Key Insights to Community Development
“Community development is a broad term applied to the practices and academic disciplines of civic leaders, activists, involved citizens and professionals to improve various aspects of local communities (Wikipedia).”
Those desiring to engage community development seek a noble task. Developing communities is not a short-term commitment. It requires a perspective that is willing to partner with local stakeholders for an extended period of time (usually generations). Although there’s possibility of quick, short-term impact, the development of a community requires faithful commitment towards a common goal of improving the lives of those living in your city.
In working with community development groups, I’ve learned that there are some key insights for this kind of endeavor. The following is a list (not exhaustive & with short descriptions) of principles to keep in mind while pursuing the betterment of life for those in your city:
- Start with Presence. Develop the practice of presence in your city. The best ideas for community development probably already exist within the hearts of those who live day to day in your city. Developing a plan from a distance may feel productive, but my suggestion is that you plan from within the environment.
- Take a Posture of Listening. Who’s talking? Listen. Pursue those that are already committed to providing some of the essential needs of your community (e.g., law enforcement, city leaders, teachers, faith leaders, neighborhood councils, etc.). Set up time to just listen to what others think. Also, listen to the fringe of culture as well (i.e., those who may not have mainstream influence).
- Commit to Learning Before Teaching. Many well meaning organizations have entered cities with presuppositions that ended up being of very little help. They thought they knew what the needs were. Unfortunately, cities are not that predictable. Learn from those who have gone before you and will remain even if you decide to leave.
- Genuinely Love the People Before Process or Programs. When it’s all said and done, it’s about people. If you can’t genuinely love your neighbor, how do you plan to implement ideas of care. Fall in love with those who make up a city (i.e., people) more than you love the city (i.e., geographical label). Processes and programs are great, but people must always be priority.
- Network Broadly. Developing a city will always require more than just your organization. Admit it and network broadly (yes, broadly). Some organizations have too narrowly focused who they network with and who they won’t network with. It’s unfortunate. We all need each other even with all of our differences. I know it’s complex and things like budgets and politics are involved. Nevertheless, we must choose to intentionally broaden who we work with in our cities.
- Plan Strategically. It takes a plan. Obvious? Yes. Practiced? Not enough. Plan well. Plan strategically. If you are an organization trying to develop your community, be sure to create a well thought through business plan. “Business” is not the enemy nor less noble. A strong business plan will allow you to clarify your reason for existence, the research needed to “succeed”, and a practical plan for implementation.
- Implement Ideas Faithfully. No amount of passion along will develop a community. It requires the tireless and relentless pursuit to carry through on ideas and commitments. Your reputation and ability to further network is on the line with every promise you make. Step and implement. Implement well and in a timely manner. Be sure to focus on the 99% of perspiration required for any idea to become a reality after inspiration.
- Re-evaluate Regularly. Evaluation and reevaluation must become the norm for your organization. Proven systems in the past don’t guarantee present or future success. Develop an ethos and system for on-going evaluation. You’ll be thankful in the end.
If you or your organization are interested in or committed to community development, you should be honored and applauded! We need more people like you!
I hope that this post will be a source of affirmation, challenge, and refinement for your good work in our communities.