This article was originally published in Generocity.
While there are many ways to approach community development, simplified we can think of community driven development (CDD) as being based on concepts of participation, transparency, barrier removal, accountability, local power, and enhanced capacity.
Within our sector in the current climate it is almost required to describe your work as being community driven, participatory, centering equity, etc., whether or not those very significant words and statements are actually guiding your actions.
There is significant overlap in all of this language, but rather than worry over definitions, I want to focus this discussion on the challenge to leap from language to implementation.
The principles of CDD can be arranged into five categories. What follows are those categories, as well as ways to actualize them not only in our sector but in other sectors as well.
- Design and planning — Participatory community engagement processes that recognize power in planning and design and account for and force shifts in power differentials, allowing community to proactively develop a vision/plan to evaluate new/future opportunities from inside/outside forces.
- Transfer and control of resources — In opposition to the current system that devalues communities and residents and encourages viewing communities through a deficit lens, build a system that increases knowledge of the value of resources and a plan to transfer those assets to the community as one of the measurable outcomes of the work.
- Primary beneficiaries are from the community — Assess the value of resources and outcomes connected to the work and insure they do not disproportionately leave the community.
- Locally led implementation and management of work — Not only hire local but continue to support capacity building so that the local leadership of staff and board continues to increase over time. Focus on intentional succession planning in response to either solving problems or having moved the needle enough to warrant new leadership, whether it be by a new community development corporation (CDC), a civic association or other individuals from the community with new ideas and solutions.
- Locally led evaluation, assessment, and accountability — Utilize community-based participatory research models that employ empowered community engagement processes which include engagement in design, collection, analysis and dissemination. Support residents in sharing their assessment of the impact of the work and if power is shared from the previous steps we will see actual accountability connected to success and failure.
It is important to note that CDCs do not operate in isolation. They work collaboratively with stakeholders from a variety of other sectors as well as community, and when done correctly these collaborations have incredible power.
We should remember though that all good partners should avoid superficial performative work and make their own commitments to these principles through actions. For example, as a funder are you willing to fund at a level that pays living wages for residents employed by CDCs, are you willing to pay for critical general operating needs, are you willing to commit to fund projects for multiple years to achieve the desired impact? Are we all ready to invest at the community level in the development of individuals and organizations to achieve the stated goals?
As individual actors within this sector, we need to be clear as to what our level of commitment is to this work and drive the whole sector in the ideal direction.
Commitment to these principles is not for the faint of heart, for those who expect immediate sustainable change, or for those who expect change that stems only from the creation of the best performative language. Through co-creation we have to have a clear theory of change, a set of guiding values and a way to operationalize them.
To successfully engage in community driven development we need to be willing to assess and acknowledge our shortcomings; our recognition becomes a strength when we learn and grow from where we have fallen short of our ideals.