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Community development

Talking about community development

People talk about community development in many different ways. Neighbourhood and Community Centre Coordinators have described community development as:

  • planning services
  • servicing self help groups
  • running support and social action groups
  • building community networks
  • participating in inter-agency meetings
  • undertaking needs assessment
  • increasing people's skills
  • resourcing the community to meet needs
  • improving quality of life
  • defining priorities
  • working towards social justice
  • empowering individuals and communities.

Several uses of Community Development

People use the term community development in many different ways. Three of the principal uses are outlined in the table. They are contrasted with direct service.

  Process Driven by Values Role of CD worker
Community Development A. "Community development" People in the community & perceived community needs Participation
Facilitate people in the community
B. Capacity building/infrastructure development

Government policy

Government and nonprofit agencies

Whole of government

Working with other agencies
Facilitating agencies
C. Economic development Business & government policy Return on investment Facilitating business development
Direct service Provision of direct services Needs of individuals Respect for the individual, etc. Provide direct service

The term community development is often used to include A. "community development", B Capacity building/infrastructure development and C. Economic development.

A more detailed model of community development language is here (PDF)

There remainder of this section highlights some points on A."Community development process " and B. The connection with social capital.


A community development process

There are many approaches to community development and many community development definitions. For example:

The West Yorkshire Community Work Training Group

The West Yorkshire Community Work Training Group gives a systematic description of a community development process. The steps in the process are seen simultaneously from the point of view of the group of people in the community development process and the community development worker:

1. Group: Vaguely dissatisfied but passive.
Worker: Simulates people to think through why they are dissatisfied and with what.

2. Group: Now aware of certain needs.
Worker: Simulates people to think about what specific changes would result in these needs being met.

3. Group: Now aware of wanting changes of some specific kind. Worker: Stimulates people to consider what they might do to bring about such changes by taking action themselves.

4. Group: Decide for themselves to meet some needs.
Worker: Stimulates people to consider how best they can organise themselves to do what they now want to do.

5. Group: Plan what to do and how to do it.
Worker: Stimulate people to consider and decide in detail what to do, who will do it, and when and how they will do it.

6. Group: Act according to the plans.
Worker: Stimulate people to think through any unforseen difficulties
or problems they may encounter.

7. Group: Evaluate the result of what they have achieved.
Worker: Assists people to reflect on what they have achieved, how they achieved it. What they learnt from this and what they might do next.

8+ Restart the process.

This community development process could be used with a small group of people, a street, a neighbourhood or a whole community.

Susan Kenny

Susan Kenny in Developing Communities for the Future: Community

Development in Australia (1994) does not define community development. She discusses the nature of community development in terms of principles and processes. She sees the principles of community development as:

  • objectivity and impartiality
  • social justice
  • citizenship and human rights
  • empowerment and self-determination
  • collective action
  • tolerance of diversity
  • working for change and involvement in conflict
  • liberation and participatory democracy
  • accessibility of human services.

Kenny notes community development has been "identified as: a job or profession in itself; an important component of all human service work; a method or approach in social or economic development; a philosophical and intellectual approach to the world; and a political activity" (p25).

Community Development Outcomes

Community development processes are open-ended and can lead to many different outcomes:

  • individuals developing self-esteem and confidence
  • people participating in social activities to overcome social isolation
  • increased participation in political and citizenship activities
  • practical outcomes such as a changed bus route or a new pedestrian crossing
  • government funding for new or additional services.

The connection with social capital

Whatever view one has about the nature of community development, it is clear that it is distinct from social capital.

Social capital is a prerequisite for community development processes. Without social capital, community development processes could not operate. There would be no family, neighbourhood and community networks; people would not trust each other; there would not be reciprocal relationships and so on.

Where there is sufficient social capital to support community development processes the community development process will also generate social capital which can then be used in other community development processes.

Community development is one way of producing social capital. There are many other ways and places including workplaces, sporting events, religious activities, schools and carnivals.

Low Social Capital

If there is no or low social capital in the group, neighbourhood or community, it will not be possible for those people to work together for the common good.

If there is no social capital present the causes may be:

  • the human capital required for social capital's core building blocks is absent eg. self-esteem, trust, communication skills
  • there are inadequate levels of material well-being - people are struggling for survival
  • there is inadequate physical infrastructure - such as places to meet, public spaces, telephones, newspapers
  • the human, economic and physical infrastructure pre-requisites are present but there have been no opportunities to develop the networks and interconnections between people.

Where there is insufficient social capital to support a community development process, the community development worker may need to:

  • undertake activities that develop the essential human capital pre-requisites, eg. self-esteem, communication skills
  • work to increase the material well-being of the group through advocacy, social policy development and material assistance
  • work to develop the physical infrastructure - meeting rooms, public spaces, etc
  • undertake activities through which people can make interconnections with each other in a safe environment.

High Social Capital

Where there are high levels of social capital people will:

  • feel they are part of the community
  • feel useful and be able to make a real contribution to the community
  • will participate in local community networks and organisations
  • will pull together for the common good in floods and bush fires they
  • will welcome strangers
  • all will help out with something but no one will do everything.

Community development processes will be much easier to develop with high levels of social capital than with low levels of social capital.