by Steve Clarke, author of Community Organization and Development: from its history towards a model for the future

A friend of mine said recently that, although there were probably more people in the development business today than previously, no-one now mentioned the words ‘community development’ in their analysis of an issue or approach to a problem.  Instead, they usually referred to ‘community participation’, ‘cohesion’, ‘sustainability’ and the rest, without making the link with the interventionist mechanism of community organization/development that is required to achieve their objectives. I believe that this link has to be made, emphatically, and be sustained if the social and economic wellbeing of depressed communities and local economies are to be raised up again. This is why this book is so very important.

One reason for this neglect of the community development process in social and economic change planning is that the allure of the technologies of intervention sweep aside the nitty-gritty of human responses to the change processes. The managers and professional agents of programmes are statistically accountable rather than being on a face-to-face, contact accountability with the subjects of their endeavours – the local community. The administrators of the local systems are similarly distracted from the real prize – the generation of a responsible and aware community capable of managing its own future with a reduced reliance on inflows of benefits and windfall capital. The lasting legacy of these processes are manifest today: welfare dependence and deindustrialization. The organic development of the local community, in tangent with a responsive local administration, must be the long-term preventive and regenerative objective of social planes. Community development/organization is the only way of achieving this.

Community Organization and Development is a painstaking study of the history of how these conclusions are reached. It is said that only through understanding history can we avoid making the same mistakes.  From our extensive bibliography, it will be seen how many have been actively engaged in refining the lessons of the past and trying to distil some order from them.  Now all these lessons can be examined in one place.  Because of the unique diversity of each and every community, only by the application of clear ‘rules of engagement’ in the community change process can positive and lasting results be guaranteed.  But these ‘rules’ have to be adopted with serious intent by disciplined and specially focused professionals. They have to be capable of learning on their feet, be infinitely adaptable, and be persons of high moral integrity. They have to remember that the community has to be assisted in setting its own agenda for change: change it had not recognized from the outset, but which it has defined for itself.  This is fraught with contradictions, all of which have to be managed by the professional.

Steve Clarke is a Research Fellow at Swansea University, Wales, and has over fifty years of international field work, consultancy and teaching experience in community development to health professionals and social workers.