Difficulties and obstacles in the process of socialisation

The socialised way of operation offers a host of opportunities; it may be the goal, the accomplishment of your community development activity but it may also be its starting point. Its practical application however, is accompanied by obstacles and difficulties, just like any other complex professional process. The following is a discussion of the possible complications, together with how they can be prevented or resolved.

Passivity among local residents

When it comes to socialisation, everyone tends to think first of facing passivity or lack of interest. A passive attitude may, however, stem from a variety of circumstances, therefore the most important task in this regard is to explore and describe the reasons for passivity. Institutions operating in a socialised way have found that passivity tends to be caused by the following:

I The way and channels chosen for reaching people are not suitable

When it comes to socialisation, everyone tends to think first of facing passivity or lack of interest. A passive attitude may, however, stem from a variety of circumstances, therefore the most important task in this regard is to explore and describe the reasons for passivity. Institutions operating in a socialised way have found that passivity tends to be caused by the following:

  • Visit local communities intended to be targeted with programmes in person,
  • find the opinion leaders and ask them to participate in personal interviews,
  • try to get to know and understand the target audience’s perspectives and try to meet their expectations accordingly, jointly creating experiences that are attractive for them,
  • assess communication channels used by others (e.g. local civil society organisations, other institutions) that appear to be effective and join them, to the extent possible,
  • think over again the customarily applied marketing and PR clichés; do not hesitate to use social media as a new form of service provision – but only do so by careful planning, providing for regular updates

II Local customs, traditions, features of local culture

Things will be more difficult finding that even the programmes organised by others fail to attract locals – this will be a sign of difficulties calling for more complex and more in-depth exploration. Involvement will be significantly more complicated if there are no customary patterns or traditions for social participation in the local culture, particularly if such patterns and traditions were deliberately suppressed by a previous elite. In such cases the village or town will be home to only a few sports or hobby clubs and circles at best, of people who do not or not particularly deal with societal or community matters; such circles or clubs are normally engaged in a clearly defined set of activities, forming more or less closed groups within the community.


“What a challenge”, one might say. Attempts to involve the existing local civil society organisations, businesses and the residents, by applying the active and passive tools used in community development and community planning. The possible ways to achieve this are discussed in detail in our guide on community development methods. At this point we only touch on the most important steps:

  • exploring, mapping those who can be let in on the process: finding and addressing the handful of hobby clubs and other circles, as they are likely to be where you can find the few active individuals with whom you may start working on the community,
  • exploring the reasons for/causes of the lack of activity, any existing future ideas or visions, through interviews, face to face and focus group consultations, questionnaires,
  • workshop with the actors now engaged in the effort, evaluation of the situation, exploring possibilities for development, working out future vision and the planned/expected results,
  • public discussion to invite opinions on the plans that have been worked out and to have them accepted as widely as possible in the community.

III The way and channels chosen for reaching people are not suitable

Again, the local community is generally passive, similarly to as described above. In this case however, even hobby clubs are few and far between. This situation is particularly characteristic in disadvantaged communities, villages and towns, where community relationships are adversely affected by social problems. People’s difficulties in making ends meet, the efforts made to satisfy day-to-day needs and requirements, are more important than caring about the community. Another typical situation is that of commuter towns whose residents spend their daytime hours in the nearby cities, where no local communities evolve and not more than just a few services are used locally. The population of the village or town concerned has grown during the past few years, neighbours do not really know each other.

It should be noted in this regard that while families with small children and retired people can more easily mobilised in a community, but active-age residents are quite difficult to reach. The above two are among the main reasons why they hardly participate in the lives of local institutions.


  • Social inclusion and ‘catching-up’ programmes should be organised that may help trigger the intended community development process: e.g. sewing activity, clothes mending workshop, use of left-over pieces of textile, with the involvement of members of the community who are more skilful in handicrafts, ones who can share knowledge and practices with the others; community garden in the yard of the cultural centre – children may perhaps be supplied with fruits and vegetables during summer activities;
  • Partnerships with social co-workers should be sought for; they can form bridges between the target group and your institution, they may help us in your mobilisation and activation efforts.
  • Our own viewpoint and approach regarding passivity stemming from disadvantaged position may also need to be adjusted: what others may see as a glass half empty you may as well see as a glass half full. Let us pay attention to what the community and the individual does well, what they are good at, what they even excel at. Exploring strengths and capabilities is the first step towards enabling people to become the engines of their own self-activity.
  • In commuter towns it is a good idea to start involving the local community by weekend neighbourhood programmes.

For more detail on the professional foundations and the possible methods of cultural community activities referred to above – in villages, towns or regions with a variety of social and economic difficulties – see our background material on methodology.

IV Conflicts between local communities

Problems originate in many cases from rivalry or conflicts between or among different circles, groups or other communities operating in a given village or town. Sometimes one community refuses to participate in a proposed action or programme just because another community takes part in it. Unfortunately, disparities are an all too frequent source of problems in today’s society, which it takes immense efforts to tackle and alleviate through a continuous balancing act.


Find individuals outside the given conflict, possibly even with good relationships with both sides, and win them over to support your goals.

