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33. Practising Community Work

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PRACTISING COMMUNITY WORK

 

Community work is principally helping and stimulating oppressed, victimized and unorganised people to come together so that they can take better care of their interests or together change a problem in their reality and conditions of living. Mobilizing local communities means mustering all kinds of local resources: human capability and material supply, that are needed. Ordinary men and women will be encouraged to be active and learn together with fellows, and to take control over their lives and future. They can create a humane and democratic society.

 

Mobilization means bringing people together for cooperation and collective action, using and developing their know-how and competence, collect together and organize capital, land houses, equipment, machinery, tools etc. - all the local resources that people own and/or control and can make use of. It also includes strategies to get support from appropriate organizations and authorities and backing from other communities, groups and sympathizers. This is to empowering people to be able to do what are important to them - creating a better life.

 

This does not all times mean that we are working for change. Sometimes it means preventing change, because change can be good or bad for the local community (e.g. dismantling the welfare state) The community worker is a catalyst for these processes. Sometimes, it is the job of the community worker to be a facilitator and counsellor, even perhaps organizer. The role of the community worker is often that of a link between neglected groups and different authorities, public administration and organizations. In order to carry out his/her role the community worker uses different methods, techniques and strategies.

 

Katarina tells us

 

Katarina Grut is a community worker and co-operative advicer. She is working at the Co-operative Development Centre in Ås, a small town 15 km north of Östersund. Katarina explains what this work involves.

 

- The starting point for the work is a sort of "bottom-up" perspective, that is to say, we look to the people's own needs, resources and interests first. Our policy is that we do not try to convince any group that they should start a cooperative if they do not want to. When they themselves have become interested and take the first initiatives, then we become involved. For example, we can get a phone call from a group which has started to discuss or plan an activity.

 

- When we started our own work, we began it by sending out information about ourselves. We distributed pamphlets to politicians and civil servants in the municipalities and to different target groups, for example, parents who were looking for day-care services. Initially we travelled throughout the county and presented ourselves and the cooperative ideas at the relevant municipal offices. Now the Cooperative Center is a well-known organization in the region and it is not difficult for people to turn to us. When the first child-care cooperative was being planned in the village of Hunge, there were articles in the local newspapers. People were interested and began to phone for information. The pioneers offered an interesting example which got others out in the villages with their own needs for child care to start thinking about this possibility. The Hunge example illustrates the process well: from the identification of a need for child-care services in the village and the rallying around a common concern to the following development of a number of other activities in the village such as the renewal of the hostel and investment in tourism, the village maintenance service, the building of dwellings, the dance and sauna evenings.

 

Local people should take the initiative

 

- A critical point in the whole strategy is that people contact us because they have a need or a perceived common concern around which they believe they can organize themselves - with some support from us. The first meeting is often held in someone's kitchen, with representatives from five or six families who have e.g. started thinking about a child-care cooperative in the village. The kitchen, the Swedish "social room" at coffee time, has become their meeting place.

 

- I usually bring along some information material and a handbook on how you can tackle the task and what is important to think about etc. We go through this material together. More formally, the starting point for a group of people who gather around a common concern is that they share some sort of vision or venture idea. We can help them to develop and to accomplish this idea, but it is essential that they believe in their own ability, that it is possible to carry the venture or project through. It is matter of self-reliance, and we see it as our duty to encourage people to believe in themselves - to pep them up!

 

The feeling of community

 

- One thing we usually direct our attention to is the existing social structure: who belongs to the group, their contacts and networks, access to own resources and competence. We are also interested in the area's culture, norms, traditions, the village history etc. For example, what traditions and experiences do they have with regards to working together, to mutual help, to giving and taking? The tradition around the bakery cottage and the baking of thin bread was one important activity to gather around in Byssbon. Another was dancing.

 

- There are such strong traditions in many places in the county and these in themselves give motivation. Since the people enjoy arranging these activities, they make sure they have a meeting place in the village. In many villages the local history - going back to and seeking one's roots, as for example in Hissmofors and Huså, two villages - has played a vital role in the initiation of the development work. It is also important that people can have a good time together, share pleasant memories such as the regular parties, which bring them closer to one another. In turn this means that working together is easier, even in the difficult periods which always arise.

 

Awarness of crisis

 

- We also talk from time to time about the need for crisis awareness, i.e. that the people in the village recognize the necessity to do something about their situation, to do some thing new in order to improve their conditions - or to defend themselves against negative changes.

 

- Now that we have started many cooperatives and developed projects here in the county, this phenomenon is in itself a driving force. There is an enormous pedagogical force in being able to see how others who have been in a similar situation have acted, to show concrete examples. We bring video films with us to the meetings in order to show some inspiring examples of how to develop a venture, examples wherein people recognize themselves. "If they could start a child-care cooperative in Hunge, we in Kluk can also do it", people say.

