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The Aims and Objectives of Community


I Agreed Definition of Objectives are Hard to Find

Despite the fact that in 1971 the United Nations was able to claim in a report,
published that year1 that community development had gained nearly universal recogni-
tion as a force for inducing social and economic change; and despite the fact that
during the last eight years in Britain there has been a determined promotion of com-
munity work with constant advertisements these days for community work appoint-
ments ; 2 it is still difficult to find in British literature any agreed statement concerning
the aims and objectives of community development. There is to be found a good deal
of information and assessment of methods, techniques, participants settings and, which
might be called, process values. But on this one question concerning what the business
is all about there is generally very little.

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One wonders whether, unlike our European partners who are not afraid of making
ideological statements, we are so wedded to pragmatism that we steadfastly refuse to
define any particular objective for community development, despite the experience
that we have of it and despite the expertise that we have acquired in it. Perhaps there
is a genuine fear that the unity of interest in the subject which presently extends from
senior representatives of national institutions at the one end to youdiful seekers of
alternative societies at the other would splinter and fall apart if someone rudely called
a spade a spade. Or perhaps there is an intuitive understanding that if the reality is
spelt out clearly and unequivocally it might frighten off and lose the support of those
who presently do give support to the idea on the understanding that it is quite innocuous
and will in no way affect them. Whatever the reason, one of the consequences of this
reluctance to think about the true significance and implications of the community
development process is that much energy is expended on dealing with, or explaining
away, practical problems which are entirely predictable once the reality is grasped.3
Last year a study group with which I was associated published a report on its work
and itsfindings.*Much hard work went into this valuable contribution to the literature
and yet in respect of this one issue it too is equally deficient. In its section on values,
where indeed it gives a broad overview of the expressed values of engaged professionals,
it can identify only the following as main purposes:
1. "The achievement of a task or tasks.
I. The establishment of good social relationships.
3. The development of a better capacity to cope with the complexity of stresses of life.
4. Or a combination of these".
When it is considered that a dedicated drug-pusher would have no difficulty in
accepting the same purposes for the work that he does the value of this statement as a
definition of objectives diminishes somewhat.
II. The Aim of Community Development is Community Action
With little to guide us in the literature and with little that is significant emerging
from theorising on the subject we have to turn to the reality of community develop-
ment in practice to understand fully the aims. Somehow we have to examine the variety

* An address given at a Conference on Community Development and Education organized by

(X County Council in November 1973.

of experience which exists and, even though it may be impossible to devise a frame-work
which would embrace all experience, we must nevertheless attempt to strike at the
heart of the transaction in each case in order to discover those factors which are
common to all.
In reality the primary objective of community development is simply stated. It is to
promote, sustain, support and maintain community action. It stands in relation to
community action in very much the same way as education stands in relation to learning.
We know for example that learning can take place without any form of educational
process: we suspect that frequently a good deal of education takes place unaccom-
panied by a corresponding learning; and we know also that it is possible for an
educational process to stimulate a mindless form of learning that we call rote-learning.
In similar fashion community action can occur without the stimulation of community
development. It is possible also for a highly sophisticated and lavishly supported
community development programme to complete its scheme of work without ever
having produced any form of real community action. And it is also true that it is
possible to promote a mindless kind of community action in which the energies and

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aspirations of participants are frittered away in activities which deviate them from
their best interests. It is even possible to promote community action as an end in itself;
it may very well be that there are occasions when it is both necessary and right to
induce some kind of action as a therapeutic measure to restore strength or to allow raw
social wounds to heal—a kind of communal basket-weaving. Valuable though this may
be in certain circumstances it would not be community development.

Community development as the term itself suggests is concerned with development,

with going forward towards defined goals, with purposeful activity aimed at real
achievement. The'ideal of community action which it seeks to promote is in respect of
real problems about which there is genuine and deep concern in the community; it is
in respect of problems which are competently analysed; it is aimed at realistic and
realisable goals with the aid of appropriate strategies; it is moreover a community
action which realistically takes into account the costs of action and weighs in the
balance of its own interest the disadvantages of reaction against hoped for benefits.

