooperative economics.
The United Nations defines community development as & a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.& Which in itself is ‘hand in glove’ with the spirit of UJIMA the third principle of the Nguno Saba – “To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers and sisters problems our problems and to solve them together… to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.”
Ujamma the fourth principle of the Nguno Saba is a commitment to the practice of shared social wealth and the work needed to achieve it. Ujamaa, as the late Julius Nyerere points out, is above all human centered and concerned foremost with the well being, happiness, and development of the human person.
Our intended engagement over a series of articles will look at Community Development through the above lenses, striving towards political and economic freedom, liberty and a long-lasting improvement in human wellbeing as pointed community outcomes. Generally, community outcomes, the then end product, often involve narrowing the focus from a vision or goal to a more specific change or benefit. However, developing and implementing a strategy for achieving the intended outcome, intended community change/benefit is only the beginning of the development process. The development process is a continuous journey with various intersects, where we can establish strategies that over time provide a pathway for continual positive change. Nevertheless, in response to lived challenges, communities can either focus on their needs, deficiencies or problems, or they can address discovering their own capacities and assets as fundamental building blocks for their development.
Focusing mainly on problems or needs can distract the community from identifying available local resources that are within their community that can be leveraged for the greater good. An asset-based method of responding to problems is a way to involve a diverse group of community members in the development process and identify the local resources which can be built upon for community renewal.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a strategy for sustainable community development. It is concerned with how to link micro-assets to the macro-environment within the community. The appeal lies in its premise that communities can drive the development process themselves by identifying and mobilizing existing, but often unrecognized assets, and thereby responding to and creating local economic opportunity. ABCD builds on the assets that are already found in the community and mobilizes individuals, associations, and institutions to come together to build on their assets and not concentrating on their needs. After identifying the assets of individuals, associations, businesses and institutions within the community they are mobilized to work together for the development of all. The key to this methodology is to begin to use what is already available in the community.
Essential to establishment of a knowledge base developmental process within a community one must know where they are. This includes: What is the level of corporate governance of the business partners and stakeholders within the community? What are the community assets? Community assets can include the following: capacities and skills of community members, local, public and private NGOs and institutions, physical resources, personal networks, and funding from outside donors. Most paramount, is the will of civil society strong enough to break the chains of the status quo and strengthen the change agents without regards to any affiliation?
In implementing such a change process, some may say we must define community to be able to establish measurable goals. But as a mantra to achieve our intended purpose we as a people must refuse to be defined by the greater society. When we allow ourselves to be defined by others and their projection of us, we allow them to write our destiny, and tell us who we are. Their prognosis is only one possibility of who we are or who we can be. If we ‘know thyself’ we can be whatever we want to be, because we are who we are and I am because we are – Ubuntu. Therefore, in order to affect change, our society must come into harmony with the ‘Natural Laws’ of the universe to maximize the benefit of the change process.
This notion speaks to us being our brothers and sister’s keeper as we are all part of an ancestral collective where our contributions are much greater than our selves and we can generate legacy wealth for those coming after us by adding onto who and what came before us. In defining Community development, we must categorically say it is a ‘process outcome’. It is a comprehensive process for managing and mitigating community change that involves a dialogue to create a shared vision, and then be front and center in the implementation of the required activities. Community by definition is all encompassing, it is both a physical place, and the people who live in that place. They share common interests and characteristics as they jointly participate in the development of their place. Fundamentally it is the creation of something symbiotic, a communal, that addresses the need of the many within their space.
In this endeavour, the community itself becomes an agency of change agents. The preferred delivery mechanism to successfully implement any community development change is through a participatory community development process. That being said, the implementing change agents must mainly come from within the community, in that manner wholesome participation in community development would be the key to promoting efficiency, accountability, and transparency. It also creates a feeling of belonging and ownership, and streamlines the delivery as per resource allocations, resulting in fewer problems of social inequality. Notwithstanding, it respects and value pre-existing capacities and allows for exchange of expertise between community groups. However, on occasion cultural values and social norms become challenging points of reference and must be resolved through collective action of an advisory group.
When we speak of change agents, these individuals populate a wide spectrum. They are labeled insiders, outsiders, and insider/outsider. The contribution and collaboration from the different types of change agents are all important. All the above change agent labels carry a distinctive perspective. The terms insider and outsider generally refer to change agent relation to a particular socio-cultural space. An insider is usually someone who ‘belongs’ and is mentally and bodily attuned to a specific socio-cultural space and has special knowledge about the inner workings of a group, organization, institution or the community. An outsider is one who is not part of the community or organization, but yet have distinct knowledge about the inner workings of the organization or community and the development program. While an insider is one who belongs to the community and are agents within their own space, outsiders are agents coming into the community to assist, they become outsiders the moment they access the development space. An insider/outsider are outside agents who have access to privilege and advanced positions than other outsiders because they could have been born within the community but left and have now returned. Insiders and outsiders have different perspectives on a said place. Therefore, an insider/outsider can be a bridge for a harmonious interrelation.
