Community development


Community development is a broad approach to working with communities in the pursuit of social justice – a fair and inclusive society with an equitable distribution of resources, opportunities and power across the population.

It is a process to create positive change at a local or community level, alongside or led by, the people who live there.

man and boy gardening

The International Association for Community Development (IACD) defines community development as ‘a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality (particularly structural inequalities related to gender, race, disability, class, age and sexual orientation); and social justice, through the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity or interest, in urban and rural settings’.

Their is no unified approach to community development, rather an embodiment of many approaches under a broad umbrella termed ‘community development’. It is unified through a strong value base and is driven by active principles that guide the work.

In Queensland, community development has a strong tradition and history beginning in the 1970’s and connected through a strong network of practitioners that gather every two years to share stories of practice and learn together. Community Development practice as defined by Community Development Queensland, has at its core a relational methodology that is underpinned by strong values and principles that guide the work for both individual and community change; moving private concerns to public action. These are interlinked with the social justice principles of equity, equality, participation and access.

Community development seeks to identify and define issues of public concern, and influence public policy in relation to those issues. It has a particular role in making the connections between private troubles and public issues.

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a community led approach that is built on four foundational elements.

  1. It focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs (strength-based rather than deficit approach).

Many traditional approaches to working in communities begin with a needs analysis or needs mapping, which focuses on problems in the community, and can lead to communities being labelled as deficient and dysfunctional. This identity is often absorbed by people who live there and can result in a perpetual cycle of disconnection and problems.

The more dysfunctional a community is labelled, the more funds are invested and controlled by external agencies. Focusing on the strengths and assets of a community starts with what makes a community strong, and recognise that everyone has skills, interests, and experience that can contribute.

2. It identifies and mobilises individual and community assets, skills and passions.

There are at least six broad types of assets which can be mapped and mobilised in communities, including:

  • The skills and abilities of individuals within the community, particularly people who are passionate about the community and are good at making connections
  • Voluntary community organisations and networks and what they offer (or could offer) to the community
  • Institutions (e.g. non-government organisations, not for profits, government agencies, businesses) that are already connected to the community (particularly small, local institutions)
  • The physical environment (both natural and built)
  • The local economy in a broad way that includes the informal economy (e.g. people swapping goods and services, voluntary work) as well as the traditional economy (e.g. production, consumption).
  • The stories, culture and heritage of the community.

3. It is community driven – building communities from the inside out

4. It is relationship driven

Additional information can be found:

The Asset Based Community Development Institute (McKnight and Kretzman)

Sustaining Community (Australian blog linked to University of Newcastle; Graham Stuart)

Nurture Development (Partner of the ABCD Institute, based in Europe/UK)

ABCD Asia Pacific Network

Jeder Institute (A collective founded by Dee Brooks)

Bank of IDEAS (Peter Kenyon and associates)

Neighbourhood and Community Centres

What is a Neighbourhood or Community Centre?

Neighbourhood and Community Centres (NCCs) are the first place of contact for individuals and families to access information, support and referral to specialised services. NCCs form a vital placed-based infrastructure providing local community connections and access to support, information, referrals and education to the community in which they are based. Small services are usually managed by local volunteer management committees and employ qualified human services professionals to meet the needs of each individual community. It has become more common over the years that NCCs can be managed by larger organisations, also known as umbrella organisations. They still maintain their individual community values, strengths-based frameworks and intended goals. Operating within a strengths-based framework, NCCs enhance community cohesion and reduce mental and physical health impacts that stem from social isolation.

Where have Neighbourhood and Community Centres come from?

NCCs have existed within Australia for more than 50 years. The first known existence of centres in Australia stems from the women’s movement, coming together for support and action to create better communities and environments for the future. Their idea is place-based and to hold a strong identity to a geographic area, region and/ or community (Rooney, 2011). They come from the people they service and place they operate in, rooted with beliefs, cultures and needs of their communities. In other words, people ‘are involved in defining and taking action on the issues that affect them’ (Rooney, 2011).

How do Neighbourhood and Community Centres function?

NCCs offer a range of programmes to support individuals and communities in a place. They operate within evidence-based service delivery models including place-based approaches, strength-based frameworks and community-centred approach. Driven by human services workers, NCCs offer social inclusive programs, financial relief and food assistance programs, family and parenting support and educational programs, and many more.

NCCs also offer community space to be accessed by service users and specialised organisations including government and non-government organisations. They provide services to these clients in a safe and secure environment. They play a key role in providing information and referral in communities and offer a soft entry point or non-stigmatising human service delivery. They are flexible and dynamic in how they can move from crisis and problem-based responses to a more holistic and integrated approach to support. NCCs and their staff are often called upon to support and rebuild communities affected by socio-economic crises, natural disasters and pandemics.

They have a key role in building social capital in communities. They play a key role in strengthening communities, generating social wellbeing and community connections. Most centres have a strong volunteer base and are heavily reliant of volunteers to maintain their role in communities. Funding comes from a variety of sources including state, local and federal government, philanthropic, donations and self-generated income means.

Advocacy and Government Supports

QCOSS is the peak body for Queensland’s social services sector. It creates positive social change through its work in advocacy, policy development, engaging and empowering the social service sector and communities. It brings people together to help solve the big social issues faced by people in Queensland, building strength in numbers to amplify our voice. It connects communities, its members, the sector, other peak bodies, government and business, collaborating with our diverse stakeholders to create social change. It works closely with Queensland Families and Communities Association (QFCA) to provide support to NCCs through the provision of connection to the wider social service industry and access to resources to assist them to build capacity within their community.

