Community discussions (or a series of them) are meant to uncover the experiences, values and community problems noted during the community interviews, to be adopted and discussed by the community. These community discussions are to be arranged among the interviewees, the neighbours and acquaintances they want to involve, and the representatives of local institutions, under the guidance of the community developer.
Purpose of the activity
- We recognize that we have shared causes;
- We see these causes in a new perspective;
- We draw a sense of security from the fact that we are not alone;
- Community responsibilities and commitments may take shape;
- The communal situation may help in outlining and managing important local causes collectively;
- A plan is drafted to involve an even wider circle of people (see also community survey).
- community discussion;
- making the community aware of local values, problems and causes;
- commitment to community activities
- personal: community developer, community cultural organizer, active and engaged locals
- material: meeting room, attendance sheet and memo
- financial: room rental fee (if needed)
Applied tools and methods
At the first community discussion the initiators present their findings from the interviews, the values, community problems and local causes explored → community developers’/volunteers’ presentations, then they ask the audience to select the areas that are the most important for them → community discussion, led by the community developer.
Once this list is drafted, they jointly agree upon their priorities and scheduling → the community discussions are regularly repeated, and this regularity leads to creating a new institution in the community.
During the following open community discussions, members activated by the interviews explore a topic they have selected (e.g. the situation of the young, job creation, local publicity).
Community members will come to these discussions with a variety of expectations. It takes time and, sometimes, several meetings before they understand each other’s wishes. This is a rich group dynamics process, revealing whether it is possible to launch community activities or further individual work, interviews or other methods are still needed. We may sometimes be disappointed to find that fewer people turn up than we talked to personally. People may stay away for a number of reasons – they may find the working method unusual; they may lack confidence to speak in public; they may have failed in public speaking earlier; they may fear that the developers or others in the group want to use them; some may stay away assuming they don’t need this – e.g. the well-off and the very busy, or those feeling hurt because of their poverty, or even those better qualified than the average, decision-makers, local ‘potentiaries’, etc. These people should also be involved in the community processes, albeit with different strategies. Some may turn up once and cannot be kept in the process much longer, because they are too busy and impatient to untangle problems – in other words, they have already reached the stage to which the others will only come during the discussions; we may prepare these people to join later.
If the public expresses the wish to involve a wider circle – and this will happen almost invariably –, we may suggest the use of a community survey at the first community discussion. (The method is explained separately.) We should not rush to formalize questions, especially if we find that people enjoy discussions without a specific purpose, enjoy the company and have things to say to the others. Locals may have easily been seeing each other regularly and not have come as far as formulating the first question, although they may have solved a number of problems in the meantime. In our experience community activities are often begun at this early stage of the process, mostly around easily manageable local causes with the promise of success. Members of the community may be engaged in these community activities without any specific preparation, because they are already empowered by their socialisation and cultural readiness. More complex tasks, which require planning, coordination, resources and the creation of partnerships, may be realized at a later stage of the process, after the action plans have been drafted.
Invitation: the initiators may invite the members of the community to an open community discussion in several ways: they may see significant locals in person to explain their plans; invitations may be sent to the same people; announcements can be made on posters, through loudspeakers, in the local press and on TV, or in a combination of these, to raise public interest. If the initial discussion is successful and gets local publicity, further discussions may be arranged, which may then be repeated every week or every other week.
The initiator(s) must be aware that the turnout at these community discussions may vary greatly each time, even despite a most thorough organization, but this is by no means a failure. Some topics may be more interesting and may attract more people, while others will engage fewer. Processes have their own dynamics too: there is a lot of initial interest, but the number of participants will gradually be reduced until only the ‘most determined ones’ remain. The initiator(s) need to feel how far they may go in making the causes public with the help of this method, and when they need to change tracks. After 8-10 discussions (sometimes sooner) the participants may feel ‘now is the time to do something’, which will indicate that a new method is due to be used.
These discussions formulate the questions and activity alternatives, around which the community activities may be organized. Public discussions should be followed by community planning, for which we have several methods to choose from. If we want to extend the group of initiators, the central core, to create a wider community base to community problem-solving, if time allows, and if the will of those initiators committed to the process is strong enough, then the application of the community survey method is warmly recommended.
An attendance sheet is recorded at every community discussion, and later a memo is made available in a community cultural/public collection institution.
Results, expected outcome
- The wider circle of potential local initiators is extended;
- Goals are reached:
– Community responsibilities and commitments may take shape;
– The communal situation may help in outlining the management of important local causes collectively;
– A plan is drafted to involve an even wider circle of people (see also community survey).
- Varga, A. T. – Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztés. [Community Development] 1998 and 2002, Budapest, Hungarian Institute for Culture. http://www.pafi.hu/_Kozossegi_Adattar/Azadatt.nsf/99b0698cd023d1018525670c0080e328/ec68caea967c3c04c125679f005b84b7?OpenDocument
- Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztő leckék kezdőknek és haladóknak. [Community building for beginners and professionals]. Parola booklets. 2004, Budapest, Hungarian Association for Community Development. http://www.kka.hu/_Kozossegi_Adattar/Azadatt.nsf/0a84037251c6a630c1257075002e65aa/c25665214fdbda8ec1256f1800529729?OpenDocument
This article based on the following document: Community development methodological guide