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Defining community development

The challenge in defining community development is how to capture its essence when it is so multi-faceted. Community development is a challenging process because it requires the following ingredients:

1.   A long-term process which goes at local residents' pace.
Community development has to take the necessary time to help communities develop themselves, including:

  • Bringing people together to explore their lives and issues, and understanding the root causes of their concerns;
  • Identifying which other organisations, agencies or influential people might be supportive or targets for change;
  • Helping communities to identify the changes that they would want to achieve;
  • Encouraging communities to feel they can make a difference;
  • Exploring previous attempts to change things, and what can be learnt;
  • Supporting the communities in agreeing shared visions and priorities for action;
  • Agreeing a useful way to assess their progress and evaluate their impact (outcomes and indicators);
  • Providing user-friendly frameworks to help the communities make plans and build their own organisations;
  • Delivering training or finding appropriate learning opportunities;
  • Finding all the resources they need;
  • Challenging communities where necessary, so that they are inclusive towards all community members;
  • Supporting individual residents so they can stay onboard (welfare);
  • Helping the communities reflect and learn

This long-term approach is essential to ensure changes are sustainable and long-lasting.

2.   A value-based process
The key purpose of community development practice is to challenge disadvantage   and inequality, and to build communities based on the principles of social justice, equality and mutual respect.

Community development has to tackle power issues to be effective in supporting communities to achieve positive social change. Community development's notion of positive social change is rooted in community development's core values: social justice, equality and anti-discrimination, collective action, community empowerment and working and learning together.

3.  Social Change outcomes
Community development is seeking to address power imbalances in society and help communities to empower themselves without oppressing others.

So here is the newly-coined definition of community development, enshrined in the newly-adopted National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Community Development Work (2009):

  • "Community Development is a long-term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality and inclusion."

SSEC subscribes to this shared definition of community development. 

More information on the National Occupational Standards (CDNOS)