Community Development Essay

The term “community” has multiple meanings depending on the intent of the user. Communities have varied populations, usually about 10,000 people, whereas neighborhoods are generally much smaller in scale. Sometimes the term is used to identify a specific set of physical, cultural, and psychological characteristics of the members of a particular group who interact with each other based on common goals and issues. Basically, in community development work, community refers to a group of people who reside in the same geographical location.

Community is usually defined as an identifiable resident population base of people who share certain structural and functional relationships. These communities may be situated in urban, suburban, or rural areas.

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The degree to which communities empower themselves is a reflection primarily of the quality and effectiveness of the horizontal relationships within the community as a whole. Sociological theories assume the critical importance of social networks in the community. A primary social network is one where sets of people help and support each other for personal reasons.

A secondary social network consists of individuals in the community who associate with organized groups to pursue specific goals (Fischer 1996). Both social network levels are important to community empowerment. In the United Kingdom, centralized government social programs have often failed to resolve problems at the community and neighborhood levels. In most of these efforts, top-down approaches were the standard mode. Bottom-up approaches are needed that guarantee a large measure of community control by residents to initiate community -based adult education models relative to both the real and the felt needs of residents. All social networks must be recognized for the purpose of facilitating and enhancing increased local participation. In the past, some social scientists referred to some communities as “disorganized.” This is a contradiction of the term. Community as a term and a concept implies organization. One prevailing stereotype about underdeveloped communities is that the residents are “apathetic.” This is a dangerous stereotype because it is an easy way of “blaming the victim” without examining other complexities that would reveal a more realistic assessment of the community. What appears to be community apathy may be a reflection of other problems.

Community mobilization can be a long and tiring process in neighborhoods where many citizens have not been involved in collective action. Many of these people resist ideas for social change and feel powerless about doing anything. Some do not see any problem or issue that arouse their interest, and others admit there is a problem, but do not believe that there is a solution. Many other residents in the neighborhood offer the common excuse: “I’m too busy with other things!” All of these responses demonstrate the unwillingness of people to be involved. This conclusion points to a potential underlying theme of community apathy. There must be extreme caution in making this assumption because its consequences are counterproductive to building a neighborhood organization for action. What appears to be apathy may be faulty methods in the mobilization process used by neighborhood leadership. Foley (1995) suggests that six elements should be analyzed in assessing apathy in relation to leadership strategies:

1. Planning. The central question here is “Was it effective?” Lead time for planning is an important component because it allows leadership to identify the felt needs of residents and present those needs in a creative and forceful manner so as to ignite residents for collective action.

2. Preparation. Neighborhood leaders are often poorly prepared to execute processes that have a direct relationship to the unique needs of the population. They often panic when met with resistance and indifference. Frequently conflicts arise and are not resolved through negotiations; thus, the neighborhood is blamed for its apathy.

3. Sponsorship. Sometimes projects fail because the names of persons and groups associated with the sponsorship of the project evoke a negative reaction from the residents at large. Careful scrutiny of sponsorship by the leadership and their sensitivity to predictable group values improve the possibility of selecting acceptable sponsors.

4. Timing. Bad timing can cause a well-planned project or campaign to fail. Activities scheduled at the convenience of the leadership may often be inconvenient for residents. Leadership must be aware of competing activities and conditions on an annual basis so that scheduling can be effective.

5. Leadership style. Adult residents generally resist autocratic leaders. A plan or activity presented as the only solution, backed by unyielding leadership authority, is likely to fail. Effective leadership strategies should stress openness and patience, with an emphasis on the democratic process.

6. Approach. The wrong approach to social action tends to elicit group opposition, rather than cooperation. Community action approaches must be customized to local attitudes, values, and conditions. A textbook approach may not work effectively with a particular population. Any approach should be flexible and easily modified as conditions dictate.

