Standard Approaches of Community Development

The community development process involves more than a community selecting a goal and then doing it; nothing is ever that simple. There's a logic and methodology behind the process that has been tried and tested for decades and is designed to help it succeed. Certain tactics and approaches are going to yield certain results, and communities want to make sure that they are using the right ones to reach their objective(s). Ignoring or otherwise discounting tried and true community development approaches due to arrogance or overconfidence is tantamount to the community setting itself up for worse problems. Even those communities that want to attempt a more experimental approach will still want to include established methods as the basis for the process.

This article will explore some of the standard community development approaches that are used today. Each one focuses on areas and aspects that a community may need to address, include resource collection and management. Information on the following will include what each approach entails, any strengths or weaknesses, and what actions communities can take. It should be noted that these are not the only approaches available, nor will they require communities to following them perfectly. There are more approaches being used and more are being developed, so communities beginning the development process are encouraged to explore the available options as part of the planning stage.

          Evaluation of Social Capital

Social capital is a theory that is frequently associated with community practices and the study of sociology. The term is an old one and usually refers to elements that are common in the social aspects of people's lives.1 It's the links and values that draw people together and lead them to work together as a community. The shared interests that cause members of a community to unite in the first place are identified as elements of social capital in that particular group. Such bonds are going to involved different details and are going to develop differently from community to community, so they can be rather unique.

Experts on community development are a bit torn over the value of social capital in the development process. Some claim that there have been too many changes in human behavior and in society for the theory to have any purpose today.2 At this point, it's something that is better left to discussions about history than any modern community practice because communities are no longer acting like communities. Others state that it is still relevant and that evidence of it isn't as clear as it once was. Social norms change all the time and what was the case ten, twenty, or even a year ago is different from what it is now. It's evolution rather than erosion, and it's foolish to pronounce social capital dead and buried when you haven't even checked for a pulse.

Debating aside, social capital can be used in the community development process to identify functional elements of the community. Many issues that develop in communities are tied to the social bonds and elements found amongst residents; their impact on the social, economic, and political environment of a community can be analyzed to find a solution to problems.3 Evaluating the social capital of a community can help determine what areas are in need of immediate improvement, what areas may develop problems in the future, and what is making stable areas strong. It's valuable information that can be used throughout the development process for problems solving and management. The actual analysis and measurement of social capital is rather difficult; identification and observation of its effects in the community, like member relations, is usually the best method.4

  Resource Collection

Approaches regarding resources are going to be divided into collection and management. The separation is important because some communities may have more resources already in their possession while others will need to obtain them first. Collecting resources can both fulfill needs for the community development process and be a goal the community sets in and of itself. Whatever the reason is behind the need for a resource, it can't do anything if the community doesn't have it in the first place.

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Resource collection usually occurs once a plan has been formulated and the community is aware of what resources it needs for the development process. Depending on the resource, there are a few ways a community can collect it:

  •          Fundraising-Fundraising works for financial and non-financial resources, it just depends on the execution. It's the go-to method for any organization to gather resources and it gets people in the community involved.5 They're easy to organize and can happen at any time of the year. There are existing fundraising campaigns formats that can be adapted to fit any group's purpose, although the often do require some investment of existing resources-money, volunteers, etc.-in order for them to be successful. The motivations behind fundraising also need to be clearly stated and explained, as people are hesitant to participate in something they don't understand.
  •          Donations-Donations can be a part of fundraising efforts, but they can also happen on their own. People have all kinds of reasons for donating, whether it's simply out of the goodness of their hearts or for the benefit of a tax write-off. Communities can attract donations through drives asking for specific items, or by simply making it known to the public that help is needed. An open call for donations can generate a lot of resources, but not all of what is donated will be usable in the process (or at least not immediately). Like with fundraising, collecting resources through donations will require some background information for donators.6
  •          Applications-If a community is collecting resources through a particular source, like an assistance program, some type of application is usually required. Some resources, like grants, cannot be obtained or given out without information about the recipient(s) for legal reasons. Many of the organizations available that offer resources to those in need often have an application process so they can better distribute those resources to the appropriate sources. An application is also how many of those organizations become aware of a need for help in the first place.
  •          Advertisement-Using advertising to gather resources basically works by putting out a call for help into other communities. It brings awareness of issues to the public and shares relevant information about the situation. Other collection methods, like donations, usually depend on advertisements to work. It doesn't necessarily mean that a full-blown marketing campaign is needed to get the word out, but you still want people in- and outside of the community to know what's going on.

