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Topic 4 Community Development and Participatory Action Research (PAR)

When talking about participation in the community sphere, it is almost inevitable to talk about community development, since the participation of people and organizations in this area has as its objective the improvement of the lives of these people and of the community as a whole. This development cannot be done without the process of participation and organization of the community.

Community Development is one of the three basic methods or primary methods of Social Work, individual, group and community, but it is also a field of practice that encompasses the various institutions and services focused on the global needs of a community.

The term Community Organization is used interchangeably with Community Development or Community Social Work.

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Community Development is a technique of social action, which can count on the intervention of specialized agents. Often, it is aimed at those communities in a situation of sociocultural or economic vulnerability, or of insufficient use of available resources.

The main objective of Community Development is the achievement of social welfare, that is, the improvement of the quality of life of the population or community object of the intervention. To do this, it requires the voluntary, conscious and responsible participation of individuals in solving their own problems.

Community development is based on the premise that everyone is an expert, that is, he has experience in the problems of their community and, a priori, he has much to contribute in the perception of problems and their solutions, that is, the hierarchy between experts and population is breaks.

However, it must be remembered that the process is not improvised. Those who promote it must have planned different strategies and methodologies with each of the groups of actors that participate and their positions.

Community Development has often used participatory methodologies (PM) and Participatory Action Research (PAR).

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a process of social research built from participatory bases.

It uses PMs as a participatory way of working, aimed at dealing with shared meanings and social practices. The use of PM does not make sense without a clear objective, we need to know first what we want and where we are going. From there, the MPs provide us with a participatory path to propose proposals aimed at improving the initial situation from which we start.

The central idea of ​​the PAR is that the resolution and transformation of social realities passes largely through the involvement of the affected actors. It is the one that centralizes that actions such as collective reflection, the debate on the context that marks the problem, the prioritization of existing problems, the organization and definition of some activities as alternative solutions, among others, must be processed through meeting spaces collective. Only this interaction of the actors is the one that can allow the transformation of situations, to the extent that the decisions that are made inside are translated directly into social and public actions.

There are two key moments or phases in any participatory process: the diagnosis and the preparation of proposals.

In the diagnosis phase, it is about “knowing” the reality on which we want to work. The elaboration of proposals is oriented to the design of an action plan that allows us to “transform” that reality from which we start.

With this type of process we not only intend to “know” but at the same time “transform” reality, which conditions from the beginning the logic that governs the methodologies to be used.

The diagnosis is conceived as a previous step to the programming and subsequent execution of the Action Plan. We see how the moment of the diagnosis is raised exclusively at the service of the preparation of proposals, and only makes sense in the participatory processes as a previous and necessary step to the IAP.

It is in the link between both phases where the PMs find their logic: it is diagnosed collectively expressly to define and undertake actions that will also be assumed collectively.

The logic of this sequence is derived from the meaning and purpose of participatory processes: to define what actions we will undertake to transform a reality (IAP) we must first agree on the situation from which we start and know the elements of the context.

Between these two central blocks, the Diagnosis and the Action Plan, we place the Devolution as a moment of assembly between one and the other. Devolution allows us to converge in a public space the different speeches and positions of the actors linked to the problem we are addressing, in such a way that this diagnosis is made from the greatest possible plurality and diversity of voices. The devolution indicates returning to the population the information and conclusions that have been obtained as a result of the diagnosis process and that this allows people to better understand reality and based on it, make proposals for the Action Plan.

By boosting community engagement processes we can use PAR tools and approaches, even if we are not going to do a full PAR process as such. It is very important to involve the population with whom we work in collectively constructing an analysis of the reality that affects them, as well as generating proposals for improvement from them.