III. There are many Types of Community Development

If we are to understand the aims and objectives of community development then we
must take into account the wide variety of different types of community development:
the many approaches differentiated from one another by auspices, by type of agency,
by setting, by method and by avowed purpose. More particularly we must look at their
objectives and try to see if, despite their differences, they have elements in common.
But if we are to pursue our inquiries further in order to understand fully what
community development seeks to achieve then we must also take into account the
reality of community action; whether it is externally promoted or not. We need to
have some idea of who engages in community action, over what issues and in respect to
what problems they become engaged, the manner of their engagement and the signi-
ficance of what they are about.
Let us begin by looking at different types of community development. It would not
serve our purpose here to limit the selection of examples to a small range of types
approximating to some preconceived model that we may have. I therefore propose to
throw my net as widely as possible and draw in for consideration a wide range of
activities all of which could, quite legitimately, be described in one way or another as
community development. Whether it is called community development or whether
the process is referred to by some other term is not of great significance. In each case
we will be examining an approach which attempts to promote community action for
the benefit of the participants even though frequently it may be undertaken in con-
junction with some other motivation.
1. Community Work Type. This can be regarded as a professional approach to
community development which has developed within the field of social work. It is a
very recent extension of social work methodology and represents a marked contrast to
that time when social work was almost completely dominated by case-work method;
indeed the-true significance of community work is that it represents a fundamental
shift in the concept of social work. Influences contributing to that shift have included
experiences in the United States of America, the realisation that the demand for
social services are far in excess of what could be provided on a professional one to one
basis, certain doubts about the value of institutionalisation as a means of dealing with
certain social problems and, certainly in recent years, the stringent criticism of
younger social workers who have tended to reject what they regard as symptom
The objective of community work has been stated as the giving of aid and support to

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people who seek to secure more control over their lives.6
2. Colonial Social Development Type. From the beginning of this century there
has been much experimentation with problems of social development in those develop-
ing countries, now independent, which once were served by a colonial administration.
It is fashionable now to decry much of the work that was undertaken but what is
seldom realised is that this vast social laboratory offered many opportunities for the
trial and evaluation of a wide variety of social policies some of which produced con-
siderable achievements. The principal characteristics of the main stream of this type
of community development were the integration of economic and social development
programmes together with education for self-management and for political
3. Urban Renewal Type. A number of different factors have contributed to the
development of this approach to community development. The massive movement,
sometimes compulsory movement, of people out from cluttered urban centres to
peri-urban overspill estates and the fashionable new towns after the war solved some
problems and created others. It came to be realised, as a survey some years ago in
Liverpool showed,7 that social problems did not melt away when people were offered
better housing. It was also realised that the massive resettlement of people in slum
clearance schemes often broke-up social systems for people who depended upon them
and who lacked the social skills and the resources to cope without them. And it also
came to be realised that, even given the benefit of better housing in a better environ-
ment, the cost to the individuals concerned could, and frequently did, amount to ten
years of upheaval and uncertainty.
There were various responses to these realisations. Community centres were built,
local authorities encouraged the formation of community associations by making
available financial aid of one kind or another;8 in new towns the fashion of building
single central service complexes for the whole of the town gave way to the introduction
of the concept of the neighbourhood unit; 9 many local authorities appointed com-
munity development officers, or community liaison officers, and in some counties
there was a move to turn all secondary schools into community colleges.
Through all these different activities a common theme, or purpose, could be dis-
tinguished which was to break down social isolation and give meaning to personal
existence by encouraging the formation of social groups of different kinds who would
organize their own affairs.
4' Adult EducationType. The relationship between traditional adult education and
the development of working-class power is both intimate and of long standing. Those
values of adult education of equalitarianism and egalitarianism were the battle cries of
the disadvantaged and dispossessed mass who sought democratic remedies for their
condition. Eloquent testimony of that relationship between political development and
personal fulfilment on the one hand and a tremendous thirst for knowledge on the other
is to be found in Michael Foot's biography of Nye Bevan.
Today the traditional concepts of adult education are like worn slippers no one wants
to throw away but, overtaken by the products of the social revolution they helped to
create, they are gradually being replaced by new concepts of life-long education.10
Instead we see today, in addition to a wide range of conventional adult education
provision, experimental forms of adult education designed to inform and develop local
leadership. We see also an increasing interest in such subjects as town planning, con-
sumer affairs, conservation, development of organisational skills, regional development,
social welfare, and citizens rights, etc.