A place is a social construct, not a physical location, for it reflect shared ideas or perceptions that exist only because the community accept that they do and this can invoke feelings of being ‘in place’ or ‘out of place’. These feelings may stem from demographic factors such as place of birth, current residence, education, familiarity or age. Most often than not, interventions by outsiders seem promising as they may help overcome the ‘poverty trap,’ which makes it hard for poor people to change their situations and make appropriate decisions for their long-term visions, investments, and education. Therefore, we tend to believe that if we were somehow able to aid communities by educating, and assisting them in their development and the retention of assets, communities would change and in the grand scheme of things, the world would change. We have yet to ascertain such but the struggle continues as the arc gradually shifts towards change.
A participatory learning approach, applied at each stage of a community development project, is crucial to reaching the level of stakeholder involvement needed for lasting, positive change. The use of participatory survey and planning methods in the development process encourages community ownership of projects, and allows for information to flow between both the community and the development organizations, thereby enhancing accountability between the organization and the community. There are numerous participatory methods and tools, that can be used to gather information and encourage community members participation in program activities. These procedures are drawn from processes referred to as mapping.
A simple systematic walk with change agents – facilitators and local community members to observe the community, gathering details such as topography, natural resources, opportunities, and problems constitute mapping and is part of the data mining process.
Asset mapping is the preferred method used in community development. It helps to identify and document existing resources such as institutions, individuals and citizen associations in a community. Other relevant data retrieval processes are: Mobility Mapping – This is a technique for gaining an understanding of movement patterns of the community. When developing such a map, gender awareness and sensitivity can be improved by identifying the differences in mobility patterns between the sexes. Social mapping explores where and how people live as well as the infrastructure available for social activity: roads, drainage systems, schools, drinking-water facilities, etc. Its primary focus is to identify what the local people believe to be relevant and important for them. Social mapping is a participatory method that has proven successful even with people who are illiterate or marginalized in a community.
Time line analysis is a process whereby local people recall the chronology of past events, documenting historical landmarks important to their community. It is a useful tool to use at the beginning of information gathering and can be a good way to start developing a relationship with the community. It is important to have elders involved in the process to provide the historic perspective and notably an understanding of the community’s historical perspective on current issues. This can be fused with Trend Analysis because they both encompass the people’s account of the past in the community.
Brainstorming allows the community to share a wide range of ideas before a decision is made. Participants are encouraged to share ideas without fear of being corrected or challenged, even though the ideas may not follow traditional thinking. An end-result of the process is an extensive list of creative ideas from which to draw upon in developing a solution. Brainstorming frees people to think creatively and energizes them to take action. The process is participatory, everyone feels part of the focus conversation that enlighten the decision-making process. Concept Mapping is a methodology that allows for collecting a broad range of ideas from the community, then organizing and assigning values to the idea. It creates a picture of how different ideas are related to each other. Concept maps start with a prompt or focus question presented to participants who brainstorm ideas. This creates the information that will be mapped. An example of a prompt is something like this: “ANN could better serve the community if….”. Concept mapping keeps a group on task, aware of where they are in the process, and allows individual participants to see how their ideas are used.
Venn Diagram: This is a participatory visual method of understanding how the community views a number of items. This helps identify factors such as the weakness and strengths of relationships between communities and institutions, duplication or gaps of services between institutions, and the power structure within communities. Force Field Analysis help to better understand problems that must be solved in order to succeed in specific situations by identifying negative forces (barriers, deficiencies, problems) as well as the positive (resources, skills, attitudes). Gap Analysis pinpoints road blocks that get in the way of a desired goal. It helps to better understand the gap between their current state and the outcome.
Focus Group Interviews collects information from a specific group of people about their experiences and opinions on a particular subject. When planning a focus group interview, the following should be decided: the purpose of the group, information needed from the group, and how the information is to be used. The change agent often determines the success of the focus group discussion, they should be approachable, engaging and able to gain the group’s trust. Advisory groups are formed to represent the ideas and attitudes of a community. It can provide community awareness, identify appropriate stakeholders, and offer technical advice, and resolve potential conflicts.
All the above data mining processes are not necessary for every project. But knowing the benefits of each will allow the stakeholders and change agents to select the necessary tools and maximize their mapping and hence their implementation outcomes. For more information can email me at [email protected]