V Confidence issues – in the local communities and professionals

Confidence may be in short supply in both smaller and larger villages and towns alike. All too frequently one sees beautifully refurbished but always closed village houses (“lest they damage things inside”) and even in larger town such buildings are accessible for local communities for implementing their own programmes only during the strictly observed opening hours. Confidence is required not only on the part of the institution towards the community but the other way around as well. Individuals, as well as communities, also need to have confidence in the institution. If one has noted issues many times, has come to the institution with a number of ideas or has expressed his or her opinion at the institution’s request, but none of them has ever been taken into consideration and no feedback has been given concerning the reasons either, the individual’s confidence will wane. In such cases people are bound to turn their back on the institution after a while.


  • Gradually pass more and more responsibilities on to the local community, such as supervision of a room or some asset during its use, complete implementation of smaller programmes etc.
  • When assessing needs or asking for opinions in any form you should always give feedback to those who have shared their opinions with you. If you cannot implement an idea you should let the community know the reasons (e.g. lack of funds or other resources, legal obstacles etc.), thereby keeping them motivated to keep thinking and find new solutions, and to help the community factor in possible complications or difficulties as well.

VI Criticism of the expected quality – Gaps in the shield (the Gap Model)

If local residents do not see the activities offered for them as opportunities for participation, or the services you provide them with, to be as good as you think they are, upon observing this gap you have to start remedial actions to alter, improve or further develop your activities or services and at the same time to respond to residents’ complaints.

Under the so-called Gap Model such discrepancy may come about for six reasons, each of which designate at the same time the areas for remedial interventions:

  1. knowledge gap (the institution does not have sufficient knowledge of the population’s needs)
  2. Performance gap (residents’ quality expectations differ from what they experience)
  3. Internal communication gap (the institution cannot live up to its promises)
  4. Perception gap (people have different perceptions of the possibilities for participation, the services they are provided with)
  5. Interpretation gap (people do not interpret the institution’s communication the way the institution thinks)
  6. Service gap (there is a discrepancy between residents’ expectations and the actual possibilities for participation or the service they are provided with)

Gap 6 is the central element of the Gap Model because in that case residents cannot participate in just the activity in which they would like to or were not provided with the service they expected. Accordingly, this is the most severely problematic situation that the institution can face; on the other hand, this gap may be minimised by reducing the other five.

Recommendation: quality improvement and prevention

The activity and service gaps, and consequently, residents’ dissatisfaction, can be predicted from the institution’s activity and service providing processes. The so-called SERVQUAL model has been used as a means of such prediction for some two decades now. The model was developed for use as a generally applicable instrument for the measurement of service quality.

The model determines five dimensions whose combined analyses may enable the description of the quality of a given service:

  • Tangibility:appearance of the institution’s staff, facilities and communication tools.
  • Reliability:the institution’s capability to provide the promised possibility to participate or the promised service accurately and reliably.
  • Responsiveness to client’s needs:the institutions’ willingness to readily help people, make it possible for them to immediately participate and provide them with service(s).
  • Assurance, confidence:the information, knowledge, politeness and capability of the institution’s staff to convey confidence and reliability towards the community.
  • Empathy:the institution’s personalised “caring” attention towards the population.

A summary of the above difficulties and the possible means of preventing and/or overcoming them:

  • Failing to reach the population in the right way:contacting people personally, convincing opinion leaders and joining successful communication channels.
  • Community activity is not part of the local culture:some community must surely be operating in the village or town: start working with them.
  • Societal, social problems:organise community problems aimed at making day-to-day life easier for people and at improving their lives. Community events in commuter towns should be scheduled to weekends.
  • Conflicts between communities: local citizens enjoying general trust and confidence in the community should also be involved in your activities.
  • Lack of confidence among communities and institutions:let us give confidence and confer responsibilities to local communities. Give meaningful feedback to all requests and proposals.

“Gaps in the shield”: analysis of the possibilities for participation, and the services, that are provided by your institution; with a focus on the extent to which you met or failed to meet residents’ requirements and needs (SERVQUAL model).


VII Those engaged turn their backs on the outside world

Once you have managed to socialise your institution and involve local communities and civil society organisations at any level or to any extent, you will be facing new difficulties after a while. They can be resolved, of course – just like, for instance, after receiving the good news, the complications faced during the implementation of your winning project. It is, however, crucial that you notice, and even more importantly, do tackle such situations.

VIII Conflicts between communities

One particular type of difficulty – already discussed above – which may also be faced during operation as well, is when not all communities in the given village or town are involved equally (which would be practically impossible anyway), or when some have their way more often or more fully than others etc. You need to balance on the thin line of democracy during cooperation and it requires excellent conflict management skills.


Look for the most effective solutions offered by conflict management methodologies, based on cooperation, focusing on interests, try and find solutions that are acceptable for all stakeholders and offer a chance for a “win-win” outcome. A win-win outcome is when the end result is more positive for all parties than it is in the case of the zero-sum game where one party loses exactly as much as the other party wins.

