Community Development – Methodological introduction

Community Development is a methodological guide of the flagship project Acting Communities – Active Community Involvement (EFOP -1.3.1-15-2016-00001), offering methodological support to workers, experts, volunteers, organizations and institutions at local communities implementing the TOP-5.3.1-16 and TOP-6.9.2-16 programmes entitled Strengthening Local Identity and Cohesion.

Before looking at the building blocks of methodology, let us clarify the principles of community development in order to have a full picture of the aims and functions of our community-building activities. Please refer to the Glossary for an explanation of any further terms required to understand community development.

Principles: community and involvement

The starting point and benchmark in any profession are its principles – anything done within this profession will qualify as right or wrong, exemplary or to be rejected in relation to these.

The community principle. The aim of community development is to promote participation in a local community and in society as a whole. The final goal is to make sure that everyone belongs to a certain group, so that they are embedded in a community and society and thus have the opportunity to improve their own conditions of living and can participate in community activities aimed at bringing about positive change.

Communities are fundamental for human existence. The greatest innovation of humankind is the evolution of communities. Competition between communities has a more decisive role in human evolution than competition between individuals. Communities are many-headed and many-handed biological and cultural constructions with attention to every detail… They have provided a reliable and balanced environment for human life through million years of evolution… Communities are the optimal space for human nature… we need local communities where people can learn that mankind can only survive in such communities, and that local cultures are the greatest benefit and most significant human value, along with all the advantages of centralization [1]

According to Warren [2], an American sociologist, communities fulfil five functions in our lives:
Socialisation, through which the community channels into the individuals’ certain values, which are valid mostly in the given culture. Economic prosperity: the community provides for the welfare of its members.

Social participation. The community offers its members the opportunity of being involved in social and public life and of exercising rights and obligations. Social control is another community function. It is based on community values and norms as well as on a commitment to, and responsibility for, public matters.

Collaboration, leading to mutual support, whereby community members may perform tasks that may be too large or too urgent for a single individual. This function is also called solidarity.

While all have locality relevance, this does not mean that they necessarily are functions over which the community exercises exclusive responsibility or over which it has complete control. On the contrary, the organization of society to perform these functions at the community level involves a strong tie between locally based units such as businesses, schools, governments, and voluntary associations and social systems extending far beyond the confines of the community… Nor … does it mean that these functions are not performed by other types of social systems such as informal groups, formal associations, and whole societies. The community, however, is especially characterized by the organization of these functions on a locality basis. [3]

Community activities for the public good in local social groups – through community members’ regular communication, involvement and the ensuing solidarity – are the main form of manifestation of participatory democracy. The social risk of ignoring communities is that an increasing number of oppressed and marginalised people may become alienated from society.

The principle of participation

Belonging means participation: one participates in the life of the community where one belongs. In a general sense, participation appears at both personal and community levels.

At the personal level individuals are supposed to be involved in the management of their own lives, taking responsibility for themselves. They will take control of themselves instead of just drifting, they create their own life paths, selecting values and setting targets accordingly, and choose partners to help them in their endeavours towards these targets.

At the community level involvement means knowledge of each other and of the community, and connections within the community. It also means mutual trust and support as well as solidarity, common norms and reciprocity. A high level of participation indicates a healthy, well-functioning community.

Participation also appears at the level of society in the form of interactive and institutional processes: in the creation of networks, communication systems and institutions (founding new ones, e.g. non-governmental organizations, organizing social services, preparing legislation, negotiating and operating advocacy institutions, etc.), as well as in the use of the already existing institutions (knowledge and utilisation of opportunities, compliance or non-compliance with the law etc.).

In a political sense, participation means involvement in various levels of the decision-making process. This is the level where participatory democracy is most prevalent. Participation in this case means that the citizens’ will prevails directly and not via representatives. Citizens and their organizations take part in the communal and social planning and decision-making processes.

Participation, just as becoming part of a community, may take place spontaneously, without the involvement of an expert. The need for, and necessary extent of, professional involvement is defined by the maturity of a community – their educational and organizational level, culture of citizenship and discipline.

Involvement will become necessary when a given community and its members display a low level of participative activity in the interactive and institutional processes of their community/society; when mutual trust and solidarity are weak; when the numbers of civil institutions and networks for mutual help, of active relationships and volunteers are low; when the residents are not aware of their rights, obligations and opportunities, and the existing (governmental) institutions that are meant to work for them actually operate without them; and when the number of those involved in the decision-making and scrutiny processes is low.

