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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Louisa Lund from Harvard Family Research Project summarizes the findings of her paper on common themes in community development.

The well-being of individuals cannot be ensured separately from the well-being of families and communities. Many traditional government programs designed to remedy disadvantage, however, focus on individuals without regard to the communities or the families in which they live. In contrast to this piecemeal approach, the practice of comprehensive community development builds on the idea that neighborhoods are like ecosystems, interconnected so that the health of each part depends on the well-being of the whole. Comprehensive community development, rather than addressing problems as isolated phenomena, pursues three goals simultaneously: individual empowerment, neighborhood development, and political action.

Eight Themes in Comprehensive Community Development: An Annotated Bibliography, recently published by HFRP, reviews the current literature related to comprehensive community development, highlighting the potential for collaboration between family support and community development programs.

It presents an annotated bibliography of recent community-development and family-support resources and an overview of this literature organized according to the following eight core practices:

Supporting families: Community-based family support programs focus on how good parenting can be facilitated or frustrated by the economic and social environments in which parents find themselves. In turn, family circumstances may determine the extent to which individuals can take advantages of opportunities that exist in their communities. Family support programs take a variety of forms in connection with other aspects of community development, from informal parenting groups to formal programs that aid families in difficulties; all of them, however, take a proactive, broad-based approach to helping families, emphasizing accessibility and partnership.

Thinking in terms of assets: Asset-based community development draws upon and develops the strengths and resources of neighborhoods, families, and individuals. Focusing on using and developing assets encourages residents to set and pursue their own goals for community development and for their own lives. In practice, an assets-based approach could include activities ranging from making an inventory of already existing community resources to helping individuals, families, and neighborhoods develop their own capital, for example, in the form of savings for education or home ownership.

Seeing the big picture: Although comprehensive community development, by definition, focuses on local projects, it benefits from an awareness of the larger context in which it works: the city, the country, even the world economy. This perspective allows communities to tailor their projects to suit economic conditions and possibilities and think about the ways in which their efforts might fit into a larger aim of improving whole cities.

Working collaboratively: Working collaboratively means sharing expertise, talents, and resources in pursuit of a common goal. Collaboration can be an important tool in developing the wide range of services and opportunities for neighborhood residents that accord with a comprehensive view of community development. Collaborating organizations can concentrate on their own area(s) of expertise and conserve resources by avoiding duplication of services within a community.

Balancing process and product: Community development organizations which pursue a comprehensive approach must balance process—the attempt to build community in ways which empower residents to sustain progress over the long term—with the need to produce visible short-term results, or product. Process involves planning, community organizing, and the development of collaborative, democratic, and accountable systems of governance. Product, in contrast, is represented concretely by newly built or renovated and well-managed buildings as well as other visible, successful events and programs, from expanded child care services to reclaimed parks.

Building unity from diversity: Community development, by definition, grows out of an area in which people have something in common—at the least, residence in the same geographical area. It works by trying to transform this shared location into a stronger bond of shared goals and experiences. However, the emphasis on building connections need not imply an insistence on homogeneity. All communities are diverse in some way, whether through racial, ethnic, class, or age differences. Ignoring diversity risks excluding members of the community from the development process. Taking the claims of diversity seriously points to the importance of actively addressing the linguistic and cultural gulfs that may exist both within a community and between the community and the staff members that become involved in community development efforts.

Drawing on multiple sources of funding: Practitioners of comprehensive community development typically construct a kind of mosaic of different sources of funding, including the federal government, state and local governments, local and national foundations, and corporations. While having diverse sources of funding may increase flexibility, cobbling together a budget from a wide range of sources makes fund raising a time-consuming and expensive activity.

Focusing on youth: Community programs which focus on youth may take a number of forms, from employment and training to recreation. Such programs may aim not only to serve youth, but also to engage them as stakeholders in the process of governance and to realize their potential as assets for the community by involving them in community development efforts. The future of community development efforts rests on successfully cultivating leadership skills and commitment to the community in the next generation.

Louisa Lund, Research Intern, HFRP

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project