      Asset Management

    If a community already has the resources they need for community development, there needs to be some actions taken to ensure that they are used properly. Asset management can be used to measure and ration resources, monitor usage, and track their impact on the community development process. When resources are limited, management can help prevent wasteful actions that can derail the community's efforts for improvement. Here are three ways that communities can manage their assets during community development:

  •          Budgeting-Budgets work best for the financial assets being used. Money is an asset that can be difficult for some communities to come by, so it's incredibly important for its usage to be monitored throughout the process. A budget combines planning with spending and can be an easy way for organizers to monitor what actions are being taken. The steps taken to setup a budget early on helps determine how other resources are going to be distributed.
  •          Inventory-Taking inventory of what assets and resources gives the community a better idea of where it stands in the development process. It highlights what gaps need to be filled and what additional preparations need to be made before work can begin. This makes it easier for the community to plan out the actions it will take through community development and set goals. Like budgeting, regular inventory checks can help monitor resource usage and may even catch instances of waste and overuse. It keeps things organized, which can simplify the overall process.
  •          Quality Evaluation-Even if a community has the quantity of resources needed to meet their goals, there's no guarantee that those resources will be of the quality needed. You can't build a house if all the wood you have for it is broken and rotted, can you? Certain resources need to be in good enough condition for usage in order for there to be functional end results. If a resource is damaged in some way, it can make it inefficient for what the community wants to use it for-which may worsen the problem they are trying to fix. Resources should be evaluated before being delegated for usage and unused resources should be checked out throughout the process.

      Policy Reforms

    Some communities find that the root of their problems lie in the rules that govern them. Official and unofficial rules exert a lot of control over people, and they work best when they adapt to the changes that occur throughout society. Differences between policy and social rules can make it difficult for people to live and work within a community without issue. Large discrepancies between the rules of the community and the rules of society can make it harder for community members to function in either one, and the leadership between the two can clash. Some outdated policies can also make it difficult for certain improvements-like new business development and economic growth-to be implemented and work.

    Reforming or changing certain policies that may be impeding community function and progress can alleviate the problems they cause. Doing so aims to solve specific problems that are occurring in the community, and removes inadequate policies that can impede development.7 It also prompts the community to reevaluate all of the rules that are in place to identify potential issues that may arise later in the community development process, or the functionality of the improvements made. Some communities may find that they lack the appropriate policies that would benefit them, and reform would both identify their need and implement them. There is also the possibility that some of the improvements that community development would create may need new policies to help maintain and monitor their usage.

      Power And Leadership Balance

    Community development really works best when the community members are involved, and residents often want to be able to have some say and control over the situation.8 Imbalances of power takes away community members' decision making abilities and role in the community, and puts all the control into the hands of a few people. When leaders are unaware of issues in the communities they lead or the solutions available to fix them, it's often because they are not paying attention to the concerns of the residents. Such disparities can cause chaos and make it easier for corruption to develop.

    Imbalances are not always localized between the leadership and the community members; it can also occur between leaders who should theoretically be equals. Such instances can still be damaging for the community as conflict and power struggles amongst the governing forces can impede normal function throughout the community. Decisions don't get made, actions are not carried out, and the community can stagnate and become hostile in serious instances. It can also cause certain agendas that are counteractive to the community's overall goals and beliefs to take over. Balances of power in communities of all kinds are designed to keep opposing forces in check; if that's not happening, then actions need to be taken to ensure that it does.For community development to be successful, there needs to be some kind of leadership in place to guide the community through the process and ensure that things continue once the goals have been reached. The existing structure of a community may identify those who already fulfill leadership requirements, whether they already acting in that role or not. However, the issues that prompt community development occasionally are tied to the community's existing leadership practices and the division of power. In those cases, the best strategy to address the issues in the community is to attempt to generate improvements to the power and leadership balances.