"Community relations in Northern Ireland is a process which embraces community action, community service, community work and other community endeavour - whether geographical or issue-based - with an emphasis towards the disadvantaged, impoverished and powerless within society"
Community Development and Community Relations Practice
Throughout the course of the Community Relations Practice Research Project (CRPRP) practitioners felt that when dealing with community development (CD) issues, discussion always centered around the fact that although community relations (CR) and CD have different titles they are by no means unconnected, and the successful blending of both initiatives can produce productive outcomes. CD and CR have to be dependent on each other if they are to achieve their goals. Community regeneration becomes more attainable when working in parallel with CR policies and, similarly, community relations goals can best be achieved when communities become confident of their ability to shape their own future. It was also stressed that in order for the objectives of community relations initiatives to be realised it was essential that both communities had the capacity to engage in the community development process.
If members of a community feel that the issues that are relevant to their particular area are not being addressed properly by government, CD initiatives can empower stakeholders to tackle these issues themselves. In order for this to happen an atmosphere, which embraces community progression should be created and the confidence to move forward must be developed.
Definitions of CD in the past have centered on the processes by which the efforts of people themselves are united with those of government to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions within a community which in turn will lead to the development of a nation as a whole (Of Mutual Benefit, CRC, 1995). Practitioners also stated that CR issues exist alongside issues relating to CD and failure to recognise the interdependence within this relationship can create major obstacles to the future sustainability and the success of both initiatives.
Practitioners also stressed that the relevance of community relations initiatives within this relationship becomes clearer when we can witness different community backgrounds progressing on common issues e.g.- issues relating to drug and alcohol abuse, economic regeneration, adult education or vandalism. Participants felt that the benefits to be gained from co-operation in this area have to be highlighted, it was pointed out that two voices are louder than one when trying to enact change.
During the CR workshop phase of the project participants stated that the ability of communities to address issues like gender equality, disability action, or economic regeneration can be maximised through a process of empowerment. Participants also stated that this must not be approached through a form of community education, or delivering issues ‘to’ a community, but rather through policies which create the opportunity for stakeholders to develop skills that would contribute towards the development of their area.
When exploring community development issues with a given community it is also important to have an agreed agenda from the outset, this may be best achieved through intensive consultation with all stakeholders of a given initiative. It was pointed out that some people may have suspicions concerning these agendas and in order for them to fully embrace CD initiatives it is important to address peoples fears through consultation. It is because of this that the language employed must be geared towards the people the initiative is hoping to target. This issue has been one of the over-riding themes throughout the course of this research, many felt that there is too much ‘jargon’ in use today in all elements of CR work.
In order to create the atmosphere for progress participants stated that the relationship between capacity building, community empowerment, community development and community relations has to be realised. Building the capacity of communities to undertake community development initiatives has to be coupled with mechanisms for training, support and facilitation.
Participants believed that both qualitative and quantitative methods should be involved when undertaking evaluation exercises and that there should be a predetermined period of support for those undertaking initiatives in this area for the first time. There must also be an element of CR in this work, but the target audience has to be aware that this will be the approach from the start, you cannot ‘sneak’ CR into projects once they have started, this will only back-up suspicions concerning hidden agendas. Again it was pointed out that this highlights the need for honest stakeholder consultation at all times.
Main Issues raised concerning CR and CD
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