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This is an educational approach to community development which aims to give
support to the development of community leaders, fosters concern for community life
and enables communities to deal with contemporary problems.
5. The Institutional Type. This approach to community development has emerged
in a number offields,differing perhaps in rationale and purpose but with, conventionally,
a similar methodology and approach which has been found wanting. Good examples of
the approach referred to here are to be found in youth work and in the work of some
churches. With regard to the former we have seen the development in recent years of a
policy of youth ana community work and with regard to the latter a variety of experi-
mentation with the idea of the community church. In both cases what has happened is
that a policy based upon a building to which supporters were attracted has, in recogni-
tion that support has fallen away and that buildings have become expensive millstones
around the necks of providing organisations, been replaced by an outgoing into the
community to give service and support to individuals in the community within the
context of their everyday social relationships.11
Recognising the interrelatedness of community life and also that problems and
functions of life cannot be abstracted to be dealt with separately from the whole, this
type of approach has as its objective the encouragement of those, for whom a service
would formally have been provided, to take action on their own behalf and in addition
to accept a responsibility for others.
6. The Idealist/Political Activist Type. Here we take into account the enormous
upsurge of voluntary action to provide various kinds of social service amongst young
people which frequently leads to the promotion of projects designed to induce social
change. The motivation for this type of approach varies. For some the shock of realising
how wretched the world is and how unjust is the nature of society leads them to make
a personal attempt to reform that world which is so repellent. Others more politically
motivated, usually fairly disillusioned socialists who have been rejected and in turn
reject party politics as stifling and irrelevant, engage in community action directly
with the aim of becoming leading participants of disadvantaged groups in taking
militant action against what appears to be an unyielding bureaucracy. There are many
examples of this kind of approach ranging from the formally organised Community
Service Volunteers, Task Force, Young Volunteer Force through to the Child Poverty
Action Group and further to individuals working alone with squatters groups or with
branches of a Claimants' Union. The aims here would be mixed but would include

giving practical expression to socialism by the encouragement of militant action and the
obtaining of beneficial social change in the shortest possible time by the involvement
of those whom the change would benefit.12
These examples of different types of approach to community development could be
extended by the addition of others (notably the recent liberal acquisition of a policy of
Community Politics)1* but it is sufficient for the purpose of illustrating the range and
the variety of approach. In each case an attempt has been made to indicate the objec-
tives which the people concerned would declare for themselves or which would
appear to lie implicit in what they are doing.
The variety of approach is only matched by the variety of the people who play a part.
Some of them seek to intervene by means of exhortation, some teach, some give
money, some give advice, some content themselves with giving advice when they are
asked for money, some undertake research, some provide a service, some lead the
march on the town hall, some keep their professional distance from direct involvement,
some live in the community, some hold meetings in the community, some wear suits

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and ties, some wear dirty sweaters and jeans, some are of the short back and sides
brigade, and others have to tie back their long hair.