 

- It is also very helpful if a group thinking of starting something can meet people in other groups who have already gained some experience. We often arrange such contacts and sometimes we set up larger meetings where representatives from a number of cooperatives can share experiences and exchange know-how. Something we have lately invested more work in is the creation and development of networks of people who are engaged in or have knowledge and experience of cooperative activities.

 

People themselve must be responsible

 

- When we meet a local group for the first time, we must explain very clearly our role and that it is they who must want something. They themselves are going to pursue the venture; we are not going to do that for them. We can give psychological and practical support, can give advice and guidance and be resource persons in different ways, but it is their venture which they themselves must take responsibility for. I have learned to restrain myself and let the group take full responsibility for their venture and sort out their own problems. They must ask for help before I get involved. However, I maintain contacts made with the groups so that they can ask me to come and help solve some problem, or some conflict within the group or with the municipal authorities or other bureaucracy. Then we use different conflict-resolution techniques and we also have access to experts who can assist us with this. Some examples are negotiations with the respon- sible municipality, contract writing or budget drafting.

 

- It is quite common that the group activity starts with a study circle around the planned venture. We have good experience of this and can help out with the structure of such a circle. We can participate as lecturers or give information about some examples and discuss the fundamental principles of cooperative activity. The study circle gives better structure and organization to the meetings; basic meeting techniques are learned as well as how to create an effective meeting atmosphere, where all can be satisfied. Through the study circle one can also nurture fellowship within the group. In the study-circle form the group can work out and formulate the goals and purposes of the venture, how to organize it and identify own resources - who should do what etc. They learn how to write statutes and, for example in the case of the child-care cooperatives, how to write an adequate contract with the municipality (which is responsible for the child-care service).

 

Leading lights

 

- In the beginning the active initiators, ”the leading lights”, in the group are extremely important, but gradually it becomes more and more essential to create an effective distribution of the work, so that everyone's resources can be utilized and developed and a common responsibility for the venture emerges. These are aspects we can help draw attention to and encourage, if they do not materialize on their own.

 

- We have also spent much time and energy on establishing contacts throughout the county in order to root the cooperative ideas there. Initially there was a good deal of rejection, but now we feel quite warm sympathy. Today we have contact persons in all eight municipalities of the county, among both politicians and the civil servants who are interested in the cooperative solution. We work quite a lot together with these contact persons, informing them continually, arranging courses and meetings to share experiences, or study visits etc. These efforts succeed best in the cases where the politicians and civil servants themselves have close contact with some cooperative activity. As cooperative advisors we can and do function as a liaison between the groups and the municipal contact persons, concludes Katarina Grut.

 

Katarina Grut is a good example of a community worker in the deprived periphery. Katarina sums up her roles in the following words: a spreader of ideas and know-how, an initiator, an informer, a pep-talker and a supporter, and a coordinator in the building of networks for contact and the sharing of experiences. Now let us try to more in detail describe what the process of mobilizing local communities looks like.

 

Starting points

 

Strategies for change and problem solving are developed with the people concerned and with the starting points they have: physical, mental, social, resources etc. First, the community worker must understand what the people in the groups in question understand as meaningful and important. From these starting points it is about creating activity and engagement and mobilizing the resources which these people own or can make use of. The aim is that people shall be stimulated into producing their own solutions to problems or changing conditions for a better life. The community worker is, therefore, the catalyst who starts and/or stimulates this process. Perhaps it would be useful to understand the point of what a catalyst is in this sense. A catalyst is one or several people who cooperate with local groups in a specific way. Their work is to start and promote certain desired processes. The theory says that the combination of certain conditions in the group and the local environment and the community worker´s way of acting can all create a certain kind of releasing and mobilising process.

 

Before going into more detail about what is done in  community work, it may be of interest to start with some fundamental principles for the orders in community work. Carin Flemström and Alf Ronnby wrote some rules of ethics for community work in 1974, rules which still hold today (Flemström & Ronnby, 1975, p.220).

 

Ethics for community work

 

1. The activity should be built up from below

    Care should be taken not putting forward ready made programmes for people, of arranging and fixing things. Let the people build up their activity - with a little help from the community worker.

 

2. Trust the people

    The community worker must have trust in the capability of the people, realize that people have great resources which can come up if the right conditions are created. This is about people being able to release their hampered capability.

 

3. The community worker has something to give

    The community worker must realize that there is a give and take with their contacts with people. The community workers shall not presume that they are the experts. People have their own knowledge. Together with the community worker they can bring about something.

 

4. The community worker shall be a stimulator and inspirer

    The community worker´s role should, in the first instance, be that of influencing the communication between the people in the target groups in question and be a catalyst for development work. The community worker can help bring resources, but their action must be rooted in the target group.

