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Talking about community development

Talking about community development is not an easy task because it is difficult to agree on what we are talking about.

In Australia in the 1960s and 1970s "community development" had a political action orientation and was associated with "movements".

In the 1980s with the development of the Area Assistance Scheme "community development" had the flavour of "community self help".

In the late 1980s and early 1990s with the rise of economic rationalism there was a demise in government support for "community development".

In the late 1990s government started to re-focus on "whole of government" outcomes and "place management" and also to re-focus its interest on community, for example through social capital being put on the policy agenda.

This led to new language including "community building" and "community capacity building" which were used to both give a new orientation and also avoid the political connotations of the use of "community development" from the 1960s and 1970s. Added to this has been the emphasis across government on "community engagement" in the planning process and an emphasis in local government on "social planning" with its attendant community consultation and community development.

There is no consensus in the community services sector on whether "community capacity building" is the same as "community development" or is qualitatively different from it. Some people focus on the similarities; others focus on the qualitative differences.

The net result is that there are a multitude of terms with overlapping meanings used in different ways in different settings. For example "community development" terms currently in use include: community of place, community of interest, community development, community building, community capacity building, community regeneration, community organizing, community engagement. In addition, other related terms are: social capital, asset based, strengths based and social planning.

To talk about community development it is useful to have an agreed conceptual framework. My suggestion is to make four key distinctions:

A. Community development (incorporating 7 community development models/approaches)

B. Direct services with a community development orientation (incorporating three service models)

C. Direct services (with no specific community development orientation)

D. Service planning and development (driven by organisations, for example government departments, local government and larger non-profit organisations in planning and developing services and incorporating six approaches).

A PDF version of my suggested model is here.

Comments are welcome.

Paul Bullen