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Blog #7: The importance of holding intention for community development ‘practice’

Over the years I’ve done a fair bit of research inquiring about community development workers ‘practice’ all around the world. I’ve heard many a good story, but one that sits with me in an unsettling way, and nags me a bit is when I’ve asked community development managers about recruiting community development workers. In that asking, I’d be a rich man if I got a dollar for every time I’ve heard the answer as some version of - ‘I employed that person because they’re a really good person, everyone loves them, and they run a great event’.

Now don’t get me wrong, because I love a person who is good, who is loved by many, and runs a good event. But that sounds like a good event manager, not a community development practitioner.

As I’ve mused over the years, what’s become clearer and clearer is that to have a practice is to do something regularly, and to be clear about intention. Nurses nurse with a clear intention; teachers do too; people do yoga regularly and with an intention. They are then yoga practitioners. Hence, they all have a practice – nursing, teaching, yoga. As such it’s also true for community development if it’s a practice – regularity and intention.

To do good, be loved and run a great event isn’t good enough. For example, for an event to be a community development process, there needs to be a clear intention. Such as:

- did the citizens organising the event draw on their skills, passions and gifts to make the event happen?

- were new capacities (new confidence, new skills, new relationships, new resources) developed during the process of planning, implementing and evaluating?

- did people connect in new ways, particularly creating spaces for those historically on the margins?

The measure of a good event that is aligned with community development principles is to understand the intentions, and enfold them in the practice. And of importance is to always remember the intentions of community development – ideas such as:

- collective analysis and action;

- people having more options and power in their lives as a result of cooperative work;

- changes in structural marginalisation.

So next time you’re doing something that’s called community development be clear about your intention, or get clear with those involved. And do it regularly. Then you know you have a practice.

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