ELEMENTS OF COMMUNITY STRENGTH
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Descriptions of the sixteen elements of capacity, strength or empowerment
Community empowerment goes well beyond political or legal permission to participate in the national political system. It includes capacity to do things that community members want to do.
Empowerment includes capacity building and strengthening in various dimensions. Here are sixteen elements of a community that change as the community gets stronger.
The proportion of, and degree to which, individuals are ready to sacrifice benefits to themselves for the benefit of the community as a whole (reflected in degrees of generosity, individual humility, communal pride, mutual supportiveness, loyalty, concern, camaraderie, sister/brotherhood).
As a community develops more altruism, it develops more capacity. (Where individuals, families or factions are allowed to be greedy and selfish at the expense of the community, this weakens the community).
The degree to which members of the community share values, especially the idea that they belong to a common entity that supersedes the interest of members within it.
The more that community members share, or at least understand and tolerate, each others values and attitudes, the stronger their community will be. (Racism, prejudice and bigotry weaken a community or organization).
Human settlements facilities and services (such as roads, markets, potable water, access to education, health services), their upkeep (dependable maintenance and repair), sustainability, and the degree to which all community members have access to them.
The more that members have access to needed communal facilities, the greater their empowerment. (In measuring capacity of organizations, this includes office equipment, tools, supplies, access to toilets and other personal staff facilities, working facilities, physical plant).
Within a community, and between itself and outside, communication includes roads, electronic methods (eg telephone, radio, TV, InterNet), printed media (newspapers, magazines, books), networks, mutually understandable languages, literacy and the willingness and ability to communicate (which implies tact, diplomacy, willingness to listen as well as to talk) in general.
As a community gets better communication, it gets stronger. (For an organization, this is the communication equipment, methods and practices available to staff). Poor communication means a weak organization or community.
While expressed in individuals, how much confidence is shared among the community as a whole? eg an understanding that the community can achieve what ever it wishes to do.
Positive attitudes, willingness, self motivation, enthusiasm, optimism, self-reliant rather than dependency attitudes, willingness to fight for its rights, avoidance of apathy and fatalism, a vision of what is possible. Increased strength includes increased confidence.
Context (Political and Administrative):
A community will be stronger, more able to get stronger and sustain its strength more, the more it exists in an environment that supports that strengthening. This environment includes (1) political (including the values and attitudes of the national leaders, laws and legislation) and (2) administrative (attitudes of civil servants and technicians, as well as Governmental regulations and procedures) elements. The legal environment.
When politicians, leaders, technocrats and civil servants, as well as their laws and regulations, take a provision approach, the community is weak, while if they take an enabling approach to the community acting on a self-help basis, the community will be stronger. Communities can be stronger when they exist within a more enabling context.
More than just having or receiving unprocessed information, the strength of the community depends upon the ability to process and analyse that information, the level of awareness, knowledge and wisdom found among key individuals and within the group as a whole.
When information is more effective and more useful, not just more in volume, the community will have more strength. (Note that this is related to, but differs from, the communication element listed above).
What is the extent and effectiveness of animation (mobilizing, management training, awareness raising, stimulation) aimed at strengthening the community? Do outside or internal sources of charity increase the level of dependency and weaken the community, or do they challenge the community to act and therefore become stronger?
Is the intervention sustainable or does it depend upon decisions by outside donors who have different goals and agendas than the community itself? When a community has more sources of stimulation to develop, it has more strength.
Leaders have power, influence, and the ability to move the community. The more effective its leadership, the more stronger is a community. While this is not the place to argue ideologically between democratic or participatory leadership, in contrast to totalitarian, authoritarian and dictatorial styles, the most effective and sustainable leadership (for strengthening the community, not just strengthening the leaders) is one that operates so as to follow the decisions and desires of the community as a whole, to take an enabling and facilitating role.
Leaders must possess skills, willingness, and some charisma. The more effective the leadership, the more capacity has the community or organization. (Lack of good leadership weakens it).
It is not just "what you know," but also "who you know" that can be a source of strength. (As is often joked, not only "know-how," but also "know-who" gets jobs). What is the extent to which community members, especially leaders, know persons (and their agencies or organizations) who can provide useful resources that will strengthen the community as a whole?
The useful linkages, potential and realized, that exist within the community and with others outside it. The more effective the network, the stronger the community or organization. (Isolation produces weakness).
The degree to which different members of the community see themselves as each having a role in supporting the whole (in contrast to being a mere collection of separate individuals), including (in the sociological sense) organizational integrity, structure, procedures, decision making processes, effectiveness, division of labour and complementarity of roles and functions.
The more organized, or more effectively organized, is a community or organization, the more capacity or strength it has.
The degree to which the community can participate in national and district decision making. Just as individuals have varying power within a community, so communities have varying power and influence within the district and nation.
The more political power and influence that a community or organization can exercise, the higher level of capacity it has.
The ability, manifested in individuals, that will contribute to the organization of the community and the ability of it to get things done that it wants to get done, technical skills, management skills, organizational skills, mobilization skills.
The more skills (group or individual) that a community or organization can obtain and use, the more empowered is that community or organization.
The degree to which members of the community trust each other, especially their leaders and community servants, which in turn is a reflection of the degree of integrity (honesty, dependability, openness, transparency, trustworthiness) within the community.
More trust and dependability within a community reflects its increased capacity. (Dishonesty, corruption, embezzlement and diversion of community resources all contribute to community or organizational weakness).
A shared sense of belonging to a known entity (ie the group composing the community), although every community has divisions or schisms (religious, class, status, income, age, gender, ethnicity, clans), the degree to which community members are willing to tolerate the differences and variations among each other and are willing to cooperate and work together, a sense of a common purpose or vision, shared values.
When a community or organization is more unified, it is stronger. (Unity does not mean that everyone is the same, but that everyone tolerates each others' differences, and works for the common good).
The degree to which the community as a whole (in contrast to individuals within it) has control over actual and potential resources , and the production and distribution of scarce and useful goods and services, monetary and non monetary (including donated labour, land, equipment, supplies, knowledge, skills).
The more wealthy a community, the stronger it is. (When greedy individuals, families or factions accrue wealth at the expense of the community or the organization as a whole, that weakens the community or organization).
The more any community or organization has of each of the above elements, the stronger it is, the more capacity it has, and the more empowered it is.
A community is a social entity (See Community); it does not become stronger simply by adding a few more facilities. Community strengthening or capacity building involves social change ─ development ─ and that, in turn, involves all sixteen of the above elements of strength.
Measuring These Elements:
Participatory methods to measure changes in these elements, thus changes in the strength of the target community, are in the training module: Measuring Strength.
For a two page handout listing these sixteen elements, see Sixteen Elements.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle