Community Development Article

In our last Strategies for Change session, we had Damien Peelo from Treoir come and talk to us about the Principles of Community Development and how they might be built into our Collective Activism. 

Damien is a Community Practitioner and told us that he is very passionate about how the principles of community work can support all types of groups to move towards equality and human rights. 

Damien invited us to tell him a few of our examples of community work and the challenges that went alongside our work and “wow”, see some of our participant’s feedback:

The Challenges of Community Development

All community development work is challenging; this includes issues of participation, accessing resources and individualised change versus systemic social change. Others consist of the pace of change – very slow (as disabled people, we are all too aware of the “slowness); people remaining engaged; valuing the lived expertise versus the theoretical belief of “non-disabled professionalism”. 

So, the notion of “chipping away” to effect change is very real for all of us!

Definitions of Community Development

Damien chose three definitions of Community Development to share with us. 

“Community development is a long-term process whereby people who are marginalised or living in poverty work together to identify their needs create change exert more influence in decisions which affect their lives and work to improve the quality of their lives the communities in which they live under societies of which they are part of (Combat Poverty Agency).”

Pobal took this definition and added that community development is a developmental activity.

“Community development is a developmental activity composed of a task and a process. The task is the achievement of social change linked to equality and social justice, and the process is the application of the principles of participation; empowerment and collective decision making in a structured and coordinated way (Pobal).”

Community work is not random; it is not individualised in that it is not about one person going off to seek change by themselves. It is about a collective way of working; it is about collaborative decision making and a collective process. It is also about the empowerment of people who were affected by whatever issues that they have identified.

And then lastly

“Community development is a developmental activity comprised of both the task and process. The task is social change to achieve equality, social justice and human rights. The process applies principles of participation, empowerment, and collective decision making in a structured and coordinated way” (Community Work Ireland).

For disabled people, EMPOWERMENT, 
HUMAN-RIGHTS, TACKLING INEQUALITY and AFFECTING CHANGE in a very meaningful way are fundamentals to Our Collective Activism

Core Elements to Community Development

There are four critical elements to good community work. 
  1. Taking part is about meaningfully involving people that are most affected by the issue. This means that all planning and actions at all levels need to be led by those affected “nothing about us without us” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsfuvqyW2M0). It is well researched that you cannot make meaningful long lasting policies and decisions without the “lived experience” no matter what community group you are working with. 
  2. Decision making and collective action; this is about looking at the greater good versus individual solutions. Individual action may fix a singular problem, but this does not trickle down to others affected by the same problem. It is also about enabling individuals to develop their skills, knowledge, and confidence to critique and identify priory needs as a collective. Within the disability movement, we might even need to think about change, not just for disabled people. So, it is about finding out who else is having the same problems, who else will benefit, who else can we talk to, building solidarity and making connections with other movements.
  3. Social change: community work is based on a belief that every person and every community can play an equal role in creating conditions for a more just and equal society – where human rights are promoted, and all forms of oppression and discrimination are challenged (see – https://www.socialjustice.ie/content/publications/social-justice-matters-2021-guide-fairer-irish-society). Essentially this it is about challenging and changing the status quo. If this isn’t present, then there will not be “that long term change” that we all want.
  4. Process: this is about how we do things and the values and principles that underpin our work. Activism and community work may not be the same; if you are not engaging in the values and principles of equality, social justice, and anti-discrimination, you are not doing community work. For example, I could be a brilliant activist and super at motivating people. Still, suppose my reason for being active is to stop travel accommodation coming into my area. In that case, it’s not the community work because it is not underpinned by the values and principles of community development.

Values and Guiding Principles of Community Development – Informed by our very own Peter Kearns

The below principles of community development are called “pillars” because community development practice would collapse if any of them are weakened or cease to exist.
  • Community work is always based on working together (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW73Rs2zz6o). It is about engaging with and supporting groups of people to enable them to develop the knowledge; skills; and confidence to question and identify the priority needs and issues of a group and address these through Collective Action
  • Empowerment – Community work is about the empowerment (see – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOWMzwwlMAg) of individuals and communities. It is about addressing the “unequal distribution of power”. It is about working with people to enable them to become critical thinkers, be creative, liberated to become an active participant, taking more control of the direction of their lives
  • Social Justice – The active pursuit of social justice is an essential element of community work and contributes to a socially cohesive society. Community work is based on a belief that every person and every community can play an active role in creating conditions for a just and equal society where human rights are promoted, and all forms of oppression and discrimination are challenged (see – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsAUbYd5xso&t=2s
  • Equality & Anti-Discrimination – In working for equality, community workers must work from the starting point that while people are not the same and diversity is to be celebrated, people are all of equal value and worth and are, therefore, equally worthy of respect and acknowledgement. Community workers are responsible for challenging the oppression and exclusion of individuals and groups by institutions and society. Seeing people as something other than ‘normal’ leads to oppression of diversity and discrimination against people based on ability, age, culture, culture, gender, marital status, socioeconomic status, nationality, skin colour, racial or ethnic group, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs.
  • Participation – Participation is about the involvement of groups who experience social exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination in decision making, planning and action at all levels, from the local to the global. While collective participation can be viewed as an activity that can start from information sharing right through to capacity building and empowerment to active engagement and meaningful participation in democratic processes (https://www.sustainabletoolkit.ie/participation-engagement

How Do You Affect Change Using Community Development in Our Activism Work

  1. Figure out collectively what is the root cause of the problem
  2. Who needs to be involved – this is about building solidarity with others – seeking allies, supporters, and stakeholders – how do we get them involved 
  3. What are the possible actions that we need to take? This includes identifying the people/groups/institutions that we need to influence (who are the decision-makers)

(see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0pF1fUaUnE for an great example of Collective Activism by the Traveller Community)

Possible Actions

Effective
Researching, Campaigning, Protesting, Petitioning, Policy Reform & Use of Media