32 (Tentative) Beliefs About Community Development

  1. Development occurs when people change their habits, patterns, attitudes and perhaps most importantly behaviours.
  2. Community development is a function of the number of individuals who are changing their habits, patterns, attitudes and perhaps most importantly behaviours.
  3. Sometimes there is lots of individual development but no community development – we have a steady state.  For example if the number of people that break an addiction are matched by the number of people that take up that addiction we have lots of individual development but no community development.
  4. We only get community development when individuals’ personal development is in some way aligned.  This alignment is a process of finding common cause.  Negotiation of self interest is critical in developing community.
  5. The ‘direction’ of both personal and community development may be progressive, regressive or neutral.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell.
  6. Personal development is always in pursuit of ‘self interest’, which may, or may not, be ‘rightly understood’.
  7. Long term self interest is frequently sacrificed on the alter of short term self interest: ‘live only for today for tomorrow may never come’.
  8. People change their habits, patterns, attitudes and behaviours all of the time in relation to changes in their environment – development in this case is driven externally.  The locus of control is external and the individual is essentially manipulated by their environment.
  9. This externally driven change is the paradigm on which most personal development, community development and public policy is based – it is the world of nudging, nannying, infrastructure and service development in order to achieve behaviours specified and desired by ‘The Anointed’.  It usually makes communities less enterprising.
  10. Many of us are happy to work with an external locus of control, because it let’s us off the hook.  In this context my progress depends on others.  ‘I’ am more or less out of the equation
  11. While it is tempting to nudge, nanny and legislate to encourage ‘development’ it is a temptation that should be yielded to rarely.  It is in many cases, counter-productive.
  12. Instead, perhaps we should choose to provoke reflection and the analysis of self interest.
  13. People can also choose to change their habits, patterns, attitudes and behaviours because they recognise that such a change is in their self interest – development in this case is driven internally.  The locus of control in this case is internal and it provides the individual with a sense of agency and power over their own lives.  People with a primarily internal locus of control are usually experienced as ‘enterprising’.
  14. Self interest is not selfishness.  Self interest is about ‘self amongst others’.  Pursuing self interest is about pursuing what matters personally in the context of a community.  It demands compassion, empathy and values if it is not to be merely personal greed and selfishness.  Selfishness is self interest wrongly understood.
  15. In order to achieve community development we must increase the number of people for whom an internal locus of control drives their personal development and help them to support each other in common cause.
  16. Community development is accelerated when individuals learn to associate, collaborate and co-operate in pursuit of mutual self interest.
  17. When people change their habits, patterns, attitudes and behaviours we call this Learning.
  18. Learning is at the heart of Personal and Community Development.
  19. All real learning is driven by self interest.
  20. If the rate of learning is greater than the rate of change in the environment then progress becomes possible.
  21. If the rate of learning is less than the rate of change in the environment then regression is inevitable.
  22. Learning depends on both the acquisition of  existing knowledge and the generation of insights and the creation of new knowledge through reflection and enquiry.  Most of our communities and their education systems value the acquisition of knowledge over the processes of reflection and enquiry.
  23. ‘The community’, or more accurately our peer group, shapes what types of learning are acceptable.   This is an important aspect of community culture.
  24. Swapping one peer group for another can be a powerful catalyst for personal development.
  25. Building peer groups that have primarily an internal locus of control can be helpful.  These peer groups are ‘community’.
  26. In some communities it is OK to be aspirational and believe in the power of progress and change.  These are communities with an internal locus of control – they believe they can shape their own futures.
  27. In some communities such positive attitudes are, more or less, discouraged as they challenge the dominant belief that things are the way they are because of other people.  These communities prefer to blame others, including The Anointed for their circumstances.  This is one reason why so many communities see ‘The Council’ as outsiders.  It is ‘their’ fault.  It is the fault of other communities.  It is the fault of the Government. Or Europe.
  28. Development always happens in all communities – but its focus is often on the maintenance of the status quo in a changing environment rather than the pursuit of progress.
  29. Community developers often avoid tricky conversations about self interest by convening individuals around a ‘common good’ such as a project to refurbish a playground for example.  This results in the establishment of a local group of the anointed and further reinforces the external locus of control.
  30. Much of what is called community development work these days is NOT community development.  It appropriates the tools and processes of community development in order to pursue the objectives of the state.
  31. Much of what passes for ’empowerment’ is actually those with power nagging those without power to ‘pull their (metaphorical) socks up’.  We can create the conditions in which individuals and communities build their own power.  But we cannot easily give them ours.
  32. Community development depends on the personal development of both self interest, rightly understood, and the power to pursue it

I am sure that there is more.  Much more.

