Community knowledge – from the viewpoint of community work – has real value when it is actually used to foster activities for the public good. This is what makes community surveys an effective method, as they allow local citizens to acquire community knowledge, and this then becomes the basis of their shared activities. A community survey is a tool and not an end product: our aim is to let a healthy, vital and growing community evolve, where the inhabitants will look for opportunities to improve their lives and are active in building the kind of local society they want.
The community developer as well as the local communities draw information from written sources; however, their main sources are the local inhabitants themselves. The most important and most difficult task is to understand our present, which is changing at an incredible pace, and the greatest amount of information about this will come from significant local persons and opinion leaders, and from interviews conducted with the people that they recommend, NGO leaders and their credible representatives, people who have played a role in public life and in public service. We may interview them about their life, the history of their organization or profession but, mostly and primarily, we should perform a community interview, as explained in the previous chapter, to find out about their will to act.
Increasingly, the main trend in community development processes is the shaping of local social relations, solving conflicts and provision for the conditions of collaboration. We need to know to what extent a municipality is open or closed, to find out about local social relations. Openness refers to the number and extent of the municipality’s external relations, and whether the social, economic and cultural relations of a community are defined by these or internal relations, rather. Involving the locals, we need to find out about local identity and its content (see well-being interviews, community survey; the best is to let them explore it by themselves), the balance of power between local political players and interest groups; informal relations among the locals, the social-charitable activities of the church, non-governmental organizations and movements, local publicity and the role of the communities; collaboration, communication, the cause and nature of conflicts; events of local social life.
Some knowledge of the operation of the local government and the municipal council is indispensable for each development direction, and this includes work in the municipal council, the relationship between public administration and the local government, relations and information network of the local government, its management, local taxes and the local government’s associates and partners. Obviously, the most important questions for our purposes are municipal development policies and the frequency and manners of reaching out to the citizens and their communities.
One needs to learn about the specifics of local culture and local cultural life in the interest of any kind of development. Farming and mining cultures and extinct or dying crafts and trades have made an impact on the thinking, cultural habits and socialising traditions of the practitioners, and to this day define local thinking.
The developer needs to adapt to the established ways of community life, traditions and customs, and needs to cooperate with the cultural and communal institutions. The development process not only requires meeting venues but also explores cultural needs, which may be satisfied by the cultural, public collection, educational, communal and social institutions, if these are partners in collaboration.
Naturally, it is also worth exploring written resources, if there is interest and capacity for this in the community. No doubt, it is the great elders’ lives and stories that are the most enjoyable sources of learning about local history, along with archives, documents, local history studies, church history documents, ethnographical collections and monographies. One must also look at the private items and documents held at local public collections and cultural institutions, minutes of the municipal assembly, local development plans, county and national registers of associations and companies, etc., data in the Register of Geographic Names and of the National Statistical Office from 1892, and periodicals like Településtörténeti Tanulmányok (Studies on Local History), Település- és Népiségtörténeti Értekezések (Studies on Local and Ethnographical History), sociographies and works of literature.
When exploring the history of local community activities (for community development purposes), it is not our task to look at other, equally important aspects, such as landscape conditions; geographical and transport situation, traffic location; the physical ‘body’ of the community, architecture in the past and now; names of streets, districts, parcels and boundaries and their history; municipal development plans; nor can we look at the settlement in its environment or its traditions relating to economy and job creation; however, several of these may become part of our community survey, even if that was not the original purpose.
This article based on the following document: Community development methodological guide