Nyomtatóbarát változat
European Trends in Community Development
Paul Henderson
A kiadás helye:
A kiadás éve:
közösségfejlesztés, Európa
Közösségfejlesztési partnerségépítés Közép-Kelet Európában
Raktári jelzet:

European Trends in Community Development

Paul Henderson (Director, Practice Development, Community Development Foundation, UK)

Presentation to the seminar ‘Community Development Partnership Building in Central and Eastern Europe’, Sovata, Romania, 27 - 29 March 2003


It is a privilege for me to address this meeting and to be part of your discussions. I knew about your project and appreciate the opportunity to learn how it has gone. I hope that this presentation will strike some chords with your reflections and the evaluation of the project. It will seek to provide an overview of community development in the European context. Inevitably this means that it will be making quite generalised points and this can sometimes be dangerous and frustrating: in our field it is extremely difficult to be certain that we are getting an accurate picture of what is happening. However, from time to time, I think it is essential that we attempt to do this, i.e. to provide an over-arching analysis. Otherwise we face the opposite danger – of getting lost in the detail of projects and practice, being unable to see the wood for the trees.

I propose to begin by briefly describing the Combined European Bureau for Social Development. I will then attempt to provide an understanding of the context in which community development in Europe is taking place, before going on to put forward five key themes that I think are being experienced by community development. At the end I will offer some concluding comments.

Combined European Bureau for Social Development

The Combined European Bureau for Social Development (CEBSD) was set up at the beginning of the 1990s. Originally it was designed to provide an organisational framework to help a small number of national community development organisations to exchange information and to ‘do business’ with each other. However, over the next few years, it moved away from this focus, placing increasing emphasis on the importance of having a European forum at which the ideas, principles and methods of community development could be discussed and analysed. Today it sees itself as a network and is much more ‘transparent’ and accessible than it was when it started.

Its membership, however, remains small: a total of ten member organisations, most of them covering an entire country. The members are varied in terms of their constitutions. For example, my own organisation (CDF) and the Irish member (Combat Poverty Agency) are linked with government, the French member (Le Mouvement pour le Developpement Social Local) and the Hungarian member (Hungarian Association for Community Development) are voluntary organisations and the member in Catalonia (Desenvolupament Communitari) and Swedish member (CESAM) can be categorised as private sector organisations. In my long association with CEBSD, these differences have not mattered – quite the opposite, they have been a strength. What holds the members together is their commitment to community development principles and methods and their wish to sustain this commitment within the European context as well as within the national one.

Dialogue, the exchange of information and ideas between the members, is not always easy. We may use the same words when discussing community development but they do not always mean the same things! Even the term ‘community development’ is problematic: certainly in France this is not a concept that is widely used. The reason the term ‘social development’ was used as the name for CEBSD was because, after lengthy discussion, it was the one which was most acceptable to all the member organisations.

CEBSD is an inspiring network to belong to. It is also an important one in terms of (a) providing a means of communication on community development within Europe (b) acting as focal point for organisations to inform and influence European institutions, especially the European Commission and (c) making it possible for European community development organisations to link with other networks and organisations both within Europe and beyond – hence the collaboration with IACD. I know that I speak on behalf of all the CEBSD members in stating that we look forward to working more closely in future – on all three themes - with organisations in eastern and central Europe.

Over the last two years CEBSD has completed a project funded by the European Commission on participation methods and it is currently undertaking another EU-funded project on community development and social inclusion which I want to come back to. Information about these projects can be found on CEBSD’s website: and from CEBSD’s part-time consultant (

The European context


At the level of the European Commission the policy ‘climate’ for community development appears to be positive. With the possible exception of the Peace and Reconciliation Programme for Ireland, the term community development is not used. The language is more that of community involvement, participation, local development and partnership and it is a language that relates strongly to employment and social inclusion. For example, those regions which have Objective One status (making them eligible for additional EU funding) are expected to set up and support structures (partnerships) that enable local people to be involved in decision-making about the allocation of resources. For rural areas, the LEADER + rural development programme also has an expectation that communities will be involved in local partnerships. Other EU programmes have similar expectations.