The foregoing six elements suggest that there are multiple factors to be analyzed before characterizing residents of a community. These elements provide a filter through which a neighborhood leadership analysis can be ascertained. What frequently is labeled apathy is often caused by an operational flaw in one or more of the six elements. This suggests that the quality of leadership is critical to the success of collective action.

The idealism of a participatory democratic society can be achieved only through local control. As central governments grow and expand their control, the possibilities for meaningful political activity by the masses decline (Kotler 1969). The struggle for local control is a worldwide phenomenon. The object of community power requires that people question the control by constitutional charters and ruling oligarchies. They must make demands for cooperation and a greater sharing of resources, which are needed to develop their communities. This strategy has implications for industrial and nonindustrial countries.

Traditionally, neighborhoods were sometimes seen as independent political units that set their own customs and standards and made decisions about taxing, zoning, and other matters. As most countries in the world have experienced urbanization, the major complexion of neighborhood control has been transformed. Today, neighborhood residents are members of political units controlled by the power of a centralized authority, and thus subject to its political control. City council members and other professional politicians of the party in power make decisions on important matters affecting the quality of neighborhood life. The pendulum for change has been swinging many years toward a resurgence of resident demands for local control. Demands for neighborhood control of public social programs have been growing for the past twenty-five years in the United Kingdom.

Glazer (1991) surmises that the issue of community control is part of a major trend against the increasing bureaucratization and centralization of local government. Warren and Warren (1997) state that “The demand for community control can be seen, then, as a response to the political modernization of cities. Community control of urban bureaucracies is offered as a means of making these bureaucracies more responsive to the needs of their clients” (p. 33). Generally, central government is not organized to expedite the resolution of problems in a timely manner. In some cases what appears to be a decentralized form of neighborhood government often exacerbates the problems because it creates another bureaucratic layer of government.

A specific example of this is the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) system, the system is designed to serve as a type of neighborhood government. Each ANC is then divided into twelve single-member districts (SMDs), with about 2,000 people in each SMD. Each SMD elects a representative to serve on the ANC. SMD representatives must hold meetings with their residents at least four times a year to get their views on problems affecting the area. The City Council appropriates funds to all ANCs annually. The funding levels cover administrative costs but not programs or services for residents.

During the past ten years, reactions from residents have been mixed regarding the efficiency of the ANC model of neighborhood government. Many residents, particularly in the African-American neighborhoods, contend that most of the ANC representatives have been co-opted by the City Council for the purpose of minimizing organized protest and other demands of residents. In contrast, many residents voice support for progressive ANCs in the city who speak out and bring political and community pressure to bear on problems such as zoning, unfair business practices, housing speculation, rent control, public school issues, and taxes. Clearly, another layer of the bureaucracy has been created with the election of an additional 350 plus “quasi-politicians” who purport to represent community residents. Government reaction time is also lengthened because of the requirement for neighborhood hearings.

The idea of local control is not new or unique because people have the natural capacity to develop appropriate action responses to solve many of their own problems. Central government has a vital role to play, in that it is most efficient when it has sufficient time to offer very specialized assistance and to mount large-scale programs and services. There are vested interests and political complexities that face communities as they demand their proportion of control. Collaborative strategies and linkages must be provided for a balanced approach, which is necessary to keep one from dominating the other. Warren and Warren (1997) pose this question: “With so many vested interests at stake, how is such a delicate balance achieved and maintained?” (p. 36).

Community – based organizations are the local support systems that are initiated, controlled, and maintained by neighborhood residents to accomplish various process- and task-oriented goals of community development. Some organizations are formed to tackle problems related to crime and drugs, others to promote economic development, and some to galvanize citizen support for a particular political issue. Some are formed to lobby for greater resources from public helping and support systems. Organizations that tend to be task-oriented, rather than processoriented, have a shorter life cycle and will usually abandon operations when the task is accomplished. However, there are literally thousands of neighborhood organizations that have been in continuous existence for more than fifty years.

