But the truth is: community development doesn’t have a purpose in the sense that it doesn’t set out a grand design or political objective. There is no Grand Narrative that is the Community Development Project. It is not capitalist, it is not communist. It is not Democrat, it is not Republican. It cannot even claim to be Green. It does have goals though, albeit fairly global ones like justice for all, equity, sustainability etc etc.
What community development is, though, is a journey. It is a mutual journey of discovery and shared experience. Community development workers may have a map, but the exact choice of route between one point and the next is discovered by setting out on the journey rather than sitting with the map and plotting a course from “here” to “there.” Furthermore, as communities work and journey together they may discover that the map needs updating.
So, what is the purpose of community development? Many years ago, a fellow community development worker and I grappled with a way of explaining this rather ephemeral concept to those who may be just beginning the journey or those who had a more managerial approach to “community.” We came up with the idea of a jigsaw. Each piece in the jigsaw represented a vision, value, method or role that community development embodied.
© Bruce Meder, Jane Parret 2007
The jigsaw became a very useful metaphor. The pieces - although in one sense unique, identifiable elements - had to fit with other elements to allow the jigsaw to be pieced together. There is no box-top picture to guide us in putting the jigsaw together. The picture becomes apparent as you put the pieces together. This symbolises community development’s emphasis on process rather than outcome.
Community development is an evolving process, emerging from, and reacting to, the changing social conditions of the times. Hence, it is unbounded, symbolised by there being no straight edges to this jigsaw. The edges allow for extra pieces to be added. Consequently, you will also notice that there is no piece in this jigsaw that is labelled “outcome focused.”
Before it looks as if I am suggesting that community development is the panacea to all the social ills and a vehicle for bringing every potential to its fullest, let me say that it is not. The community development jigsaw is only part of the bigger puzzle. But, it is an important one, because it recognises the importance of relationships and that people are people first. People are not consumers, they are not assets, they are not objects. People are also not individuals, people become who they are because of the families, neighbourhoods, communities, cultures that they live in. The analogy of the jigsaw recognises these links and relationships.
Of course, like any good jigsaw, the community development jigsaw can be pulled apart and reassembled. What is unique about the community development jigsaw though is that the pieces can be put back together in a different configuration, yet still fitting together to show a community picture when done so.
Right, back to putting the pieces together…
Note: The piece labelled "Treaty of Waitangi"refers to the 1840 document signed between the indigenous peoples of New Zealand - the Maori, and the British crown.
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