IV. Community Groups Take Action on a Broad Range of Issues

The variety of approaches and of participants is also matched by the variety of
community action which is triggered off by these activities. There is some evidence to
suggest that some approaches tend to produce specific kinds of community action (for
example some activists from the last type mentioned would always seek to promote
conflict strategies) but by and large the product of all these approaches is the same. It
consists of a number of people deciding to do something to improve life for themselves,
for their community, or for some other group in the community for whom they feel
they have some responsibility—a number of people who organise themselves to tackle
some recognisable problem about which they feel concern. We have enough experience
now to say in general what kinds of group are formed, around what kind of problem and
with what kind of objectives. We do not need to speculate or to postulate some ideal
model of community action in order to discover its main characteristics. We simply
have to turn to reality in order to learn what happens. For example, anyone who has
worked in the field of community development will know how common are the
problems of association, offinance,of obtaining a meeting place, of communication and
of winning support for a cause.
In order to provide examples of the range of community groups that are formed to
take action it is not necessary here to go outside the experience of Northern Ireland
where, during the last four years and despite the violence, there has been a prolifera-
tion of responsible and determined community action groups. These groups would
include Tenants' Associations, Redevelopment Associations, Community Associations,
Cooperative Consumer and Producer Groups, Community Councils, Street Com-
mittees, Advice Bureaux and Industrial Development Committees.14
The range of strategies employed by these different types of community action
groups extends from the publication of facts and figures, an educative and collaborative
strategy, to the withholding of rent and the organisation of protest demonstrations,
which could be defined as direct action in pursuit of conflict or coercive strategies.16
However it is not the strategies employed which are impressive but the range of
problems which have been tackled by these groups, upon which they have been able to
inform themselves, for which they have been able to develop policy, and in pursuit of
which have taken action. This list includes:

Housing, Social and Physical Amenities, Planning, Recreation and Leisure Pursuits,
Urban Transport, Slum Clearance, Youth Services, Schooling, Employment, Industrial
Development, Research, Advice Giving, Welfare Services, Building, and (it being
Northern Ireland) Defence.18
It is worth quoting this list in full because from it we learn that this raggle taggle
citizenry have accepted responsibility and taken action in respect of what can only be
described as a government portfolio of functions. There is nothing excluded here
because community life embraces all these matters. We also learn from observing the
progress of the groups that community action taken in respect of one kind of problem
can lead to community action taken in respect of another. It may not necessarily be the
same action group that embarks on the second or subsequent projects but it would
appear that a strength developed in the community by the taking of action in the first
instance is transferrable to new problems and different issues.17

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V. Community Action is about Power
But, from the observation of these groups in action, we learn something much more
important—we learn that community-action is about power. In the struggles of these
community-action groups we realise that we are witnessing the assertion of rights and
responsibilities and the renegotiation of relationships between people and the bureau-
cracies which serve them in a large and complex democracy which has experienced
revolutions in education and in communication. The irony of this situation is that
these struggles take place at a time when after a hundred years, during which the state
has assumed increasing responsibility for the major functions of life, we are now
witnessing even greater centralization and amalgamation of social and political institu-
tions. With this goes the realisation that the assumption of greater responsibility by
organisations, which are becoming increasingly more remote, will have the effect of
removing authority further away from the community and of creating administrative
monopolies of power which are the very antithesis of community development.18

The drawing of the list of examples from Northern Ireland serves as a reminder of a
lesson which Northern Ireland has had to learn at immense and tragic cost. It is that a
monopoly of power can only be maintained as long as the vast majority will support it
or as long as those who are excluded will accept it. These conditions are no longer
obtained when the very force of the concentration of that power engenders a sense of
alienation and desperation which can bring in its trail social conflict of disastrous
proportions. In the light of the frightful alternative it is not necessary to be apologetic
when making explicit that references to participation, to involvement, the exercise of
local initiative and all those other terms that are so commonly used in connection with
community development, mean power sharing. And, in practice, power sharing means
the diminution of power on the part of those who have it and the acquisition or power
by those who seek it. 19

It is for this reason that community action systems which succeed in winning
recognition for themselves and for the community view-point which they represent,
only do so as a result of much determination and much hard work. Frequently they
have to be supported by external agencies with financial help, professional assistance,
technical aid or sometimes simply the encouragement of those who are prepared to
listen and occasionally to offer advice. However, whether they are in receipt of
external aid or not there are four ways principally in which community action groups
normally attempt to adjust the power balance between themselves and the administra-
tive authorities with which they contend:
1. By making themselves less dependent upon external services, doing things for
themselves and determining for themselves what they want done.*0
2. By standing up to and opposing official decisions where those decisions cannot be
justified or where the decisions, whatever other merit they might have, are seen to
operate to the peculiar disadvantage of the community.
3. By setting up alternative systems of communication alongside the official system so
that the messages from the community can be carried as high or as wide as necessary in
society without dilution and without censorship.
4. By securing the support of professional, technical and financial resources from
sympathetic statutory agencies and from alternative sources available to them. 11
It is with activities related to one or another of these major forms of community
action that much of community development is concerned.

