Community Development

Governments should empower their  citizens. Ultimately the survival of democracy, and perhaps humanity, depends on governments accepting their own transitoriness and putting the long-term interests of the people first. This means increasing the power of the people to control both present and future governments and other powerful interests. This has to be done at arm's-length, because there may be tensions with other policies at a given time. Community development (CD) is the mechanism. It is both a social movement, a public policy and a set of professional skills.
Where governments suppress citizens, CD can only be a social movement. Where government attempts to empower its citizens, CD strategists need to manage the balance of government policy and the social movement.
Most of my working life has been spent navigating this area of creative tension. This page gives pointers to some of the successive stages by which my perspective was built, in reverse order. 

Rethinking Community Practice  (Policy Press, 2013), written with Colin Miller, offers a strategy for government and local public bodies to apply CD systematically. 

People and Services Partnerships, PACES, 2014 ( ) (with Colin Miller) condenses some of the essential argument from Rethinking Community Practice in light of the first few years of the Tory-Libdem Coalition government in Britain, which mistakenly posed 'big society' as an alternative to public services, instead of a supported partner, strengthening both civil society and public services in tandem.

Big Society and Public Services: Complementarity or Erosion? PACES, 2011, (with Colin Miller), and The Big Society: How it Could Work, PACES, 2010, (with Colin Miller) ( examine what 'big society' could have become if its promoters had been serious in their intentions to boost community action.

Thriving Third Sector: A User Guide the National Survey of Third Sector Organisations, London: Cabinet Office / Office for Civil Society, 2010. Analysis of the largest survey of the voluntary and community sector ever carried out in the UK, scandalously lost sight of in the change of government that year.  It shows that community and voluntary organisations need a good relationship with local public bodies even more than funding - and most sorely lack it. 

‘In and not wholly against the state’, in Working for Change: The Irish Journal of Community Work, 2009 (July). CD has sometimes undermined its own position by seeing the state as the enemy instead of an arena of negotiation and a source of allies.

Empowerment Skills for All, Leeds: Homes and Communities Agency, 2009 (with Colin Miller). CD can be carried out to some extent by all social professions, but remains weak without a coordinating plan.

Measures of Community. London: Community Development Foundation, 2004, for the Home Office. The clue to measurement in this sphere is to measure the level of community activity amongst a given population, not to try to measure a phantom entity called a community.  This study influenced some major advances in the New Labour period, later lost sight of in political and economic turmoil. 

Searching for Solid Foundations: Community Involvement and Urban Policy. London: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2003. Analysis of why community involvement rises and falls in public policy and how it can move from rhetoric into concrete action. 

The New Community Strategies: Involving Local People. (With Charlie Garratt and Alison West) London: Community Development Foundation, 2000. One of a periodic series of short guides showing how to optimise the community involvement element in regeneration policies. Recommended by government at the time and widely used by local authorities.

Local Community Involvement, a Guide to Good Practice. Dublin: Eurofound, 1999. Final product from a stream of EU work, this crystallised the common element of involvement across different countries.

Community Involvement in Urban Regeneration: Added Value and Changing Values. European Commission (DGXVI) Regional Studies 27. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities,1997.  Examples from 12 countries show both the fundamental similarity and the unique local creativity of community projects. 

Out of the Shadows: Local Community Action and the European Community. Dublin: Eurofound, 1992 (Also published in German, Spanish and French). Summarising seven national studies, this was a foundation-stone for my later thinking, showing that the fundamental role of community groups in democratic societies was equivalent in countries with different cultures and conditions. 

Taken for Granted: Community Activity and the Crisis of the Voluntary Sector. London: CDF, 1991.  This analysis showed the inadequacy of regarding community groups as the tail-end of the voluntary sector. The small community groups are the great bulk of the sector, the main source of community voice and mutual aid, but between them receiving only a tiny proportion of the sector's resources. The high-profile voluntary sector consists of professionally-led specialist organisations. Both spheres are doing essential work, but of different kinds. Policy often reaches only as far as the professionally-led voluntary sector, on the assumption that its effects trickle down. They don't. Separate vigorous policy is needed on participation, mutual aid and community voice. 


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