Friday, 08 October 2010

A historical moment for community development? So today it has been announced that Community Development Foundation 'will cease to operate as a public body as of 31st March 2011.' It will continue as a charity. There have doubtless been numerous discussions of the news in a context that acknowledges, first, that CDF had become primarily an agency for disbursing government funds, and their market collapsed; and secondly that in focusing on that role the organisation quickly lost its claim in many people's eyes to be an expert CD agency. I received the news electronically while sat in a Big Lottery meeting about community organising - ironically, in groupwork discussing communication issues in relation to community organising. I was only able to attend a couple of hours of the meeting but some thoughts struck me then about the nature of this historical moment for CD. The moment is partly defined by being a few days away from a hugely influential government spending review; partly by the rhetoric of Big Society and its call for millions of people to plunge joyfully into enticing, tranquil pools of community action - hopefully not discovering that there are vicious political eddies and currents, and corrosive contamination beneath the surface, god forbid; and partly by the unfinished business of the empowerment of local groups in determining what happens on their patch. Today Big Lottery brought together some expertise and experience with a view to informing their future funding programmes. I found three related things to bother me. First, one speaker, explaining her part as an externally-funded, imported 'community champion', said that her role included challenging 'the negative attitudes of doubters and spoilers'. Meaning, I fear, this: if someone externally appointed comes into your neighbourhood and drives a programme of action with high expectations that you will go along with it, and you choose to raise concerns about the process, then your response is unwelcome and you are likely to be labelled as a doubter or spoiler at best and ungovernable at worst. The process will ride over you AND it will still be called community development. (I may have wrongly interpreted this specific case but it's hardly unheard-of). The easy dismissal of counter views can be very disempowering. Secondly, I'm bothered about the coercion of people in the community development process. The morality of coercion is not trivial and must be acknlowledged. One of the best community workers I ever met admitted yes, we do coerce people. Because life is short, and you make a judgement about what would be in their best interests, and there isn't always time to wait for them and work with them to appreciate the options... There is a flurry of urgent interest in community organising to compensate for an economy that has failed its public sector; and we risk losing our appreciation of the nuances of how and on what terms people decide to get involved. We risk finding ourselves in a value-free zone of community action which discourages contestation of issues. And finally - very...

Recent Comments