Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Questions and Answers on Adult Education

Edited by Daniel Schugurensky

This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.


What is community development and how do you know when it is happening?

By Lisa Silverman, Maureen Anglin and Jasjit Sangha

We have asked the question "What is community development and how do you know when it is happening?" in order to gain an expanded understanding of community development.  We have answered the question by first defining it, and then examining the conditions which facilitate it and the obstacles which may impede it.  As well we have given examples of two successful community development projects.

What is community development?

         Many definitions of community development are used throughout the world according to different political or economic contexts.  The following definition developed by the United Nations reflects a number of perspectives:

"Community development is the process by which the efforts of the people themselves are united with those of governmental authorities to improve the economic, social, and cultural conditions of communities and to enable them to contribute fully to national progress. This complex process is made up of two essential elements: the participation by the people themselves in efforts to improve their level of living, with as much reliance as possible on their own initiative; and the provision of technical and other services in ways that encourage initiative, self-help and cooperation."

Nadien Godkewitsch, a community development worker at Stop 103 in Toronto, defines community development as the following:

 It's a process by which people come together across differences to work together to find solutions to their self-defined issues and social problems. Ideally, it is:

Conditions which facilitate community development

There are many factors that facilitate the success of a  community development project. Although the conditions for success vary depending on the needs of the community, there are certain components which are essential. Firstly, the project should be holistic in nature. A comprehensive needs assessment should be undertaken using participatory research methods. This will insure that  residents play a part in the project. If they are adequately informed  and involved, they will be less likely to oppose an innovative project. Secondly, there should be a long term vision for the community. Especially in regard to the kind of impact the project will have on the community, and its viability. It is important for residents to have ownership of the project and be committed to sustaining it. At the same time, the community must have the resources needed to maintain it. Thirdly, working in partnership with groups that have already spent some time working on the same issue is key.  They have likely studied the issue thoroughly, and can be drawn upon as a resource. Further, by remaining friendly and having a cooperative relationship, it more likely that the goals of the project will be met. Fourthly, it is useful to research other communities and the strategies they have used.  What you consider to be a problem in your neighbourhood may have been solved in a unique fashion somewhere across the country, or even in another part of the world.  There are numerous sites on the Internet that provide a space for information sharing among community groups.  Finally, it can be advantageous to have support from the private sector.  This can supply the community with the necessary resources for the project, as well as provide another perspective on how to carry out the project.

Obstacles which may impede community development

There are numerous obstacles which may hinder the ideal community development process.  Awareness of the obstacles may be the first step in trying to eliminate them altogether. Certain issues need to be taken into account such as  partnership among community members, a unified vision, outreach or publicity strategies, representation of community groups, access to information or facilities, democratic processes,  participation and motivation , lack of resources and knowledge of the community.  As well, it necessary to be aware of inclusive practices in terms of language and literacy, ability, race, class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. 

Given the holistic nature of an ideal community development project, a lack of partnership or unified vision among community members could impede this process.   For example, the business owners of a community may want to clear the streets of panhandlers, or youth loitering around and may want police enforcement to solve this issue.  A more holistic community development process would include the views and needs of the young people, the street population, the residents, the employees working in that community, and the business owners.  A solution might instead be to open a community centre, expand an already existing one, or to provide a shelter. 

The idea of community development for one group may be directly opposed to that  of  another.  It is crucial to examine the issue of representation and whose views are being valued and why. 

Lack of access to information, or lack of access to community meetings might be an obstacle.  Even with access to community meetings and information and equal representation, the style of communication that is valued may actually impede and exclude certain voices, such as those with limited so-called 'proper' vocabularies or public speaking skills, or those with limited use of the dominant language. The democratic process in general should be examined as to whether it truly includes everyone in the community, and if not, why not. 

Another obstacle might be time of day of gatherings, whether they take place during the work day, or evenings and weekends and whether or not childcare might be provided.  Of course, locations might also be an obstacle if meetings or gatherings take place in locations that are difficult for people with certain disabilities to access.  Is it wheelchair accessible? Is it easy to locate for people with visual impairments?  Will there be interpreters for those who are deaf etc.

Participation and motivation are also potential obstacles to the community development process. Who is involved in the process and where does their motivation for involvement come from?  Why are others not involved and why is there a lack of interest or motivation?  A lack of time might be related to income in the sense that those who work more hours for less money may have less 'spare time' to deliberate over a community development project even if it will be beneficial in the long run.  How can this process be made the most accessible to all? Also relevance of the project to community members might be a factor influencing motivation and participation.

 Although it may be extremely difficult, there are many efforts that can be made to make the community development process more accessible and more inclusive for everyone involved.

Two Case Studies of Community Development

Lakeshore Community Audit Project (LCAP)

The Lakeshore Community Audit Project (LCAP) was launched in 1998 with the objective of improving the quality of life in the Lakeshore  (located in the southwestern part of Toronto).  The project was formulated by a group of  people who lived and/or worked in the area.  They wanted to know how to address major changes that had occurred in their community. These included : increasing unemployment due to  industry closures; marginalization of new immigrants who were moving into the area; and the impact of cuts in social spending.  The LCAP project strived to incorporate participatory research methods and extensive community involvement in its work.

One of the outcomes of  the LCAP was the completion of a Report Card on the Quality of Life in the Lakeshore  which was published and distributed to over 10,000 households in the Lakeshore.  Community members gathered information through workshops, surveys, focus groups and previous studies. Through involvement in the LCAP project, community members understood the strengths and challenges of their community better, and were more inclined to take a leadership role. For example, several members of the LCAP project started a Housing Taskforce. It was a voluntary group which was deeply concerned with issues relating to housing. The group successfully obtained funding to set up  a Housing Help Centre which worked on eviction prevention and outreach with the homeless.  The LCAP won a Healthy Cities Neighbourlies Award in 1998 for the positive impact its work had on the Lakeshore.

Women's Voice, Senegal

In the Wolof language, Siggil Jigéen means the emancipation of women. In Senegal, it is the name of a growing network that coordinates, supports represents and advocates on behalf of organizations working to defend and promote the human rights of Senegalese women. The goal of these 14 groups, some of which are mixed, and some of which are women-only, is to promote and assert women's rights, with a focus on three priorities: the moral and physical integrity of women, the exercise of their political rights, and the exercise of their legal rights.

In the first phase of this project, a guide on the resources available to women was distributed, and a wide range of community organizations were brought together for the first time. Sensitization and information initiatives were implemented, and activities supporting the integration of a gender-sensitive approach to development at all levels of society were carried out. Today, a strong network exists, sharing strategies and tools and reinforcing each other's efforts in the community. Now in its second phase, the project is financing initiatives from 16 different women's groups, including sensitizing women on their rights and addressing female genital mutilation. Other activities include escorting and protecting women victims of violence, functional literacy campaigns, legal information clinics and popular theatre on issues related to gender equality. Studies on women's image and role in the media have been completed and other studies are under way on the extent of female genital mutilation and on women in decision making.


i. United Nations definition of Community Development,

ii http://www.womankind.org.uk/

April 2001

Home Page     Biography    Courses   Quotes by Adult Educators    Q&As    Links    Search

History of Education: Selected Moments     Lifelong Citizenship Learning Project      Reviews of Freire's Books

© 1998-2002 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved. Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on September 04, 2002.