Water programs rely on communication and diffusion methods to get the word out and to build skills for change. When educators apply these techniques in a community development context, they help to build an infrastructure for change that is sustainable, equitable, and empowering. An integrated effort is more likely to enhance a community’s environmental policy capacity, or the community’s ability to engage in collective action that secures environmental public goods and services (NRC, pp. 161, 187).
At the most general level, community development definitions incorporate an underlying theme relating to the betterment of people. Most define community development as people initiating a social action process to improve their situation through a variety of methods such as self-help, technical assistance, and conflict. Successful community development efforts incorporate problem-solving to generate action; community building to establish broad ownership for that action; and systems interaction to give necessary direction to the action.
Problem solving generally refers to a systematic approach to identifying needs, establishing shared goals and objectives, and working collectively toward the successful implementation of an agreed upon agenda. Both the process and the outcome are important. The process is important in terms of empowering the people involved to successfully embrace change and enhance their ability to deal with both the immediate issue and future situations. The outcome is important in that particular issues are successfully addressed.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
- Participation comes from a broad cross-section of the community.
- Deliberations are made on the basis of well-informed participation.
- Decisions are the result of consensus or democratic majority rule decision-making.
- The process purposefully fosters group building, leadership development and capacity building as an essential element, while striving to successfully address a substantive issue as well.
- Processes are largely focused on a purposeful and systematic approach to addressing a local concern(s).
- Community issues or problems are investigated holistically, linking issues and appreciating the complexities of the community in assessing and resolving the issue.
- Processes are flexible and not rigidly structured to only deal with an initial concern.
- Processes have a strong reliance on professional staff facilitation and coordination.
- Processes are characterized as being locally initiated and entrepreneurial, although some efforts may be championed by community colleges, state extension programs, or state or regional agencies furthering programmatic agendas.
Andrews, E, 1998. An EPA/USDA Partnership to Support Community-Based Education: Discussion Paper. EPA 910-R-98-008, US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10.
National Research Council. 2002. New Tools for Environmental Protection: Education, Information, and Voluntary Measures. Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change. T. Dietz and P. C. Stern, eds. Division of Behavioral and social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
*Adapted from Andrews (1998); based on a background paper prepared by Greg Wise.