Three questions to ask about community development

By Ben and Pam Wolf
An old Chinese proverb states that the best development is the type that when the development is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves.” In other words, we as outsiders play a role as facilitators of the development process. But in the end, true community development occurs when the local people, the community, take the lead in all aspects of solving their priority problems.

We ask three key questions about the development process to see if it really qualifies as good community development.

Is the work participatory? Is it providing opportunity for the people involved to be deciding on how and what is done? In other words, whose development is it? Is it ours (the outsiders) or is it theirs (the community’s)?

Is the work transformational? Is the resulting effect a surface change or a deep-seated heart change of the people involved? Are the local people simply complying with the outsider’s directives or are they embracing the need, tools, and process of change for the better?

Is the work sustainable? Is the work able to last or continue for a long time because it truly is of the people, by the people and for the people? Will the success and positive changes continue and expand even after the outsider/outside organization leaves the area?

We generally ask these three questions to ourselves early in the process with a community that we are working with. We then also come back to them toward the end of the process and ask the same questions. It should be noted, this is an evaluation of us and how true our work has been in a community. Have we been manipulators or facilitators? Is the community more dependent or more empowered?

Remember, in the end, you can work through the process backward for evaluation. If it isn’t sustainable, transformation didn’t take place. If transformation didn’t take place, it wasn’t participatory.

Think about ministry projects that you have done. How would you answer these three questions about your results?

Ben and Pam Wolf are Kansas workers who serve as area directors for Asia with Baptist Global Response. This article is reprinted from the BGR website