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What is community development?


What is community development? The term has been widely used particularly in Aboriginal affairs for over 40 years and is often misused and misunderstood. Over the last 15 years it fell from favour but more recently is showing signs of a revival.

Guiding principles

The principles of community development are not well understood or practiced in Australia compared to in international development circles, eg the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED, in the UK. Community development has often been misinterpreted and written off as being soft or 'feel good' stuff instead of genuine practical development. The focus of training and study in Australia in recent times has been on community or Aboriginal administration and service delivery rather than genuine community development.

There are many lists of the principles of community development prepared by numerous bodies including IIED. From both research and our experience we offer the following list of principles that guide community development:

  • Community Participation
  • Community Ownership
  • Empowerment and Accountability
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Long term commitment
  • Inclusion
  • Access and Equity
  • Social Action
  • Advocacy
  • Networking
  • Self Help
  • Trust

Community development, some definitions

Community development has a myriad of definitions; we have not come up with a single definition that completely satisfied us. However we provide the following definitions to stimulate discussion:

The process:

  • Community development is the process in which the efforts of the people themselves are united with those organisations and of government authorities to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of their communities, town or village with a view toward making it a more healthy, prosperous and gratifying place to live.
  • Community development is more than just economic development (although economic development is included). Community development is the process or effort of building communities on a local level with emphasis on building the economy, forging and strengthening social ties, and developing the non-profit sector.

The process and outcome

  • Community development is both a process embarked on, and an outcome, of many and various processes and strategies that are purposefully initiated – and sometimes occur more naturally, spontaneously or organically - towards enhancing the experience of people living in communities.

The physical or project orientated version:

  • Community development is a process involving the conception, planning, and implementation of projects or activities which create improvements in (or reduce the extent of declines in) the living standards of people in a particular community.

Community development is ongoing; it does not end and is a crucial factor in supporting and developing sustainable outcomes for a community. In the event that a community has been or is in crisis or is having a significant Government intervention then concurrent and ongoing post intervention community development is mission critical to sustainable success.

Community development in Aboriginal communities

Community development is essential to underpin local and Government initiatives it is particularly needed than in the Northern Territory to compliment and build on the work of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, NTER where the Government is considering 'where to now?'.

Community development is a mission critical factor to sustainability, but it must be stressed it is an ongoing part of community life and needs to be the same in government policy.

See our paper on Sustainable Community Development Australia, SCDA.

Rob Burdon 31st January 2009


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