 

5. Serving the people

    Problems, activities etc, must be taken up from the starting points of the people and not from the social welfare office etc. The interests of the target groups must come through. If the people have not matured enough to take up a problem or activity, the work of the community worker must be to create a readiness in the target group so that they can come to grips with their real needs and interests by seeing these. Care must be taken of starting something which the people are not in on.

 

6. Grassroots democracy

    People must feel that they have control over the activity they are participating in. The activity is theirs and not of the social administration.

 

7. Avoid corporate organs

    The community worker shall not mix the work of the target group with that of the authorities. If the people are not to lose control, the work must be freestanding. The community worker shall not either suck the representatives of the target group into the authority structure by forming corporate decision organs.

 

8. Deep rooting

    The community worker must aim at getting a social base for the activity and an organised group. It is not enough with just a few enthusiastic people.

 

9. An independent movement

    All kinds of leading from the top must be avoided. Therefore, the community worker must be aware of strong, established organizations which want to go in and lead and take over an activity which has already begun. The community worker must help the target group to be prepared for such a thing.

 

10. Neutralize the chairperson types

     The community worker shall promote the feeling of everyone who takes part having a function. Avoid letting a few take over and dominate the work. The community worker shall support the shy and reticent members, too.

 

Methods of community work: preparation

 

Starting from the position that community work begins, so to speak, with mobilization, the approach can be described in the following steps 1-13:

 

1. Finding one´s way about the area, the groups and the milieu

 

The community workers must begin by finding their way about in the area and understanding what kind of community or social group they want to make contact with, or which groups they will be working for. As stated earlier, it is the job of the community worker to work with the most oppressed and victimized people (with the most problems) in society . People who are not able to look after their own interests or change their conditions for living because of the circumstances, the structure of power and the political conditions and their own situation of powerlessness. These people are the foremost target group. This does not mean that the community worker cannot work with other groups. Such work can be a part of the strategy.

At the start, what is of concern is to get both general and more detailed knowledge of the local conditions. When discussing development work in the community or in the neighbourhood, it can be justified to present what an ambitious analysis should contain. Such an analysis is important for understanding the conditions for mobilization, action and change.

 

 

Analysis of the community

 

Local cultures or forms of living

Customs and practices

Values and norm system

Social network

Status and power structure

Organizations

 

Material resources

Geography and climate

Raw materials, tools, machines

Service institutions, premises, equipment

Infrastructure and means of communication

Capital and financial means

 

Human resources

People in the area (people with time)

Commitment and consciousness

Solidarity

Competence

Leader

Crisis awareness

Understanding of the world around

 

Relations to the surroundings

Communications

Channels for information and influence, networks

Intergroup system

Types of relations (e.g. benefit giving or dependent, sympathetic, hostile)

 

The outline above comes from a general model of analysing a community. From earlier discussion on theories community work often takes place in a local connection, but it is not always all the people in the community who make up the target group. Many times, community work concerns working with more or less big interest groups (one or more), in a local connection, and with relations to the world outside. The analysis of the local conditions and the relations with the outside world (in order to place the interest group in its cultural, social, economic and political connection) should be combined with a similar analysis and understanding of special situations and conditions of the interest (or target) group in question. This means that the community workers must pay attention to the "subgroup´s" cultural patterns, material and human resources and conditions, as well as its relation to the world around it, the last not least concerning relations to other groups, organisations, authorities and the establishment. This may have special import for the issues in question the group wishes to carry out and the strategies they are thinking of using. Sooner or later one cannot avoid coming into an analysis of power. Who is friend or foe, where does the power lie, who has/have the strength to carry out their will and make the crucial decisions, who is behind the resources, where are the suitable partners and alliances?

 

Beginning

 

Work must begin by making good contact with the people in the community and with the groups in question. It is often easiest if the community workers know someone from earlier and can be invited in. This is usually a good "bridge" into a group - the fact that there is already someone there who is known to the community worker. Otherwise the community workers must try to find good and natural meeting places and topics for discussion which make the contact building process easier.

 

 

2. Get to know the people and the environments.

 

The community workers must get to know the people, their attitudes, interests, values and ways of thinking and ways of expressing themselves. This means finding the right opportunities where it is easy to make contact and not difficult to justify one´s presence in a way accepted by the group. Sometimes the community worker talks about matching, i.e. being able to meet people at the right moment, speaking their language, not behaving in too strange a way, listening to what they say and creating interest for continued contact (see Steinberg, 1987). This presupposes that the community workers are successful in developing a dialogue.This in turn, is dependent upon the community worker having a genuine interest for these people and an ability to experience their situation. The community worker must understand their perspective on existence, their frames of reference and interests. The dialogue assumes  give and take for both partner´s interests.

