by Phil Bartle, PhD
What makes a community, organization or family strong?
When organisations, families and communities are more and better organised, they are stronger. When they more resemble a rational, formal organisation, they have greater capacity to achieve what their members want them to achieve.
If we want to strengthen communities, families or organizations, how can we know when we have succeeded, or to what extent? As scientists engaged in social research, how do we measure the strengthening of them, when they are increasing their capacities, or becoming more empowered? Unfortunately, we do not have a little electronic metre that, when it moves from 62 to 79, we can say that strength has increased by 17 points.
We can analyse the concept of "strength," "power" or "capacity," as applied to organisations, families or communities, look at its various components, and identify a set of observations that will indicate to us that some empowerment or increase in capacity has taken place.
The sixteen elements are: altruism; common values; communal services; confidence; communications; context; information; intervention; leadership; networking; organisation; political power; skills; trust; unity; and wealth. These are somewhat more comprehensive than Weber’s five elements of bureaucratic strength, but identifying them is based on the same sociological principles used by Weber.
Descriptions of the Sixteen Elements:
Empowerment goes well beyond political or legal permission to participate in the national political system. It includes capacity to do things that members want to do. Empowerment includes capacity development and strengthening in various dimensions. Here are the sixteen elements of a community that change as the community, organization or family gets stronger.
Altruism is 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. We borrow the concept from Biology rather than from Philosophy. 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 or organisation, this weakens the community or the organisation.
Common values as a factor of organisational or community strength is 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. This relates to the values dimension of culture. The more that community members share, or at least understand and tolerate, even celebrate, each others values and attitudes, the stronger their community will be. Racism, ageism, sexism, prejudice and bigotry weaken a community or organisation.
For human settlements, these are 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. This relates to the technological dimension of culture. The more that members have access to needed communal facilities, the greater their empowerment. In measuring the capacity of organisations, this includes office equipment, tools, supplies, access to toilets and other personal staff facilities, working facilities, and the physical plant.
Within a community, and between itself and outside, communication includes roads, electronic methods (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 organisation, this is the communication equipment, methods and practices available to staff. Poor communications means a weak organisation or community.
While expressed in individuals, how much confidence is shared among the community or organisation as a whole? This factor includes an understanding that the organisation or 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 are all included. Increased strength includes increased confidence.
CONTEXT (Political and Administrative)
An organisation or 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. It includes 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, families and organizations can be stronger when they exist within a more enabling context.
More than just having or receiving unprocessed information, the strength of the organisation or 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 (mobilising, management training, awareness raising, stimulation) aimed at strengthening the organisation or 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 or organisation 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 organisation. 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 organisations) who can provide useful resources that will strengthen the community as a whole? The useful linkages, potential and realised, that exist within the community and with others outside it. The more effective the network, the stronger the community, family or organisation. Isolation produces weakness.
The level of organisation in a community is 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) organisational integrity, structure, procedures, decision making processes, effectiveness, division of labour, interdependence and complementarity of roles and functions. This relates to the institutional or interactional dimension of culture and society. The more organised, or more effectively organised, is a community or organisation, the more capacity or strength it has.
The power of a community or organisation is the degree to which it can participate in national and district decision making. This relates to the political dimension of culture. Just as individuals have varying power within a community, so communities and organisations have varying power and influence within the district and nation. The more political power and influence that a community or organisation can exercise, the higher level of capacity it has.
The ability, manifested in individuals, that will contribute to the organisation of the community and the ability of it to get things done that it wants to get done, technical skills, management skills, organisational skills, mobilisation skills are all included. The more skills (group or individual) that a community or organisation can obtain and use, the more empowered is that community or organisation. Those skills must be relevant to the purpose of the organisation; a highly skilled juggler, for example, might not be a great asset for a transport company or a police force.
Trust is the degree to which members of the organisation or community trust each other, especially their managers, leaders and community servants, which in turn is a reflection of the degree of their integrity (honesty, dependability, openness, transparency, trustworthiness). More trust and dependability reflects its increased capacity. Dishonesty, corruption, embezzlement and diversion of community resources all contribute to community or organisational weakness.
Unity is a shared sense of belonging to a known entity (the group composing the community), although every organisation and community has divisions or schisms (religious, class, status, income, age, gender, ethnicity, clans) or personal rivalries. It is the degree to which organisational or community members are willing to tolerate the differences and variations among each other and are willing to co-operate and work together, a sense of a common purpose or vision, shared values. When a community or organisation 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.
Wealth is the degree to which the organisation or 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 labour, land, equipment, supplies, knowledge, skills. This relates to the economic dimension of culture. The more wealthy a community or organisation is, then the stronger it is. When greedy individuals, families or factions accrue wealth at the expense of the community or the organisation as a whole, that weakens the community or organisation. Families that have much wealth are likely to last longer than a few generations. See Economic Dimension.
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