Community development begins with communities. In order to build basic agreement about how we can better document the work of the community development field, we need a shared understanding of what we mean when we say communities and community development.
Community can signal two distinct ideas. A community can be a group of people who reside in the same geographic location and share a common understanding of the general boundaries that create their physical community. This is a “community of place.” Separately, a community can be a group of people who share a common interest and are engaged in activity to advance that interest (for example, the community of people who are engaged in the local foods movement). This is a “community of interest.”
For the purposes of The Hub’s preliminary report on Community Development Innovation in WV, when we wrote about communities, we referred to “communities of place”—people who live in the same location, such as a city, town or region.
Community development is more difficult to define. The United Nations defines community development as “the process by which community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.” The International Society of Community Development defines it both as a field and practice that “promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality and social justice, through the organization, education and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity or interest, in urban and rural settings.”
In the report, when we wrote about community development, we referred to the practice, the process of community members coming together to take collective action. When we referred to the field, we were talking about the people who are engaging in community development efforts, as private residents, designated or elected leaders, and trained practitioners.
A Unique Approach to Community Development Created by West Virginians
West Virginia’s community development practice is unique and has a long history of collaborative development. As one part of that history, in 2006, West Virginia community development leaders came together in a multi-year process to build a Community Development Model that put forward a framework for organizing disparate community development services throughout the state into a “cohesive and comprehensive system of support for increasing community capacity in sustained community and economic development.” This model defined the practice by which successful community development could be undertaken by teams of community leaders who are supported by community coaches, identifying key elements such as local leadership development, visioning, strategic planning, organizational development, technical assistance, and financial resources.
It also suggested a potential methodology to measure and track community capacity building. While the methodology focused on community capacity as the element of community development that should be better tracked, it is a single part of a multi-faceted field that as a whole needs better documentation and measurement, particularly for activity within small, rural communities.
Are you interested in reading more about the work done in West Virginia through the Community Development Gathering process?