 

 

3. Creating contact

 

One way of starting is searching for one or more of the people who are some kind of leader or central figure (formal or informal) and have many contacts with other people with the group in question. Should it appear that there is a leader in a certain group context, the community worker should develop good contacts with him/her/them. Otherwise this can penalize things later on, and may even make the work impossible, if the community worker is counteracted by the leader.

 

Taking contact often means the community worker having to help people meet, since the job is usually aimed at people who have not organized themselves around their common problems and needs. Creating such contacts can happen in many different ways, of course, and the first contacts can happen in different connections ( e.g. coffee morning at the church, at a football match). This means having a little imagination to use the natural opportunities or to make use of unusual events, where people come together and start talking (e.g. a snowstorm paralysing the area). It is also wise to tie the traditions and customs already there (or within the target group).

 

Usually, the community worker goes in, in various connections, to get to know the people in the target group individually. This work can last quite a while before the decision is made to have a group meeting. The community worker builds up, first of all, his individual contact net. This can be by finding contacts in a number of natural situations where one meets in spontaneous situations ( e.g. at a parents´ meeting at the day care centre or at school, youngsters in the youth centre, pensioners sitting on "their" bench in the block, or at the local village hall). Renewed contact can happen when people bump into each other at the library, in the shops, at the village hall, in the laundrette, at the car-wash etc. In fact, anywhere where people bump into each other. The point is that the community worker must spend long periods in the milieu where he/she is trying to build up his/her network of contacts.

 

Creating contacts can also happen by meeting people directly in their homes. However, one must have a good reason and justification for the visit, so that the beginning is not marked by suspicion. Having a job for the person or referring to someone else known by the person is often all that is needed to get the door open.

 

Making contact can also happen with the community worker taking part in some kind of work with the people he/she wants to reach (everything from a school trip to a pensioners meeting).  He /she can also directly turn to an organisation or club where the people he/she wants to find are. It can also be so that the target group is a certain club, and then one tries to establish contact with its members to start some kind of cooperation. The aim can be, via a certain organization, to get a larger group of people to become involved in an issue that has been neglected. The club becomes, so to speak, the organizing starting point. The community worker should, however, ask first the following questions: Why am I choosing this group or organisation? Why does just this organization want to cooperate with me around this question? What needs and interests can be found in the members? What can they get out of community work?

 

Building networks

 

It is less recommended to use the method of going out with leaflets or suchlike for a meeting without first having gained certain contact people. One can even be successful with this if the question or problem is very obvious or relevant, and especially if it is experienced as a threat to a group of people. The situation can call for a "spontaneous" joining together (e.g. if the area´s greenbelt is threatened by a new road being built, school closure, a shop closing down, or some other important service being drastically reduced). This can be the start to a quick organizing of resistance. Some kind of preparation and rooting in a group of people is also recommended, so that there is readiness to follow up "the big meeting". This is just a beginning for going further! In most other situations there is the demand for a longer period of work of creating individual contacts and building up a network of interested, involved people. After a time they can build the core group which becomes the initiators for further organization and joining of more members. Through the individual contacts both sides can arrive at how to gather the intended group to a meeting for cooperation.It is usually advantageous for the initiators to have this rooting on the spot, so that the community worker does not need to be the only starter of the process.

 

The first meeting does not have to be a meeting formal in nature (of the type club committee meetings). It is probably better to arrange a party for the block or have coffee in the village hall, or even a trip into the country or the beach or the zoo for families with children. Young people can be catered for with a barbecue or a rock concert. The trip can be a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and to plan for other activities. Perhaps, a group of people would like to go on a study trip to see how village development projects work. Sometimes the whole thing can start with a group starting a study circle on a relevant topic (e.g. how to start and run a parents´ cooperative).

 

Motivation for cooperation

 

The point is to find a good reason for the people in question to meet and develop their contacts with each other. Through these discussions they can find out their situation, problems, needs and interests which they can cooperate about (thinking about what to do etc). The tactic of the community worker can be to make the people see or realize that they need each other, that they can win something by cooperating and that they can see how this can happen in a concrete way. For the community worker it means helping them over the resistance or the inertia which can prevail when they get closer to each other and develop the cooperation.

 

A starting point for the strategy of collecting a group of people in a kind of "action unit" is found in the assumption that people participate in some project when they experience that they have something important to win from it - so that this wins over other ways of using time and energy. They participate when the "costs" of the engagement are in reasonable proportion to what they believe they can get out of their participation (as well as seeing they have something to come with from their conditions). People, therefore, have to experience that there is work which they have conditions for participating in - and that they do not risk making a fool of themselves or the work being unattractive in some way. They want joy and use for their involvement. They must have a reason to believe in the project to bet on it.

