By: Dan Kahl, Virginia Stanard, Kris Hains
In October, a team of community development practitioners discussed the vexing question, “What are the building blocks of community?” From professional community developers – the answers came quickly. Community is a shared identity. Community is shared place, interests, or practice. Community can be shared religion, culture, values, or belief systems. Overall, the building blocks of community are the connections that unify or bind a group of people together, establishing collective agency.
As a community developer, our role is to help a group of people identify those common bonds and to build relationships of trust from which the group can act.
The role of the community developer is to be purposeful, assess what the group values, and to help the group identify and communicate these shared values. The community developer helps groups build on their strengths while mitigating their weaknesses.
This would have been a good place to stop the conversation. At this point, I think we all felt pretty good about our role and the importance of our work. In isolation, and as a process, community development processes seemed clear. But the complications of community development crept in. If community development is such straightforward work, why is it so difficult to practice, teach, and even describe? If you are invited to a community to do business development, does the establishment of shared values even enter the conversation? What happens when you are simultaneously involved with multiple communities and they compete for your time, attention, or even conflict in their values? It was mentioned that rarely are we asked to come “do” community development but rather to facilitate a process and connect people. In fact, in some places around the world, the term “development” has negative connotations.
This is where we turn to you. As community developers, what are you learning that you can share? What does “community” mean to you? Join the conversation as we identify and test better ways to strengthen community: https://www.comm-dev.org/community/group/2-all-members-cd-practice-and-process
The CDS Fellows program is conducted by Dan Kahl and Kris Hains through the Community Innovation Lab at the University of Kentucky.