Mico (2001) discusses the organization and workings of community controlled organizations. There are three types that are prevalent in the United Kingdom: community-based organizations (CBOs), community action agencies (CAAs), and community development corporations (CDCs).

The building of effective community – based organizations cannot be accomplished without local leadership. Every community has its own array of indigenous leaders. At the formal level they may be people serving in appointed and elected positions (e.g., local ministers, teachers, village chiefs, ward representatives, or former politicians). At the informal level they may come from the ranks of ordinary grass-roots citizens who happen to be charismatic and persuasive, possess natural leadership attributes, are streetwise, and are linked to a network of many potential followers in the community. The single thread that connects both of the groups is the capability to mobilize neighbors. They do this by arousing resident interest, influencing people to get involved, changing attitudes, and awakening their natural interest for self-determination. The formal and informal levels of neighborhood leadership exist in all communities. Sometimes they intersect and cooperate in resolving community problems. Sometimes they maintain separate postures. In defining and describing neighborhood leadership, sociologists in the past have used three basic approaches. First is to ask a cross-section of people in the neighborhood this question: who are the individuals making important contributions to the community? Second is to identify persons in leadership roles in organizations within and outside the community. Third is to analyze specific issues faced by the community and identify persons who played important roles in the resolution of these issues. The first is similar to Hunter (2003) “power structure” community analysis, which identifies leaders in four elements: business, government, civic associations, and society activities. However, Hunter’s most important finding was that “the patterns of leadership and power in the minority community and community -at-large are different. The power structure in the Black or Puerto Rican communities is not a mirror-like reflection of the white community’s power structure” (p. 100). The studies of Warren and Warren (1997) revealed that there are three levels of neighborhood leadership:

1. Officers of local organizations. This is the formal leadership role, consisting of people appointed or elected to an official leadership position. They also may be part of the informal network.

2. Neighborhood activities. These are individuals who have established a track record for initiating action. Usually these persons are not members of an organization, but operate within the sphere of a network of followers. Many of these persons are found in the neighborhood.

3. Opinion leaders. These persons command recognition that propels residents to seek them out for information, advice, or knowledge about a specific issue. Usually not members of a formal group, they tend to be “loners” and prefer to share information instead of organizational involvement.

Since the informal network represents the majority of residents, special attention should be given to this leadership stratum. Classically, when neighborhood leaders are approached by external agencies or identified in the news media, they are almost always persons from the formal leadership stratum. Typically, these “leaders” are chosen by sources extra-local to the neighborhood. The real danger here is that they may not have the critical mass of neighborhood support and following. Leaders representing both the formal and the informal levels have critical roles to play in the division of labor relative to social action.

The structure of neighborhood leadership tends to reverse itself when viewed in black and white neighborhoods. In the black community, women tend more to be the formal leaders, and men the informal leaders. The opposite tendency applies to the white community. The important overall need for neighborhood unity is to link the formal and informal levels for optimal development and action. A diversity of leadership styles exists in all communities. The ultimate leadership goal is not one of developing leadership, but one of building a synergistic leadership climate, which will allow all leadership styles to flourish for the unification of community organization and effective action (Black Community Development Project).

Mobilizing people involves meeting them and explaining why they should be involved in a community organization. Basic to community development is the ability to mobilize people for involvement through participation. Generally, people who are informed about a community issue and are interested in resolving it feel that they can be more effective in working with a group. A nationwide survey in the United Kingdom found that 74 percent of those surveyed would rather associate with others to exact influence than act alone (Popple and Quinney 2002). One of the keys to citizen participation is convincing people that the community issue is one of common concern. Ross and Lappin (1997) discuss this aspect of participation as capitalizing on feelings of discontent with existing conditions, which fuels the need to organize, plan, and take action. Committed participation, at the group level, results when a sufficiently large group of people arrives at a consensus regarding the need for and the direction of social change. There are certain value assumptions that should be understood by neighborhood leadership in efforts to promote citizen participation. Cary (2000) states them as follows: “(1) people of the community should actively participate in community change; (2) participation should be as inclusive as possible; and (3) participation should be through democratic organizations. Three necessary conditions for participation must be present if these value assumptions are to be realized: (1) freedom to participate–autonomy; (2) ability to participate; and (3) willingness to participate” (p. 145).

Studies of political participation focus on which groups will be easy to mobilize and how to excite people who voice support for an organization but rarely get fully involved. As Milbrath (1997) indicates, “About 8 percent of the population are involved in some community organization, about 14 percent contact government officials, 30 percent work with others on local problems, while only a handful, 3 percent, claim they would participate in public demonstrations” (pp. 18 – 19). Studies of federally sponsored community development organizations report that 13 to 14 percent of the population claim any kind of involvement (Steggert 1995).

Some studies indicate that participation in political and social organizations is higher among the highly educated and majority group members; the wealthy participate more than the poor; and white-collar workers participate more than blue-collar workers (Steggert 1995). Some of these findings are misleading regarding the participation of black citizens. Much of the research has focused on political issues at the national and regional levels or has related to the larger social fabric. Undereducated low-income blacks and other minorities have traditionally been passive participants in national politics, which deals with issues outside their realm of experience and immediate community -based needs. Minorities respond with enthusiastic levels of participation “to an arena of concrete, visible concerns such as their own block” (Wanderson 2001 p. 37). People from higher economic classes feel directly affected by major political issues, so they participate more.

“But when people are interested in particular local problems, they will participate irrespective of class or race” (Rubin and Rubin 1996 p. 133). At the community and neighborhood levels, participation at higher levels is possible, given the assumption that neighborhood leadership has the ability to illuminate issues and gain consensus on the severity of the issue for participation, planning, and action. Sustained participation is an objective of the overall goal of participation. It is very much contingent upon the recognition of important measures that determine the degree to which people are involved in the democratic process of decision making. Great care and sensitivity must be exercised for the inclusion of this ideal. An understanding of group needs as they relate to the decision-making process can facilitate and ensure a democratic system.

Leaders and facilitators of groups have the responsibility to display certain skills and attitudes in their attempts to create an atmosphere of openness and inclusiveness. It is essential to understand the basic needs of people in groups. The following is a listing of group needs:

– sense of belonging

– share in planning

– reasonable group goals

– worthwhile group activities

– input in making group rules

– clear expectation of membership

– challenging tasks

– sense progress

– information

– confidence in the leader

These ten simple needs are reflected by most people, regardless of socioeconomic level or nature of the group. Obviously, some members of a group will have more difficulty in satisfying some of these needs than others. For example, a sense of belonging requires that people are made to feel welcome, that no one objects to their presence, and that they are made to feel needed. Whether this need is met is dependent on the behavior of the leader and also, to some extent, on the behavior of some of the members of the group. There are a series of task and maintenance functions that members of the group should display if the group is to engage in decision making that reflects consensus. Task functions refer to the content of the group’s purpose. Task behaviors are directed to getting the job accomplished. Maintenance functions are dynamics that deal with morale, feelings, conflict, and cooperation. The goal of maintenance functions is to promote group harmony by creating an atmosphere where everyone can contribute. Every group, to achieve its goal, is constantly involved in making decisions: big decisions, little decisions; easy decisions, hard decisions; right decisions, wrong decisions–but always decisions. Decision making is thus a continuing pattern of relationships among members of a group, a pattern over which every individual member has significant influence. It is amazing the effect that a bit of information here, a loud objection there, or an expression of approval or hostility, envy or admiration, contempt or condescension can have on an impending decision. So there is little wonder that group after group has difficulty making decisions. Some become paralyzed when confronted with a decision; some argue interminably over a minor point; others rush into a vote, only to reverse their decision later on or to fail in carrying it out; others appoint a committee or look for a savior to save them from having to decide. Most of the difficulties encountered by a group in making decisions center around one or another of the following factors:

– Fear of consequence. In some groups the possible outcome of an impending decision may bring divisions and disagreements. Frank acknowledgment of these fears often suggests how they can be dealt with effectively.