 

 

4. Justify one´s presence

 

Continued contact with the community and the group is built upon the community workers having gained good contact and having found a common interest for people to continue meeting. Together they have to create a platform for continued cooperation. Cooperation is built on, for example, give and take, and it is possible (at least in a longer perspective) for the community workers to justify their presence and continued contacts if both sides experience exchange from one another. For the community worker´s part it is what he or she can come up with. What can the community worker contribute of interest to the group? This is a question which the community workers must ask and must try to get a positive answer for. Forcing oneself on people, which is sometimes done in social work, is not usually a successful strategy for cooperation.

 

What the community worker can usually contribute to the group is knowledge on how people can meet around common issues; being able to introduce contacts, create interest and curiosity, being able to organize meetings and work so that it will be creative and stimulating, promoting the spirit of cooperation and community. The community worker should be a catalyst , helping to develop the work, stimulating participation and finding out people´s resources. He/she must know how to build a good organization and to get the work to function from its aims.

 

Interacting dialogues

 

Part of the community worker´s special skill is to understand the social interplay which is at work between people in both small and large groups and in a more organized connection. He/she ought to have the ability to make contact with people in such a way that dialogue can develop, conversation is give and take where people are interested in one another, listen and respond. Entering into dialogue is a kind of undertaking or responsibility which demands one being involved in others and answering.

 

The community worker should also have the ability to guide the participants in how the social interplay works in groups (e.g. in meetings etc.). Everyone can be a contributor from his conditions, feel a part of the work and have a feeling of responsibility. This means, for example, getting a functional distribution of the work and a personal undertaking from every member, as well as avoiding someone or some people becoming too dominant and leading in the group (and perhaps taking on too many tasks). The technique can be (through the individual relations in every group member) to help lift each individual from his ability and competence.

 

At the same time the community worker should stimulate a development in the competence of every member by supporting and encouraging them to act, to dare to take on new tasks - to learn through action! The community worker sees, of course, that he/she won´t stop or make more difficult such development by taking on the tasks him/herself. On the other hand he/she should help and support others to carry them out.

 

Knowing about politics

 

The community worker should have good knowledge about the prevailing social conditions, politics, and power structures, where the resources are and how they can be used, finding ways to influence the decision makers, how a group can win support for its issue etc. He/she should know about national and local government administration and how authority decisions are organized, the principles for decision making and the rules for democracy and politics. Part of the community worker´s competence is also that he/she has sufficient general knowledge and details for being able to guide around questions concerning how one should act in both the short and the long term for the group to reach its goals. Since this often means having influence on civil servants and people making decisions in politics, one needs to have knowledge about the political terrain in a wide meaning.

 

The community worker should know how one deals with the massmedia and how opinion is created, how one builds alliances and gains sympathizers as well as avoiding being swallowed by large organization or bureaucracy. The community worker should also know how to deal with conflicts in the group and attacks from hostile groups or people in power. He/she should know what to make of earlier experiences in the group in order to develop strategy and the work. The community worker can be said to be a kind of link between groups and public bodies. This presupposes having knowledge about how these worlds work. Not least, he/she should be a person owning the ability to encourage and to stimulate a group of people in their work and be a strong psychological support.

 

 

5. Creating a platform for cooperation

 

The starting points for cooperation are that the people involved have something to contribute in a process of giving and taking around something which everybody sees as essential. But more is often needed. It is good, or purely out of necessity, that there are frames of reference, ways of thinking and understanding reality, which are in accord in several essential points. Of course, there also has to be a will from all involved to cooperate - otherwise it does not work, even if one pretends. There can be objective prerequisites for cooperation, but fear of dominance or competition can stop these. For the community worker it is therefore important to have a humble attitude and a little of the "serving the people" attitude so as not to awaken the feeling (or apprehensions) of superiority and dominance.

 

Concrete goals

 

Cooperation presupposes that one has something concrete to cooperate on. Talking alone does not last! The best thing is if the community worker and the group can reach something concrete with clear aims relatively early on for the cooperation, as well as an action and working plan so that everyone is clear about what will be done, when, where, how and by whom. This means that it is good if the group can make a plan of action containing the setting up of goals, how to go about reaching them, division of the work and a timetable (at least approximate). Then it will not always be planning which is done.

 

However, that is another story. In this connection, it is important for everyone who makes up or who should make up this work are involved in the cooperation and receive concrete tasks (from what they themselves want and can and are good at). Everyone should feel that they are important for the common result. This is also a matter of equality, dignity and responsibility (i.e. everyone getting important tasks).

 

 

Organizing

 

Gradually, as the group members interact with each other in concrete work and by being together, their experience of community will be strengthened. The group feeling and image can be very important for the personal involvement of the group members and the undertaking and the continued work. It is therefore important to avoid the conditions for dominance and oppression in the group.

 

6. Creating a creative climate

 

The community worker´s task is to help create a creative climate in the group where      everyone´s capability gets the chance to blossom. The conditions for this are usually successful in creating a safe and pleasing climate in the group and a spirit of democracy where everyone´s ideas and views are appreciated, taken and valued. Criticism shall be constructive and aimed outwards, i.e. an idea or a suggestion is simply not cast aside or blasted but taken up in serious discussion in order to see how it can be used and possibly developed further.

 

Creativity usually presupposes having involvement and a certain amount of concentration to keep to one thing at a time and to give time for thorough discussion. The questions taken up should be tied to the needs and the interests of the group members. Through creating a good climate for conversation in which people really listen to one another, different ideas and views can meet. To get a good group discussion the following principles can be adopted:

 

Guidelines for group discussions

 

* group members shall discuss - and not inform each other.

 

* everyone should listen to everyone.

 

* discussion should be led in such a way so everyone can be 

   involved.    

 

* everyone shall be able to take the initiative for discussion.

 

* endeavour to let everyone take such an initiative.

 

* everyone shall be allowed to speak.

 

* the competence of everyone is important.

 

* the competence of someone shall not be valued higher than

   that of anyone else.

 

* everyone shall be able to understand what the discussion is

   about.

 

* it shall be an open discussion.

 

* no views or arguments shall be forbidden.

 

The last sentence also means that one can demand a responsible argumentation, especially concerning controversial issues (e.g. immigrants and refugees). In general, it can be said that it is often by new combinations of old solutions, a synthesis of ideas combined in a new way and by drawing parallels from other areas, that new strategies are developed (see Leboeuf, 1982). Group discussion of this sort usually result in participants being motivated and having reason to think through their ideas many times to the next meeting. Perhaps they have prepared in other ways (e.g. reading up a subject, going on a study visit).

 

Being creative

 

A creative meeting can be organized according to the following model: make the problem or question concrete, break it down into all its parts, sum up the knowledge and experience into the relevant question of the group, bring out all the ideas in the group for solving it ( no censure or negative criticism!), go through the ideas and see which ones can be combined, summarize the result ( on a whiteboard or similar), make possible numbering for prioritizing the ideas. Use the next meeting for discussion and plan how it will be carried out. Meetings of this sort require preparation and firm leadership so that everyone will have the chance to say his/her and so that everyone keeps to the issue in question.

 

7. Developing the group

 

The community worker can, for example, use the method of asking guiding questions (not leading!) to reach the position of what should be done, and how it all will be organized with active participation from everyone. This means having the attitude of honestly and openly being the person who wonders and is interested in the group and their lives, their worries, joys and dreams. The questions asked make the replier think about them and work out the conditions which are important for the continued action. It is necessary for the person asked to form an opinion of how things are and what they think of them, how they will judge and evaluate the relevant conditions and what can possibly be done in the issue. The thought is that if this is handled in a clever way the questions will give the answer to the level of action. Through dialogue the group members will arrive at a situation and problem analysis and what they can do from the conditions and resources they have. This is the beginning of mobilization work; the group itself realizes what it wants and can. Then the group can, in a continued dialogue and discussion, take stock of which opportunities there are to carry out changes.

 

Taking the role of being the one who asks questions is a far better method in community work than coming with suggestions or ready-made programmes for what should be done. By the questioning technique the community worker can gather what the discussion is about and concentrate it on the crucial things to be decided about. The participants can be made aware of what had been decided earlier, but may have been forgotten in the process, or the group´s attention is drawn to the uncertainty of what has already been decided. The questioning can also have the aim of forcing the group to make a decision about awkward questions which one would rather forget or sweep under the carpet. The technique aims to get a group process started by which the members reach the position of what they want and can do via active participation.

 

Trustworthy

 

After the community worker has become more known to the group members, he/she does not need to be as afraid of taking control. He/she can take a more active part in the discussions and give his/her own viewpoints. Situations can also arise where the community worker can see the group working on an unusual decision or being on the wrong track. Then, it is, of course, the job of the community worker to inform the group about this.  It is also wise for the community worker to say what his/her opinion is on certain issues, especially when he/she is asked. Then he/she will say what he/she thinks. Otherwise in the long run the community worker will not be viewed as trustworthy . At an early stage is wise for the community worker to try and explain which role he/she can and wants to have (through discussion) and what the group expects. In this way illusions and unrealistic role expectations can be avoided.