IX “… my castle …”

A community enabled to participate in running an institution will be able to bring in new ideas and lots of resources, including human resources and other assets, organise programmes etc. At the same time, the community so involved also benefits from the institution’s resources, including its infrastructure, facilities, assets, technical/professional assistance, funding etc. Even such resources are finite, however. The more communities they are being used by, the less any given community will have. One typical strategy is whereby the communities so involved try to reserve or use as much of the institution’s resources as possible. And then it can be recorded in the institution’s strategy that a given local community’s programme has been completed. Bear in mind however, that the involvement of just a few particular small groups or communities does not amount to what could be regarded as socialisation accomplished.


  • Gather all of the communities playing any role in running your institution from time to time to discuss the particular roles played by each, to clarify who needs what from your institution and how the various organisations can help one another rather than coming to you for assistance.
  • Turn these meetings into a formalised system, for instance, by offering – as a formal or an informal organisation – to the communities the option of launching a “community round table of the XY institution”.
  • Let local residents and other communities know who are the ones and which communities contribute to the institution’s activities and how they help running it. This can be achieved by having the round table – if such has been established – hold its meetings in public, i.e. inside the institution’s building, at a restaurant or some other similar place in your village or town.

The following figure presents possible ways and steps for avoiding individuals’ or communities’ turning their backs on the outside world and possibly for reversing such situation. The arrow indicates the following steps from the bottom upwards:


  1. Have communities around.
  2. Communicate, consult, coordinate with them, jointly, regularly.
  3. Formalise the framework of joint thinking and activities – but only if there is willingness to participate.
  4. The framework and content of community involvement should be public.

X Legal liability

Legal and even criminal liabilities may occur during the operation of an institution. Just think of copyrights, for one. (Amateur groups tend to sometime use works in programmes without obtaining licence first, from which complications may arise for the institution.) Responsibilities under the criminal law include, for instance, the observance of rules on safety and security in relation to organised events. Keeping abreast with changes in increasingly strict regulations takes regular monitoring of the applicable rules. Particular attention must be paid to compliance with such rules when responsibilities are delegated, whether institution staff take on responsibilities for organising events or they are delegated to representatives of the community.

XI The maintainer’s attitude

The attitude of the entity maintaining the institution may perhaps be the most difficult factor to influence; that entity may be the most staunchly resistant to the idea of socialisation. A daunting task, but not an impossible one. If the institution’s staff are committed to socialisation, they can present a few reference programmes to help the maintainer recognise that the available resources can be multiplied through the  involvement of the community.

One of the most typical reason for maintainers’ resistance is a still widely held – erroneous – view of the role of community cultural institutions: some still regard it as their own ‘event organising businesses’ whose only function is to organise events dreamt up by decision makers. To some the community development processes demonstrate only that other opinion leaders are gaining in dominance, even politically threatening their positions and their roles as established opinion leaders. This is actually what happens under the rules of democracy, where political decision makers won’t be partners in dialogue with communities and refuse to take part in the process of their involvement . Dialogue with individuals and communities whose voice could not or would not, be heard previously, is, however, an opportunity for local decision makers, for the very same reason it is an opportunity for us, community developers: people can be served more effectively if they are listened to.

Conflicts may, in a longer run, arise between the user of the institution or the civil society organisation participating in its operation, and the maintainer of the institution. Settling the conflict as quickly as possible is in the interest of both sides in such cases because otherwise the institution may lose its audience, functions and content without civil society organisations’ cooperation, or even other community centres, run by civil society organisations, may appear in the village or town, as rivals of the institution. At the same time, an institution with a stable maintainer and professional staff provides civil society organisations with safety, reliability and predictability where the civil society is ‘only’ responsible for filling it with content.

XII Waning of the institution’s and its staff’s motivation

The institution concerned may experience considerable success during the first period of socialisation. Communities “reward the attention” they are being paid. They may bring lots of ideas, innovations, volunteers and other resources to the institution. As time passes however, communities may lose momentum, run out of ideas and revert to clichés and other proven solutions. Volunteers may also dwindle away and thus the institution’s employees may have to take back some of the existing tasks or take on new ones. But there is nothing particular in this, such processes can be observed in various fields in institutions’ lives.

Risks may also lie in discrepancies between the goals and motives of professional staff members and volunteers contributing to the institution’s activities. Issues in professional self-esteem may arise from the need for or lack of qualifications, tensions between those working for a salary and those carrying out activities on a voluntary basis or discrepancies between different viewpoints. Self-organising processes may falter in the wake of failure and rejection.

The solution may involve

  • on the one hand the adoption of the Kotter model,
  • and regular consultations between professional staff and volunteers, even on informal occasions in informal settings,
  • and raising awareness in the community developers (yourselves) and other professionals, of the fact that openness, the institution’s integrative attitude and professional humility are essential elements of the professional attitude – of your expertise, as referred to in the introduction – consciously approaching both formal professional and administrative viewpoints and civil and community perspectives with appreciation in the interest of effectiveness, quality and success.

This article based on the following document:

Socialized Operation of Cultural Institutions : A methodological guide to community-based operation