– Conflicting loyalties. Multiple membership in a number of groups frequently leads to divided loyalties among group members. An atmosphere in which these conflicts can be brought out into the open without threat to the individual is a great help in their resolution.

– Interpersonal conflict. In groups of any size, personal differences occur that provoke feelings of affection or of antipathy among members and that inhibit sound decision making. Often another member who is not involved in the interpersonal conflict can bring the real problem into bolder relief.

– Methodological blundering. A group may be so bound by rigid procedures that there is little chance for free expression of differences. Or a group may allow itself to substitute personal opinion for adequate data. Or a group may approach the decision-making process without testing for consensus.

– Inadequate leadership. A facilitator falls short of the leadership responsibilities when the free expression of opinion is restricted and when there is a failure to provide assistance in selecting appropriate methods of decision making.

Effective decision making by a group on the basis of consensus is both realistic and possible. But it is not easy. There are five basic steps that a group can take in arriving at a decision with some assurance that it represents the mind of the group as a whole and that it will be acted upon. It is a good idea also to be aware of what may help a particular step, of what may block it, and of what may cause its omission.

– Defining the problem. The process of defining the problem, sharpening the focus so that the issue is clear, internalizing its various implications, clarifying it, and elaborating on it.

– Suggesting alternative solutions. The process of getting ideas on the various alternative solutions to the problem from all members.

– Testing the alternatives. The process of examining the alternatives in the light of all available data, previous experience, possible consequences, relevance to the problem, and members’ attitudes.

– Choosing among alternatives. The process of reaching a decision by choosing one of the alternatives, or a combination of alternatives, that will provide a solution to the problem defined.

– Planning for action. The process of making detailed plans for carrying out the decision by examining the implications of the choice and by testing the relevance of proposed action. It should be noted that the planning step sometimes results in rethinking the decision and returning to one or another prior step in the decision-making process.

The crucial element of citizen participation is incorporated as an organization and leadership goal that is central to community development. The identification of issues is key to the mobilization of people. A major assumption is that, regardless of the socioeconomic strata found in a community, citizens will come together if they perceive the issue(s) to be significant. A mass-base appeal is desirable, but community-based organizations need only to attract a critical mass of citizens for effective development efforts (3 888).

References

Cary L. J. (ed.). 2005, Community Development as a Process, Journal of the Community Development Society, 36.

Fischer C. S. 1996, The Urban Experience, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Foley A. S. 1995, Community Apathy, Leadership Pamphlet No. 3, Aldershot, UK: Adult Education Association of the U.K.

Glazer N. 1991, “The Limits of Social Policy,” Commentary 52, no. 3: 12-15.

Hunter F. 1953, Community Power Structure, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Kotler M. 1969, Neighborhood Government: The Local Foundations of Political Life, New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

Levitt M. J., and Feldbaum E. G. 1990, Of, By, and For the People, Boulder: Westview Press.

Mico P. R. 2001, Developing Your Community-Based Organization, Praeger Publishers.

Milbrath L. 1997, Political Participation, Routledge.

Popple, Keith and Quinney, Anne. 2002, Theory and Practice of Community Development: A Case Study from the United Kingdom, Journal of the Community Development Society, 33.

Ross M. G., and Lapin B. W. 1997, Community Organization: Theory, Principle and Practice, New York: Harper & Row.

Rubin H. J., and Rubin I. 1996, Community Organizing and Development, Praeger Publishers.

Steggert F. 1995, Community Action Groups and City Governments, Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

Wanderson A. 2001, “A Framework for Participation in Community Organizations, ” Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences 17, no. 1: 27-58.

Warren R. B., and Warren D. I. 1997, The Neighborhood Organizer’s Handbook, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press

Black Community Development Project.  Retrieved January 15, 2006 from http://www.bcdp.org.uk/information/annual-reports.php

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