But perhaps there is enough here already to suggest a basis for radical and empowering approaches to community  and personal development.

  • What do you think?


  1. how does a community know they want developing? do they all need to work towards a joint goal or is it a collection of individual progress that achieves this? if you wAnt to create large scale community development how can this be done – is it be regeneration masquerading as development?

    you have some really good points here Mike. Is Leeds embracing your theories? and lastly is this what I would learn on say a post grad diploma in community development? sorry about all the questions – new to the subject, and the best articles always generate questions! I’m assuming tradition thought is basing people in geographical communities?

  2. johnpopham says:

    Lots of good points Mike. I feel a blog post coming on. This, and the nine points for the Big Society, which Julian Dobson came up with in Manchester on Wednesday, make a really interesting manifesto.

    I very much agree with you that it is much preferable if people develop themselves and their own communities on principles which matter to them. But, what about an alternative point of view which says that poor communities are a drain on the tax payer, in lots of different ways, and that, therefore, it is in everybody’s interest to “nudge” them towards change?

  3. Rory Barke says:

    Thought provoking. The 32 points make a very good starting point to examine and question current community development practice. For me they are too assertive – nothing is as black and white as you seem to suggest. Nevertheless I’m all for some provocation and radical review.

    • Thanks for dropping by and commenting Rory. I did offer these statements as tentative! Having said that, so far I am sticking with them! Tried to derive the statements from an unremittingly ‘person centred’ perspective.

      Been doing some more work in Wigan on community engagement too. Much progress I think to build on innovation lab….

  4. Gerry Andrews says:

    Very interesting and thought-provoking points, Mike!

    I agree with the person-centred approach, but I also think we cannot ignore John’s suggested alternative perspective. Working with some of the communities and individuals that I do, it does seem to me that while the potential for progress and development resides in all of us, this may need prompting, nudging and supporting as well.
    I am looking to see what can be done to bridge the gap in current practice so that a greater awareness of the person-centred principles you mention can be built into current ways of working/thinking.
    I’d be interested in sharing some thoughts on this further and seeing what you are doing in Wigan on this.

    • I am sticking with Schumacher I am afraid Gerry. If people do not want to be helped we should leave them alone. Otherwise what basis do we have to intervene and ‘help’ in their lives?
      The powerful question is ‘What would we have to be like so that more people did invite us in to their lives to help them?’

  5. Gerry Andrews says:

    Good question!!
    We can be two things, to be of value – ‘mirrors’ and ‘windows’.
    But ultimately, just being another person in our human interactions is what much of what our work is about. Help does not necessarily have to mean an imposition of power.

  6. Sorry I’m coming late to the party. I was trying to see the Leeds video, but (this) old computer won’t load it. So it was irresistible to see 32 beliefs about community development.

    I certainly agree that only an internal locus of control can generate true community development that isn’t dictated by some outside authority, such as a national government. I don’t know how we generate that, except that families, schools, and groups that work with children really should lay down their authoritarian hats and help individuals develop in this way.

    In my research I found that the people with an internal locus of control were the ones that were able to stay and become leaders of an urban neighborhood facing an in-migration of people of color. The external locus of control folks, as estimated by a simple five-question screening series, thought the in-migration a terrible thing and were pessimistic about the future of the neighborhood. Which thrives now, 25 years later.

    Good post. I will think more.


  1. […] This post is a quick response to a recent post by Mike Chitty, 32 (Tentative) Beliefs About Community Development. […]

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