Most community development projects are design-ed and delivered using a combination of partici-patory techniques to uncover local problems, re-source constraints, deficiencies and unmet basic needs. While these approaches encourage partici-pation, they often fail to sustain the community’s ‘buy-in’ after the implementing organisation with-draws.
It has generally been observed that most government community development and support agencies use these approaches to search for and identify com-munity problems. They generate volumes of data that provide great detail on the origins and consequences of local needs and resource constraints.
Consequently, plans which are laid out by them to address the problems are then developed as ‘interventions’. But at the end of implementing such plans, local people who identify themselves in a certain way, still look at themselves as a community full of problems and needs. Why is this so?
The problem lies in the approach itself. When a community development plan or project is framed as an ‘intervention’, it entrenches a sense of dependency in the community that the agency or agent must then work to overcome. And that being the case, it reinforces an ‘identity’ that thiers is a ‘problematical’ com-munity needing ‘intervention’ and as such, has disempowering effects because it suggests they’ve failed.
These unintended consequences illustrate the importance of shifting away from a problem-that-needs-intervention oriented method toward processes that instead build on community achievements, existing strengths and local skills. What’s needed instead is an approach that delivers self-empowerment building upon self-reliance.
Development organisations need better methods for engaging local people, one which they can employ to help communities create a shared vision of an equitable and sustainable future and then move them toward locally-initiated self-managed undertakings. Such methods need to be comple-mented through capacity-building initiatives at the community level so that its members are able to measure progress themselves toward their vision and to modify their strategies as local circumstances change.
Faith in Families believes that focusing on community strengths has the greatest potential to advance sustainable development at the local community level – one which develops sustainable livelihoods that build on local strengths by identifying and reinforcing adaptive strategies that local people often de-velop to maintain their livelihoods in circumstances they find themselves deal-ing with.
This kind of thinking turns the ‘problem-solving’ approach on its head because it focuses on a community’s achievements rather than its problems instead. It seeks to go beyond ‘identity’ by fostering inspiration at the grass-roots level.
It is a strategy for purposeful change and one that identifies the best of “what is” to pursue aspirations and possibilities of “what could be.” It is a co-operative search for strengths, passions and life-giving forces that are found within every local community – factors that are what hold the potential for inspired, positive change. This strategy employs a new approach for collaborative inquiry based on face-to-face discussions and affirmative questioning, and one that collects and celebrates the ‘good news’ stories of about the community that eventually can be published and disseminated to the rest of the world.
SOMETHING MUCH BETTER
From those jumping points, local people can then use their understanding of “the best of what is” to construct a vision of what their community might be if they identify their strengths, then improve or intensify them. They achieve this goal by creating provocative propositions that challenge themselves to move ahead by understanding and building upon their current achievements even if it’s just taking one step at a time..
Provocative propositions that are generated by local community members themselves which are inclusive rather than excluding are realistic aspirations – they reflect collective community thinking that defines their own problemsneeds and solutions. Because it emphasizes the importance of local knowledge and not some eextaneous intervention, they empower members of a community to reach for something much better than what they have, but basing it on their understanding of what gives them life now.
This is the fundamental approach which Faith in Families employs for local com-munity development projects it involves itself in.