Joining forces for community enabling

My earlier post Knitting up a strong community – starting with its strengths sparked comments from Emma Lees and James Derounian. Both took issue with some points I had added to the main report – which was about asset based community development – from an article by Nick Massey. Nick contrasts ABCD and community development. James has guested blogged here before, and responded very rapidly to my suggestion that he draft a post. Here’s he challenges Nick – and endorses Cormac’s call for different styles of community enabling to join forces. Further background here. James writes …
This post responds to comments from Cormac Russell and Forever Manchester’s Nick Massey and their promotion of an asset based approach to community development. I guess very few would argue with the central tenet of “starting with what you have, welcoming new people into the community, taking a citizen-led rather than professionally-led approach, building relationship power.”
And Cormac has a graphic and memorable way with words: For example about the importance of social justice and welcoming in “the stranger at the edge”. Similarly the idea of paid and unpaid community development workers offering a “halo of support”. So far so anodyne. Interesting too, is the contention – which I agree with – that communities typically may generate about 100 ideas for their improvement. Of which some 50+% are self-directed, that is things that a community/residents can do for themselves. Interestingly this echoes research that I & colleagues did in 1996 looking at “Parish appraisals – a spur to local action?” (appraisals were the forerunners of Parish Plans and now Neighbourhood Plans). In which we concluded that community-generated ideas “most readily carried into effect tended to be those whose implementation lay largely in local hands (1996: 326). Furthermore about 53% of actions were “directed at the local community itself (the parish council, community groups, local people in general (p.320).
I also very much take to Cormac’s key question for community developers/organisers of all hues: “what did you not do this week that enabled citizens to step up?” Absolutely – the paid/unpaid organizer/developers is servant to community members and majority aspiration. Get in or get out of the way! And no argument at all with the 6 strengths of community-based working:

  1. Build on strengths ABCD
  2. Shared core values
  3. Commitment to social justice
  4. Citizen-led action
  5. Power through relationships
  6. Shared ‘calling’

It’s really Nick’s assertion that sticks in the craw! That traditional “community development is driven through formal meetings, is agency-led and engages with at best 20% of local people in their communities, usually people who work within established, well-organised and properly constituted groups. This leaves over 80% of people remaining on the outside who would never engage in this way.”
I just don’t recognise this portrayal of community development. Furthermore, why are we not talking and sharing more along the lines of interrogating the contention (which I instinctively) believe that:
Community Development + Community Organising = a DIY brighter community future
Join forces – don’t reinvent or schism!

  1. Excellent post James. Love the idea of DIY brighter community future.

  2. There are 57 varieties of community empowerment, and we’re in danger of a sideshow war of words between competing brands (especially when we’re all struggling to survive as the cuts decimate existing community groups and remove their support and resources). Nick Massey is entitled to say what he thinks of CD; the CD world has also been self-critical about some CD being incorporated into the system as a palliative, so Nick’s stereotype applies to some CD. But it is a caricature; it doesn’t recognise that there are many other CD approaches which reach many (it’s not just the people who are visibly active in a group; it’s all the people they inter-act with day-to-day).
    I think the way forward is that we discuss “horses for courses” when we consider how communities receive the support they want: how can each approach collaborate for the good of communities, so that we combine mass action with equal regard for Power and Empowering behaviour . We are starting to recognise mutually the plusses & drawbacks in all existing approaches:
    ■CD has loads of experience in putting values into practice within complex situations. CD has, in the UK, a track record of supporting long- term change and networking across places and identities. But it has suffered in many cases from co-option into the system (through salary & managerialism & targets) , and has been hit hard by cuts & hostility from the new Govt
    ■CO has proved its ability to inspire communities to become effectively active on common causes . But it struggles with limited training and no long-term focus on power dynamics and equalities issues within communities
    Can we agree horses for causes/ a combination of approaches, given the demands of any situation ? Can we transcend one- size- fits- all or competing brands? Can we find shared roots in empowerment principles and independence from Govt? Can we develop shared training?

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