The interesting and important discussion is to ask why the EU has this orientation, and indeed why many of the members states of the EU have national policies that make similar demands? Like so many discussions of social policies, it is more appropriate to think in terms of different emphases and a variety of motives, rather than look for just one explanation.

There is undoubtedly an issue to do with control – that by encouraging community involvement and citizen participation, communities can be seen to be integrated with the dominant values and norms of society. The attention given to (a) community safety (reducing crime and the fear of crime) and (b) supporting work with migrants and members of ethnic minority groups are the most manifest examples of the control motive. There are other issues too about which government policymakers sometimes have anxiety: homelessness, drugs misuse and responding to the demands of the environmental movement are three examples. An analysis that discusses control and community development is provided by Evelien Tonkens and Jan Willem Duyvendak in a special issue of the Community Development Journal, Vol. 38 No. 1.

At the same time, we can see that policymakers are interested in ‘community’ and community involvement because they have become aware of the need to strengthen the idea of ‘neighbourhood’, especially in those areas where social relationships have almost broken down and where there is a very poor and threatening environment (bad housing, derelict streets, graffiti etc). This is the benign interpretation of policymaker’s interest in community involvement, a return to emphasising the importance of ‘community’.

Some policymakers also take a realistic, almost objective approach: they know, from evaluative research commissioned on a number of social inclusion and regeneration programmes, that if communities are not involved, then the chances of future programmes being effective are not high. Community groups need to be convinced that decisions made by large agencies and programmes about the future of their communities are authentic. They also need to feel a sense of ownership of changes that take place in their communities.

Underlying both a social control interpretation of policies on communities and a social care interpretation (caring for the neighbourhood) is the idea of social or community cohesion. This is a very attractive concept to policymakers and one also which connects very strongly with the values of community development: we seek to help people live and work together, to recognise differences and to find ways of strengthening communities.

I am not certain how meaningful the idea of community cohesion is within the European context. What I am more certain of is that the level of expectation at the policy level for communities to be involved in programmes run by government, local government and other agencies is much higher today that it was a few years ago. I will come back to this point at the end.

(ii) Communities and community development practice

It is important to remind ourselves that community development is not dependent for its existence on the interest and funding of agencies. Communities themselves take initiatives, and community workers and other practitioners are involved in supporting (facilitating) the work of communities.

Thus across Europe we find that there are countless examples of communities doing things for themselves, taking initiatives, making contact with local, regional and national institutions etc. A few years ago, for example, CEBSD members had the opportunity to visit neighbourhood projects in Stockholm. We visited a number of projects in which local people were working in partnership with agencies.

One feels that, while the picture is constantly changing and there is little sense of longterm security for neighbourhood projects, there is energy and commitment within communities. I think that that kind of situation exists in many parts of Europe. It is not obviously visible. I am not talking about high profile schemes but rather about modest activities and projects, taking place as a result of local commitment sometimes, but not always, with the support of practitioners. That, for me, is of fundamental importance in community development. It is an untidy, often confusing picture. Unlike, for example, a school or a youth club, there are no obvious boundaries in community development practice. The practice is often unpredictable and insecure. But it exists. We need to keep reminding policymakers of this.

In summary, the European policy context for community involvement manifests some positive features, even though the principles and methods of community development do not have widespread recognition. Within communities themselves, there is energy and commitment that lead to activities and initiatives, sometimes supported by community workers, often not.

Community development

1. Where is the theory?

Over the last two years I have taught community development modules on both a qualifying community and youth work course and a postgraduate public health course. When preparing both modules I have been struck by how, with the exception of writings on Training for Transformation, we appear to depend still on theoretical texts that go back a number of years. I am thinking of ‘grand theory’ that seeks both to understand and inform community development from one or other theoretical perspective. In contrast, there has been a high level of output of books and articles that link community development to regeneration.

More recently there is growing interest in debating Putnam’s concept of social capital and the scope it offers for locating community development within a contemporary theoretical framework. It is interesting that it is this concept, rather than the concept of civil society (which draws more heavily on political theory), which has caught people’s attention.

