Community Development: It takes time!

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The title says it all but let me expand:
I feel that the proof of success in asset based community development is not in statistics but in the stories of community transformation.  This is why I have asked a number of colleagues in this work to share their stories of where this is working in Australia and across the globe.

The problem with doing this, however, is that when we hear a great community success story and its easy to get the impression that the program in question was an immediate success!

When we do have success in community development (and I’m talking about good success – not just bums on seats or soup kitchen meals given out but real, life-changing, capacity-building success). Even when we do have that kind of success; then I can guarantee it takes a long time (which is a problem with our current government funding models).

When sharing his story with me, my good friend from World Vision couldn’t emphasis this enough:

“… building the capacity of people takes a long time!….when we read a story it’s easy to get the impression that the turnaround took 6 months….. it is more like a decade and the work is always in progress.”

Truly transformational community development takes a long time.  We often want to rush; to start the program, to get to the success.  The patience to participate fully in the underlying community engagement process (the time to “brew” as Andrew referred to in a previous post) and to trust the process even when it seems to be going at a snail’s pace… it’s a real challenge!

If you have every created something (a cake, a construction) with a child then you may understand this better.  Of course it would be quicker for you to perform the task yourself but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise.  So it is with community development.  It is far simpler for a lead organisation (such as a church) to construct a program of their own design and fruition… but that is not the purpose of community development.  Co-design is inerrantly slower, messier, clumsier but it serves many purposes such as:

  • engaging the whole community in its own renewal
  • using all the assets within the community (especially those most often overlooked)
  • creating a spirit of mutuality, respect and learning
  • creating a more connected community

So when it comes to community development.  Move slowly and put your trust in the PROCESS not the program.

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