Community participation, community development and non-formal education. In this piece Marjorie Mayo explores competing perspectives based upon different theoretical approaches to social change, and to combating poverty and disadvantage. This piece was first published in 1994 and is part of the informal education archives.
Although community participation and community development are terms that have such current connotations, both have actually been around for some considerable time. In the post-Second World War period, community development was defined as a ‘movement designed to promote better living for the whole community with the active participation and on the initiative of the community’. This definition arose in the context of strategies to promote development in Britain’s colonies (Report of the Ashridge Conference, 1954, quoted in du Sautoy 1958: 2). People’s participation, then, was built into the whole approach and interwoven with community development.
Since then, however, these early community development programmes have been criticised on a number of grounds, including the view that despite their commitment to participation and ‘bottom-up’ approaches, many of the programmes were actually still paternalistic. They have a focus upon getting ‘backward people in the right frame of mind’, which typically involves providing unpaid ‘voluntary’ labour for colonial development projects (Manghezi, 1976). Because of this association of ‘community development’ with a colonial past, the term has been effectively abandoned, in some quarters, in preference for the term ‘community participation’, emphasising as this does, participatory, rather than paternalistic approaches to development.
But the term community development is still being used, both in countries in the South, and countries in the industrialised North, and not necessarily in paternalistic ways. In Britain recently, for example, the local authority organisation, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has defined community development as being in essence about:
working with and alongside people, rather than for and on behalf of people, in order to tackle discrimination and disadvantage and the feelings of powerlessness experienced by many people in Britain today… Community development is about the involvement of people in the issues which affect their lives… It offers an exciting method through which individuals can develop their knowledge, skills and motivation, identify the common threads of problems which they experience in their lives and work collectively to tackle these problems (AMA 1993: 9).
So, as this item will explore in more detail, these terms have been contested, and used in different ways, depending upon the perspectives of the users.