5 Community Building Practice: An Expanded Conceptual Framework
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78 5 Community Building Practice An Expanded Conceptual Framework CHERYL L. WALTER CHERYL A. HYDE Note from Cheryl A. Hyde: In the original version of this chapter, Walter (1997) argued that community needed to be understood as more than simply a geographic unit. She persuasively made the case that community be understood as a dynamic, multidimensional entity and that relationships were a critical element in community practice, including the relationship between the practitioner and other community members. In both this and her subsequent work, Walter essentially anticipated key developments in the community building literature. The current version of this chapter, rewritten by Walter and Hyde, incorporates this newer scholarship that affirms the original insights made by Walter over fifteen years ago. HOW WE CONCEPTUALIZE community powerfully influences what we see and what we do in community practice. We draw upon theories of community, and models of community practice rooted in those theories, to orient ourselves, to assess what is going on, and to help us make decisions concerning what to do, why, and how. Community practice often is defined and categorized primarily according to various strategies and methods of practice. For example, in their overview of community practice, Weil and Gamble (2005, 128) identify eight different models distinguished by strategic preferences. In his classic, and now revised, work, Jack Rothman (2007, 28) presents a community intervention framework with these key approaches: planning and policy, community capacity development, and social advocacy. He then suggests that these approaches can be blended, though his is nonetheless a framework that essentially privileges the “strategic engine” of a given model (see chapter 3). This, and similar, approaches to community practice (for example, see Homan 2011; Sen 2003; Staples 2004) operate from the assumption that strategies, when appropriately matched with the situation, will rectify the challenge or problem. The community, then, serves as the arena in which strategies and tactics are identified and used by the practitioner. COMMUNITY BUILDING PRACTICE 79 In contrast, the community practice orientation that we present in this chapter differs in three important ways. First, the focus is on community, and not a strategic framework. Rather than being wedded to a specific strategic repertoire, the practitioner is flexible in his or her use of strategies and tactics; the situation, including, importantly, the community partner or group, guides strategic selection rather than a strategic framework being imposed from outside. Second, community is understood as an inclusive, multidimensional, and dynamic system, of which we, as practitioners, are a part. This complexity encompasses the beliefs and actions of individuals, groups, and organizations and extends to connections beyond the community’s boundaries. Third, community practice is about building capacities, not fixing problems. This necessitates recognition of the strengths of individuals, groups and organizations (see chapter 10), and attendant relationships and networks. A community building practice orientation seeks to engage with the multiple dimensions of community, recognizing the range of perspectives and relationships that exist and integrating diverse strategies and methods of practice. The goal is to build the capacity of the entire system, and all its participants, to operate as community. In deeply and broadly engaging with the relational dynamics of practice, this approach shares common ground with the community psychology and social capital literature (Block 2008; Chaskin et al. 2001; Figueira-McDonough 2001; Putnam 2000; Putnam and Feldstein 2003; Pyles 2009; Reed 2005; M. R. Warren 2001; Wuthnow 1998). Understanding Community Before delineating the key elements and dimensions of community building practice, we need to consider how community is defined. In practice, we generally are taught to conceive of the community as being a neighborhood of people with whom we work; the people within a city or county dealing with a particular issue or problem to which our organization provides services; or people with a shared racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation identity. As classically defined by Ronald Warren (1963), “the community,” in this sense, is a boundaried social or demographic unit involving a neighborhood or people who share a common issue or interest with which practitioners interact to bring about change. Another way of stating this is that a community can be defined by shared space or area, common ties, or social interaction (Hardcastle and Powers 2004, 91). Typically, though, the community is understood in the geographic sense with relationships and identity based on sense of place, which in the United States, with the continued high level of neighborhood segregation, tends to tie closely to other sources of community identification, such as race and...


Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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