Viable neighbourhoods are differentiated by the fact that these are neighbourhoods in which residents can control the local social order. Residents in such neighbourhoods set the goals for collective life, and they have the ability to implement programs to accomplish these goals. [4]

Community development has a narrower and a broader interpretation. It is a pedagogical method known in pedagogical science and psychology as a means of fostering children’s personal development and life skills, while in sociology, in the terminology of community activities, it can refer to a method of encouraging participation, a profession, or a movement. In all of its senses, community development signifies the development of social and civic core competencies of individuals or small groups, locally or in communities of common interest or spirituality, thus strengthening the social capital. [5]

This guide considers community development to be a means of social intervention, providing tools and methods for practitioners. Pál Beke, a key personality in the shaping of community development practices, writes: Community Development (…) is more than the development of human and collaborative skills and more than the practice of initiating collaboration; it also means creating the necessary conditions in the municipality or sub-region where the targeted problems and stakeholders are found. In this sense community development, apart from a programme of human skills development, is a complex activity including activities of organizational, institutional, municipal and regional development. [6]

Tamás A. Varga [7] summarises the seven main stages of community development in the following way:

Creation of new movements. This requires the involvement of the people and their organizations; organization of the district, contacting stakeholders and shaping the forms of communication.

Exploration of the situation. This, in other words, is a socio-economic diagnosis given by the community, actively involving non-expert members as well. The most important step is to explore the community’s self-awareness and to identify problems, but it is also important to explore materials on local history, urban sociology and statistics as well as on development, and to make this knowledge available to the community.

Exploration of the public opinion, motivations and potentials to act, and aligning these with the problems. This process is done by the community and not by the organizer/developer, who may help out if needed. A joint ranking of the tasks, planning problem-solving processes, drafting action plans and self-help projects.

Building institutions, i.e. the establishment of new habits and organizations within the local community, founding new community organizations, training, shaping the attitude required for action, learning new techniques, launching a number of local activities (projects), the development of an information system and establishment of public forums Raising public interest, PR activities. Maintenance and support of self-organizing processes.

Finding and engaging partners: building contacts and networks between local, national and international organizations, conflict management, assertion of interests.

Coordinating work, helping with implementations that may get stuck, helping in assessing implemented processes and planning further steps, professional help in the creation of an intellectual infrastructure for local society development, lobbying with decision-makers and influencing legislative processes.

Stages of community development[8]

Stages of community development
The process takes 9-12 months. A further 1–2 years are needed for process stabilisation.

We have thus laid out the principles and processes of our work.

We will now present the steps of these processes, but before that we put forward an indispensable professional condition for those involved in the work:

The order and combination of methods and techniques to be applied will be determined by the circumstances. The participants will apply a range of methods and techniques simultaneously during the community development process, in a community working mode, from beginning to end. This means that needs will be explored, active citizens found, programmes planned, etc., primarily by the activated community members, and not the community developer. It is thus not the developers who explore local needs, the knowledge, traditions, institutions and typical work forms of the local people, present social structures, sub-regional roles and functions of the local community, etc. (for the study they are writing). The most important goal is that, together with the developer, the members of the community should discover their own community and culture. Acting in the community working mode will empower not the developer but the members of the community.

Community cultural development brings about a change of paradigm for cultural institutions, museums and libraries, where the starting point is the community and its existing and potential cultural values. [9] The purpose of community cultural development is to encourage cultural activity, involvement in the organization and shaping of local cultural life, and to develop cultural participation. An active involvement of local communities and cultural institutions in exploring, raising awareness about, reanimating, renewing and handing down values will contribute to strengthening the local community’s ability for initiation and action. In what follows we will discuss the main methods and tools of community development, based on the process and principles outlined above. We will present their definition – as given in the Glossary –, purpose and conditions of use, the methodological points to be considered when applying particular methods and tools, the expected results, further information on the various methods and tools, resources, and the literature discussing experience concerning their use.


[1] Csányi, V.: Gondolkozz globálisan, cselekedj lokálisan. [Think globally, act locally]. Népszabadság [Hétvége], LXIII. évf. (szeptember 17.) 5. p. [Népszabadság, weekend issue, Vol. 63, 17 September, p. 5]
[2] Warren, R.: The Community in America. 1963, Chicago, Rand McNally
[3] ibid.
[4] Schönberg, S.P.: Criteria for evaluation of neighbourhood vitality in working-class and poor areas in core cities. 1979, Social Problems, vol. 27, no. 1.
[5] Arapovics, M.: A közösségfejlesztés alapfogalmai és a kulturális közösségfejlesztés paradigmája. [Basic terminology of community development and the paradigm of community cultural development]. In: Kulturális Szemle [Cultural Review] No. 6. 2016. No. 2.
[6] Beke, P.:Méltóságkereső. [In search of dignity]. 2001, Budapest, epl. [Budapest, No. 3.]. p. 377-378
[7] Varga, A. T. – Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztés. [Community Development]. 1998 and 2001. Budapest, Hungarian Institute for Culture
[8] Based on figures from the cited study by Mária Arapovics and a presentation by Márton Beke
[9] Arapovics, M.: A közösségfejlesztés alapfogalmai és a kulturális közösségfejlesztés paradigmája. [Basic terminology of community development and the paradigm of community cultural development]. In: Kulturális Szemle [Cultural Review] No. 6. 2016. No. 2.

This article based on the following document: Community development methodological guide