IV. Community Development has three major purposes

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Because it has been stated that the first objective of community development is to
promote community action it does not follow that any community action should be
supported blindly regardless of the aim defined and of the strategies selected. On
occasion a community group can define a goal or proposed solution which will not have
the effect desired of it in relation to the problem which is the issue of concern.
Similarly a chosen strategy adopted in imitation of some other community action
group may not, in the new circumstances, have the prospect of success attributed to it
in the example which is being copied. And on occasion a community action group,
realistically motivated by a genuine problem, may not be equally realistic in its
appreciation of the limitations and constraints on the one hand, or the potential support
on the other, which exist in the wider community of which it forms a small part. In
circumstances such as these, blind and uncritical support would be a disservice. The
promotion of community action on the part of community development therefore
necessarily entails two further kinds of activity.
The purpose of the first action is to relate the particular community action to the
wider context in which it occurs and to demonstrate that relationship to the partici-
pants. This is achieved by interpreting the significance and potentiality of the com-
munity action to those who participate in it and also to those who are directly affected
by it.
The purpose of the second activity is to foster the condition in which community
action may be understood and realistically and confidently responded to. This is
achieved by giving encouragement and assistance to institutions, which are responsible
for delivering services to the community and for taking decisions which affect life in
the community, in order that they may adapt to the dynamic of an informed, aware
and active community leadership; by helping them to come to terms with the reality
of an informal political system based, not solely upon the status or wealth of a few, but,
increasingly, upon the power of the community to reject and its growing ability to
take action on its own behalf.

Hywell Griffiths is Professor of Social Administration at the New University of


1. U.N. Economic and Social Affairs Dept. Popular Participation in Development: Trends in Community
Development, 1971.
2. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Community Work and Social Change. Longmann 1968.
3. See for example some cases in Batten, T. R. The Human Factor in Community Work. OUP, 196c.
4. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Current Issues in Community Work. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
j . Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1968. Op cit. p. 30.
6. Central Office of Information. Community Development: the British Contribution. Pamphlet No. j 2 .
HMSO, 1962.
7. Liverpool City Planning Offices. Social Malaise in Liverpool, 1970. See also Boal Doherty &
Pringle. 77K Spatial Distribution of some Social Problems in the Belfast Urban Area, Queen's University of
Belfast, Department of Geography, 1973.
8. Ministry of Education. Community Centres, HMSO, 194J.
9. Town and County Planning. New Towns Come of Age. January 1968. See also British New Towns,
January 1970.
10. Paul Lengrand: An Introduction to Lifelong Education. Unesco, 1970.
11. George Lovell: The Church and Community Development. Grail Publications, 1972.

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12. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1973. Op cit. p. 38-66. See also Anne Lapping. Communftp
Action. Fabian Tract 400. Also Richard Bryant. Community Action. British Journal Social Work. 2.2.
1 3. Graham Tope, Greves and Mole. Liberals and the Community published by the author, 1973.
14. Community Action. Fortnight Magazine Issue No. 68, 1973. Fortnight Publication, Belfast.
I J . R. L. Warren. Types of Purposive Social Change at the Community Level. Brandeis University
Paper No. 11, 196J.
16. Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission. Annual Report, 1972.
17. See Fortnight Magazine. Op. cit. p. 9.
18. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation 1968. Op. cit. p. 80.
19. For further reference see Hawley et al. The Study of Community Power. Clio Press 1972.
20. Balljmurphj, 1973. Ballymurphy Tenants' Association. Belfast, 1973.
2 1. Sandy Row at the Enquiry. Sandj Row Redevelopment Association, Belfast, 1973.

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