Community development is more than community work

IACD website – news column

Community development is more than community work

For decades the words ‘community development’ and ‘community work’ have been used interchangeably.  But has this been helpful or confusing?  Would we for example see social development and social work as analogous?

Clearly ‘coalface’ (using a pre climate change term) community work, where a practitioner is working directly as a community organiser/educator with people within their communities, is one of the most important ‘occupations’ within our professional field, whatever the job title of the worker. But it’s not the only occupation within community development.

Last year following member consultation, the IACD Board and AGM adopted IACD’s definition of community development .

Community development is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality, and social justice, through the organisation, education, and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity, or interest, in urban and rural settings.

This definition, as we have said many times, is about getting clarification internationally that, as the international professional network, we are putting down the marker that community development is both a practice-based profession and an academic discipline. What we are saying here is that our field is made up of both practitioners and academics, including those who teach community development degrees/certificates etc.

But let’s unpack this a bit more.

What sorts of ‘occupations’ comprise the practice-based professionals? Clearly coalface community workers are central to this process. So too are what some term para-professionals, sometimes called community work assistants, who may be activists employed (and hopefully paid) from within a community to help in the coalface community organising and educational work.

But what about other professionals who may not see themselves as community workers, but nevertheless see themselves as doing community development work?

Twenty years ago some IACD members in the UK played a central role in establishing a national government funded body responsible for setting occupational and training standards for those involved in this field. This agency was called PAULO in honour of Paulo Freire. These IACD members were also involved in producing guidelines based upon  ‘a functional analysis of community practice and development’. The key purpose of this practice, irrespective of the occupational sector, was identified as being:
‘to develop and promote policy and manage practice which empowers communities as
partners in change and in planning and delivering services and programmes’.

The key elements of this practice, identified from the functional analysis, were seen as being:
• To undertake participative planning
• to consult and negotiate with stakeholders and participants
• to foster a partnership approach committed to inter-agency and inter- professional
• to manage conflict, diversity and change
• to develop and implement participative approaches to accessing and managing
resources and to assist others to do so
• to devise policies, structures and programmes that promote social inclusion
• to provide and promote empowering leadership
• to foster a participative culture committed to organisational learning
• to employ participative evaluation to inform strategic and operational practice.

The recognition of the place that community development skills can play in the practice of many occupations became enshrined in the UK’s National Occupational Standards for Community Development Work set by PAULO. These “are to be used wherever community development work is practised and organised and by people engaged in other occupations doing community development work and/or using a community development approach in the promotion of social change”.

These guidelines have since influenced other countries such as Ireland.

The implication of all of this work was the recognition that the occupation known as community work was but one of many occupations doing community development work. These other occupations ranged from social workers, to adult educators, health workers, environmental educators, local economic development professionals to urban planners and architects and more  who were seeking to adopt a community development approach as highlighted above.

In addition was the recognition that there was a range of levels of occupations engaged in community development work, including agency managers and strategic community planners. The practice-based side of community development therefore engages a wide range of occupations and not just specialist community workers, including staff working at a more managerial and strategic level.

The new IACD definition also recognises and embraces people working in academia, training and research bodies around community development. Here again we would be looking for community development approaches in the ways in which they go about their research or training, working in partnership with communities and where these communities are creative actors in the research and training and not the subjects. Again within the academic side of community development work we find many subject specialists from anthropologists to economists, ecologists, social and political scientists etc

So, community development professionals come from a wide range of backgrounds and work a range of levels. They may be subject specialists, agency managers or  generic community organiser/educators. All play a vital role in promoting participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality, and social justice, through the organisation, education, and empowerment of people within their communities.

Later this year we shall be consulting members on the production of a set of International Community Development Occupational Guidelines.

Please watch the News Posts.


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