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?