 

If the group has decided to take up a lot of questions or a number of important issues, it can be good to organize the work into a number of smaller groups. It is easier to plan the work and easier for everyone to have an active role. The taking of responsibility also becomes greater and the will to really make use of all resources really increases. Concerning the creation of involvement and responsibility it is a good method to really ensure that everyone can be involved and express what they want for themselves and for the collective group. This is also done easier in small groups and should result in an undertaking which is binding. Everyone will also feel that their contribution is important for the cause. Each person is on equal footing with the other. There is a number of interesting pedagogical models which can be used to gaining active participation from all the members in the group, and which spans, or in any case, reduces the barriers which can be found in the group (various levels of verbal ability and literacy, position of status and structure of power etc). An example of this, the so-called Framtidsverkstaden (The workshop of the future) is developed by Robert Jungk and Norbert Mullert (see Jungk & Mullert, 1984).

 

Empowering people

 

When one is discussing strategies and mobilization of resources around concrete questions, the meeting can be planned according to an agenda where one tries to answer the following questions: What is the question,the problem or the idea of the project? How do we stand now? What should we do? What can we do? How shall we go about it? What means and resources do we have at our disposal? How can they be used? What new resources can be mobilized? Who can be possible partners? What resistance may we encounter? And the difficulties? How can we tackle this? Where do we begin? Who does what, when, where and how? What result do we expect? In what time frame? etc. etc. Make an action plan!

 

 

8. Mobilizing the resources

 

It is usually said that there should be certain ingredients in the conditions for successful mobilization work. People will have the experience of having a serious problem which they have to do something about. "We cannot have it this way any longer!" Sometimes one talks of a crisis consciousness. But there also has to be a hope that the conditions can be changed, a hope of a different future. It is said that people must have visions or a utopia as a driving force for action. If one cannot see in a concrete way what can be done and what lines of action one is capable of choosing, then not much action will take place. Or, the action will be unplanned, random, or perhaps desperate and in panic. People have to experience that they have the opportunities to act and have influence in order for them to be motivated to become involved wholeheartedly. The community worker can help people to see their opportunities, because he/she has the knowledge and insight and experience of processes for change. He/she can encourage people to have faith in their own capability and to see how they can use available resources or mobilize dormant powers.

 

Since protest and actions can be dangerous and costly, something demands  people having the courage and the will to act and be prepared to sacrifice something for the cause. For the person who finds himself/herself in a tight position and who may not have a lot to lose, it is easier to " take a leap". The courage and strength to act develops in this connection and is bound up with the experience of the group´s strength, the just in the cause etc. People who experience physical or mental strength and are used to acting and have power in influencing others often find it easier to have courage. However, courage and strength are also dependent upon solidarity in the group. It is easier to have courage if many stand together.  If a group is to carry out actions such as civil disobedience, they also need an ideology and morality which justifies such actions. If many are united in the struggle and if they have strong leadership with good skills in organization and strategic knowledge, then it is easier for people to take battle for their cause. Models, traditions of struggle and a favourable opinion are other factors creating conditions for action.

 

Belive in possibilities

 

From a praxiological starting point it is claimed that people go into battle only when the cost or the efforts of the struggle are in reasonable proportion to what one believes one can achieve. People make history only when they experience it to be the wisest choice and then it seems to be relatively easy to succeed (Scotoni, 1980). If this idea holds it is the job of the community worker to put himself/herself into what the group members see as "the world within their reach", That is to say, what they believe is possible to bring about from how they see the situation against the backdrop of their own experiences, knowledge, competence and available resources. This will be placed in relation to the knowledge which the community worker has on how changes can be brought about in the situation in question. The good guide is one who has such knowledge. He/she can see what ways the group can go in order to reach their goal, develop their competence and use their own conditions in the most effective manner in relation to the world around them.

 

 

Strategies

 

One question the group must ask itself in connection with how it sets up its strategy for action is: how do the strengths and the weaknesses of the group look? Other questions to be asked are; does one have a good organization which can act and take battle? Does one have something to deal with in a negotiation situation? Does one have to ask for sympathy, goodwill and favours? What kind of knowledge and experience does the group have to act in a certain situation in a certain connection? What strategies are ready to be carried out by the power of the group? Are the members used to working in organisations, to speak in public and argue their cause? Can they be subordinate as a group to decisions made and appear together  and disciplined, or do they run here and there in every direction? Do they have a leader who is respected and a good organiser, who can get the members behind him/her, create enthusiasm and with go-ahead spirit? Does the group solidarity hold when it meets attacks and things begin to go cold? Is there a favourable opinion and good issues to work on? Are there strong allies they can get support from?

 

The questions are many concerning the formation of tactics and strategy. But it is not the job of the community worker to try and answer them. He should, on the other hand, ensure that they are brought into light and discussed in the group before deciding on an action plan. Action which fails results in a back-lash effect. This can make the group lose interest and the whole project can collapse or just come to nothing.

