Community development practices have crossed various phases, from a "needs-based approach" to a "rights-based approach". Within this period, the trends, practices, approaches and strategies have changed, based on the needs identified by the development workers.
The facilitation approach promotes respect for the community's knowledge, begins with the community's knowledge and is humble about the limitations of our knowledge. Ultimately, this approach will challenge the traditional approach of community development while decreasing the community people's existing attitude of dependency
As described by most of the development practitioners, development initiations are sustaining if you teach the target groups the required techniques and skills. But, what if the taught skills and techniques are not appropriate as per the circumstances? Why not focus on enhancing the capacity of each individual in a group, so that they can come together to identify their own solution to the challenge facing them? Various development approaches have been introduced and implemented, but to be honest, have those initiations been sustainable? We are still confused about what sustainability stands for. There is a need for open discussion to come to a concrete and common conclusion to make better utilisation of resources with maximum benefits for the target groups.
Reflecting on different development initiations that have failed, "less or no people's ownership" seems to be the hidden reason behind them. But have we ever tried to figure out how this can be avoided? The answer is "No", because every new development initiation has the same way of approaching the target groups.
It is more like heaping a "readymade" package on the self-identified hungry groups without even assessing if they really are hungry or not. We assure their participation, but we don't bother to facilitate them in identifying their problems.
Unfortunately, most of the development workers do not realise that sustainable development cannot be achieved with the same old traditional way and approach.
The level of people's participation required in development is still an unanswered question, but it needs to be addressed properly.
What we need to understand is that sustainable development cannot be determined by the presence and participation of measured numbers of people.
It is possible only by "leaving no one behind" at each level – from the beginning till the end.
Without people's realisation that for development to take place they cannot depend on others but need to take things in their hands and do something for themselves, it will not pick up speed. Without the realisation that development cannot be an issue to be defined by others but rather one that is r esponsive to their needs and dependent on their actions, development will not advance.
Community development, under different "names" and approaches, is practised worldwide, and many are primarily focussed on "imposing" their own pre-scheduled plan, strategies and activities upon the targeted groups.
Furthermore, the existing "imposing" theory for development has somehow neglected the "power of the people". With this "imposing" method of community development, the community people have no space to look into their own and each other's knowledge and experience to gain insight into their own lives. In other words, they keep silent.
The label the oppressed groups in society carry is that they are ignorant. And this ultimate negligence leads them towards passiveness, lack of ownership and increase in dependency, resulting in no sustainable community development.
This situation raises questions about our progressive development approaches, which have not been able to use people's power with action-reflection, facilitation-based approach for sustainable results.
Or, may be the development workers are reluctant to adopt emerging methods and approaches.
Reflecting on all these, it is clear that the situation is not due to lack of proper development initiatives, but due to improper approaches and strategies. In fact, people are now more aware than before. The only factor lacking is their proper mobilisation to identify their problems, and design appropriate solutions and the way forward through the facilitation approach.
What kind of facilitation, one may ask. One that helps the people come out of their comfort zone to confront their pessimism and fatalism and enable them to become aware of their capacity to shape their environment and to obtain the means to do so.
So, the facilitation approach is more of an action-reflection process through problem-posing.
This approach can be a tool to accept the challenge and identify their power by realising different levels of empowerment within them.
This approach promotes respect for the community's knowledge, begins with the community's knowledge and is humble about the limitations of our knowledge.
Ultimately, this approach will challenge the traditional approach of community development while decreasing the community people's existing attitude of dependency.
Apart from this, the facilitation approach is focussed on empowering people to address inequality through significant and sequential strategies. So there is a need to scale up successful social innovations from the grassroots across different levels of interventions, as per their requirements and needs, to address their identified problems.
Let's think about it: Are we making people independent or are we making them more dependent with the ongoing development approaches and theories? What is more important: making them dependent in the name of readymade empowerment packages or making them independent by strengthening their capacity through collective actions, facilitating discussion on their issues, allowing them to freely choose their own course of actions and implementing them accordingly, and taking ownership of their own development? Which approach do you think will contribute more to sustainable community development?
A version of this article appears in the print on February 24, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.