I recently had the chance to listen to a presentation by Peter at a conference on ageing and disability. I had heard Peter speak before and was keen to hear him again. He is an engaging speaker who speaks with a passion about his belief in communities.
Throughout the talk Peter often reminded us that “Community Development is not rocket science” and that the simple approach is much preferred to a complicated one.
Peter’s message is, in fact, just that – simple and straight-forward. Development only really happens if it is from the inside to the outside and bottom-up. It cannot happen from the outside-in nor top-down.
Peter’s theme and challenge for those of us listening was “How do we create caring, healthy, inclusive and resilient communities?” Before directly answering that question Peter produced one of the many quotes that he shared with us during the hour and a half:
“In terms of change it is the learners who inherit the future. Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped for a world that no longer exists.” – Eric HofferThe idea of continual learning was ever present during the presentation. The world is constantly changing, meaning that we are constantly adapting (some may even say evolving). All of which means constantly learning.
Seven Pillars of a Healthy Community
Peter claims that there are seven pillars to a healthy community:
- A community that practices ongoing dialogue.
- A community that generates leadership.
- A community that shapes it’s own future.
- A community that enhances diversity.
- A community that knows itself (it’s people and it’s physical assets).
- A community that connects people and resources.
- A community that creates a sense of community.
Six Concepts of ABCD
Much of the rest of Peter’s presentation expanded upon six concepts of ABCD.
- Appreciative Mindset Focus. We must change our focus from what is wrong to what is strong. Peter used the old metaphor of the glass being either half-full or half-empty. His view is that "it is both, but you can't do much with the top half."
- Community Driven. If we begin with a needs analysis of communities then we are likely to view people as clients or consumers. However, if we begin with an assets analysis then people are seen as citizens – implying an entirely different way of relating. Another quote epitomised this approach: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” - Harold Flaming.
- Communities are Asset Rich. Peter used a couple of examples of small communities (Beechworth in Australia and Bulls in New Zealand) where the townships had turned from being down-trodden, disintegrating communities to ones that were vibrant and engaged. The difference? Discovering what was already there and enhancing and celebrating those assets.
- Giftness of Every Peron. Each person in a community is important. A strong community is one in which people’s gifts and skills are given. A weak one is where they aren’t.
- Importance of Relationships and Social Connection. If there was one moment in Peter’s presentation where he became briefly morose it was when he lamented that our society is becoming less and less connected. But overcoming that is simple Peter notes. It took just a simple 4 step cycle:
- Importance of Collaboration and Partnership. Two more of Peter’s seemingly endless supply of quotes appeared on the screen behind him, to nicely summarise this concept. "I can’t save the world by myself – it’ll take at least three of us,” and an African proverb: “If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”
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