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Community Development

Community Development (CD) involves changing the relationships between people and those in power so that all can participate and make their own decisions about how they want to live. It is an approach to building communities that promotes social justice and equality. CD is about enabling and supporting community members to define their own issues and agendas, and then working with them alongside statutory agencies to address those issues. It is also about ensuring that those who have mental ill-health can access services within their local communities.

The term “community” is broadly defined to include the residents of a local area, but can also be used to describe groups with common interests such as a culturally and linguistically diverse community or LGBTIQ group. The key to successful CD is that the participants, who can be both individuals and organisations, have a genuine stake in the outcome of the work that they do. This is a key part of the approach to building a community that has the strength and resilience to respond to challenges, rather than simply being a target for interventions.

There are a number of different approaches to CD, which may include:

A common approach to community development is to conduct a “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” analysis (SWOT) in order to identify the most pressing needs of a particular community. This may be supplemented by carrying out interviews, surveys or focus groups with a wider range of stakeholders, in order to gain more insight into the needs of the community.

Once the SWOT analysis has been completed, a clear plan can be drawn up to determine what the next steps are going to be. This should be agreed with the community and should clearly link activities to objectives, indicate responsibilities and specify time frames and resources that will be required. This will enable the community to feel involved and empowered, and also help them to avoid the trap of feeling like a “blank slate” that can often occur with consultation techniques, where the agenda is already set by external agencies.

It is important to note that the process of Community Development takes a long time, and that there are many challenges to overcome. However, there is evidence that it can be a highly effective and cost-effective approach, which can provide benefits for both communities and statutory agencies. This is particularly evident when it brings together spheres of activity, such as housing, education and healthcare, in partnership with the local community. This report suggests that CCGs, primary care practitioners and statutory bodies can benefit from using the principles of Community Development in their work, and this should be incorporated into policy change across the NHS. The Charter for Community Development in Health provides a framework to support this.