Community development would benefit from the emergence of theoretical material because this would help to anchor practice within a recognised set of ideas. Arguably, it would provide a firmer basis for community development than exists at present. Lets remember the saying ‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory.’

2. A functional trend

In recent years, community development has become more functional. By this I mean that it is being used to service or support the programmes of agencies. For a long time, community development has fought to obtain recognition and resources from government and local government bodies. Is one of the costs of winning some of the arguments that some of the autonomy of community development is lost? It is not just autonomy. It is the instinctive response that community development sometimes has to make and it is about having some 'space' in which to think and act. At a more fundamental level there is an issue about community development keeping hold of its values and principles; the more that attention is given to its functional purpose, the less scope there is to communicate its underlying values and philosophy. Three important points flow from this statement:

(i) In my experience we can observe the functional trend most clearly in the interface between community development and regeneration/economic development, particularly in the UK, Holland and France. It is the regeneration arena, at least in northern Europe, in which community development is most involved, not social work or adult education. The concept of regeneration is based essentially on physical change and economic improvement. Mainly as a consequence of the policies I discussed earlier, community development has been drawn-in to support regeneration programmes. Can it retain its identity within this context? And how sustainable, how permanent will be the changes that are being made to communities? Sometimes it seems as if the work has been done to communities rather than with them.

(ii) As a result of policymakers’ interest in ‘community’, there is a danger of community development promising too much. This is because (a) the goals of regeneration programmes are very ambitious, and community development is being swept along with them and (b) community development as a profession may not be strong enough to deliver on the expectations. There is, accordingly, a danger that both policymakers and communities will become disappointed, even disillusioned, with community development.

(iii) A functional approach to community development is likely to pull community workers away from neighbourhoods. This is because of the dominance of the partnership approach in regeneration programmes: a range of agencies and community representatives working together at a level which is distant from peoples’ lives in communities.

3. Growing interest in practice development

A more optimistic trend in community development is the interest being shown in practice development: knowing what does and does not work in community development. This is one explanation for the large increase in the availability of participation tools and techniques: Planning for Real, focus groups, community audits etc. We are also benefiting from the existence of methodologies that enable us to evaluate community development, to show the outcomes resulting from it. And practitioners themselve are keen to learn from each other and to contribute to practice-theory.

The European Union-funded project which CEBSD is currently undertaking fits into a practice development framework: in localities in five countries, small working groups made up of members of community groups, community workers, local authority staff and a researcher are using examples of practice to try and specify the contribution that community development can make to tackling social exclusion. The findings will be brought together in June, at a seminar similar to this one. A report will be prepared for the EU but, equally important, the project’s findings will be disseminated to community development organisations.

4. Change from within

An equally positive trend is some preliminary evidence showing that communities themselves want to be more involved in the community development profession. In those communities where there have been community development projects for a long time, local people are indicating that, in addition to wanting to have good community development practice, they also want to contribute to it – as trainers, researchers and unpaid community workers. This trend is running in parallel to the more established practice of local people undertaking training in community development and becoming employed as community workers.

5. The community development ‘infrastructure’

There have to be questions as to the capacity of professional community development to do all that is being asked of it. Here I am referring not so much to the organisations that support community development in each country but to (a) the situation with regard to qualifying training courses for community development workers and (b) the poor understanding among most managers of the role of community development and how they can support it. I would argue that, if we are serious about the longterm health of community development across Europe, we have to take these two issues seriously.

Concluding comments

· I am arguing that there is a danger of community development promising too much. It needs to aim for quality, not volume, to support local people, as well as people who come together as a result of a shared interest or identity. Out of the breadth and variety of activities, it needs to identify and disseminate good practice.

· Community development at the European level should perhaps seek to mirror the good practice advocated for community development at local level: building trust, making information available, bringing groups and organisations together, learning from others. CEBSD looks forward to working with community development organisations in East and Central Europe on that basis.

· We should also, I think, not hold back from engaging with European policymakers not just on the basis of participation and community involvement but also on the basis of community development. We need to argue for greater recognition. That should be part of the strategy for dealing with the raised expectations which I have discussed. Provided that what we say is based on community development practice, this could be a significant way of strengthening community development with a European framework.