Queensland Families and Communities Association (QFCA) is the peak body leading and supporting Neighbourhood and Community centres throughout Queensland. The peak body works with local neighbourhood and community centres to develop and resource the sector and forward a citizen-led community development approach to supporting, enhancing and building resilience within all communities throughout Queensland.

The Queensland Department of Communities funds more than 100 neighbourhood and community centres, which provide friendly, localised access to child, family and community services. There are centres in rural, remote and urban communities throughout Queensland.

With an understanding that every community is unique therefore the connection and response to community will be different for all NCCs, the Department of Communities work with each individual service to develop funding and contractual arrangements to support this diversity. Contract officers within the Department work closely with NCCs to offer support and direction in the delivery of social cohesion and connectedness for people living within communities supported by NCCs.

QCOSS and QFCA joined together in collaboration to facilitate a series of community led focus groups with NCCs throughout Queensland to identify and collate the purpose and outcomes of NCCs. Gathering informed evidence of the broader scope of holistic support and connection to community as well as the broader social service sector that community centres promote in their support and advocacy to community and those residing within them to develop a clear outline of what NCCs need in order to grow as service support leaders within community. See the consultation paper here.

Research and community practice frameworks

Research and community practice frameworks have supported our understanding of the operation and functions of NCCs in Queensland and Australian communities. Work has been underway in Queensland to develop a state-wide framework for NCCs to provide some structure and unifying features to organisations.

A Victorian peak body for Neighbourhood and Community Houses has developed a framework that identifies six common aspects of NCCs requires to meet the needs of their local communities. They include:

  • Involving – the community and encouraging participation and inclusion, and valuing diversity and difference at all levels of neighbourhood house operation.
  • Identifying – community needs and aspirations.
  • Determining – appropriate community programs, activities and services in response to those needs, ensuring that diversity and difference are valued.
  • Partnering – with community organisations, businesses, government and philanthropic organisations to secure appropriate funding and support.
  • Delivering – quality programs, activities and services.
  • Evaluating – the effectiveness of all aspects of neighbourhood house operations, including programs, practice and governance.

Despite jurisdictional boundaries or differences, NCCs exist and operate for similar purposes and hence are supported by similar functional aspects.

A community consultation jointly facilitated by QCOSS and QFCA found multiple types of services provided by NCCs, across Queensland, are reflective of the basic aspects and functions promoted by the NCCs frameworks in other states. Queensland NCCs are ‘supporting community-led responses and collaborative networks that are often inclusive of community members, business, essential services and government’.

Such community consultations provide further platforms for testing quality of services and challenges, and evaluation processes. The Queensland consultation found important aspects contributing to function and effectiveness of NCCs. They include infrastructure for safe service space, partnerships for supportive and collaborative network models, NCCs as constant community bodies, service provisions without barriers, and crisis management platforms.

Disaster and crisis research by Queensland NCCs also informs practices that are common across the board which focuses on an ‘overarching commitment to connecting people with a range of relationships and opportunities’.

See these resources

Community Plus+ – Strengthening people and places

Community Plus+ – A Silver Lining

Economic and Social Impact study: Community and Neighbourhood Centres Sector

Neighbourhood and Community Centres: results for children, families and communities

How Neighbourhood Houses are good for individuals, communities and government

Place-based approaches

Using a place-based approach is about bringing together citizens in a place to address the complex needs of communities by harnessing the vision, resources and opportunities in each community.

Place-based approaches are long term, collaborative efforts, which give power to the community in guiding systemic change, and contribute to a cycle of learning about investment and impact.

QCOSS has a focus on place-based work. As the state’s peak body for the community sector, QCOSS is uniquely positioned to support and enable place-based approaches across Queensland.

It has produced a place-based guide and toolkit to support organisations with place-based approaches. Find out more here.

Community engagement

Community engagement is a broad term meaning different things depending on what sector is undertaking the engagement and the purpose of the work. It can be considered both a process and an outcome.

Community engagement could be articulated as a planned process with the specific purpose of working with identified groups of people, whether they are connected by geographic location, special interest, or affiliation or identify to address issues affecting their wellbeing. Depending on the context, community engagement can cover; consultation, extension, communication, education, public participation, participative democracy or working in partnership.

Community engagement can be broken into three main categories:

  • Community development and community building (e.g. place based work, capacity building)
  • Service delivery (e.g. involving service users in program design)
  • Planning and decision making (e.g. strategic planning for a neighbourhood centre or policy issues)

The public participation spectrum developed by the International Association for Public Participation Australasia (IAPP2) provides a guide to understanding levels of community engagement and the impact on communities.

Participatory Leadership

The Art of Hosting (AOH) and Harvesting Conversations that matter, also known as Participatory Leadership, is an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges.

It uses a range of powerful methodologies to harness the collective wisdom and self organising capacity of groups of any size; fostering commitment and ownership from participants and getting results.

Participatory Leadership is more than a set of methodologies, it is an ongoing practice. It is an art to host a conversation well so that participants experience learning, the exchange of ideas, are able to offer resources and co-create innovation.

It is based on the assumption that people give their energy and lend their resources to what matters most to them; in work as in life. Participatory leadership offers processes that invite people to step in and step up to take charge of the challenges which face them.

The methodologies and practice have a particular synergy with community development practice as they create space where:

  • we can engage with people where they are at
  • power is diffused
  • we can learn and grow together
  • we can co-create solutions
  • there is space to share stories
  • there is opportunity to build relationships
  • we can harness the collective wisdom of the group
  • we can create spaces for listening
  • we can create spaces for action

You can watch a short video on the art of hosting.

Some core participatory leadership methodologies and information related to them include:

Related Updates

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NAB Foundation Community Grants
Stay Connected Fund supporting Queenslanders to build community connections and combat loneliness
Translated resources: Resilient Homes Fund