 

 

9. Planning tactics and strategy

 

The community worker can learn a great deal about tactics from Saul Alinsky, one of the great organizers of action group of modern time. It can be worth a study for those interested and for those intending to work with community work (see Alinsky, 1990). I will present a selection of tactics from this study:

 

Tactics do not only mean the power one has but also the power which the opponent thinks one has. One should not go from the group´s experiences and the means they own in any action. Try to get the opponent to live up to his democratic ideal ( political lures). A good tactic is one which the group appreciates (where there is something funny the group can laugh about) The tactic which takes time becomes an encumbrance. It means acting quickly and getting results, otherwise the members may lose interest. One should vary tactics to surprise the opponent and to keep involvement in the group. One should always have a continuation ready for when the action is carried out in order to keep the "steam going". It also means being flexible, both in organization and in the choice of method. In every connection and situation the group must be clear about who the real opponent is (Alinsky, 1990, p.126-164).

 

Part of the tactics is also that the group develops its organization. To get information, control, and opportunities for influence one needs a contact net. It is therefore important to build up a network with contacts at various levels and connections (political, administrative, economic, and social). The community worker should help in the creation of good contacts and build bridges to and between important organizations, resource persons and decision makers. To summarize, tactics work on mobilizing one´s own resources, building up enthusiasm for the project, choosing the lines of action the group is most familiar with and where the strength of the members can best be used. One should have flexible organization and tactical adaptability, and one should make clear who is the opposite party or opponent (and also what their strengths and weaknesses, preferences and positions for negotiation are). It is also of importance to try to create opinion for one´s cause and mobilize allies into support. Finally, one should avoid set-backs by taking the little tests first, ensuring to win some quick results and to keep enthusiasm high by going forward and varying tactics. Lastly it is also about power and influence over how social resources are used and distributed.

 

The message coming through

 

When creating opinion and getting support from the surroundings and sympathizers, it can be important to use the mass media to get out one´s message. It can also be sensible to have something in readiness for handling the mass media if one is subjected to their attention.  Generally seen it can be good that someone or some people in the group have good contacts with some journalists, especially from the local press and radio. One can place information with them at the right moment. It is worth considering that journalists love to be the one to get a scoop. One should observe that press and radio go for something of news value and that the information is released at the right moment. This can be when, for example, there is a public discussion around the subject or something else of interest is happening which can be joined to it. Usually, it is easiest to reach out to the public if one does not have more than one or two messages which are made clear. There should be an obvious point in the story. This means considering the angle of the story and lifting out the most interesting area. Contacts, exclusiveness, concentration, clarity, angle of story, timing and newsworthy are the key words for successful dealings with the massmedia.

 

 

10. Contact with authorities

 

Community work sometimes is about helping victimized groups to make things better concerning the social state´s division of welfare. Not least in Sweden is this a topical subject, since the public sector has great importance for people´s welfare. Of course, it is worrying that weak groups are politically fairly uninteresting - especially if solidarity has to pushed into the background by more lowly economic thoughts of efficiency. Creating opinion and creating alliances both in and out of the state apparatus and the local governmental administration are important strategies for the oppressed and victimized. Locally the tactics towards the authorities are of great importance in safeguarding the interests of victimized groups. It can be important to look for the right key person in the prevailing administration and to develop personal contacts with them. This concerns both politicians and civil servants in that it is easier to make them listen if one has already worked up a positive relation to them. It is often good tactics to try and root ideas and proposals high in the organization. This can be time-consuming, and one must push so as not to be forgotten. One condition for organizing this rooting work is for the community worker and group members to get to know and understand the political game in the municipality. Everyone knows that ideas should not "come from the wrong side" and that one should avoid prestige in a certain issue. It can be judicial to try and root ideas and proposals over the whole political field and especially not to miss doing it with those who have the power (every if one does not like them).

 

Showing models

 

The community worker needs, therefore, to understand the local governmental organization and how its actors work, what needs and interests these have, and what ideologies and values are valid. It can be tactical to see of the group´s ideas and proposals can be tied to political programmes and goals for local government work, or perhaps to the election promises made by the parties. One can also use studies and research reports for support (or laws and preparatory work, for example the Social Welfare Act). Sometimes it can be important to be able to show models or examples of what one has done in other areas in support for one´s own proposal. In some connections it can be effective to gain support for one´s cause from experts and people with authority on the subject, or even other regional or national authorities.

 

Traditional lobbying is part of the methodology employed in this connection. One ought to have a varied strategy and take all possible ways to take root and have effect. It should be a systematic and planned action and not temporary, ad hoc. At the same time one must be flexible and be able to take the right moment which can suddenly appear. Contact with authorities and local governmental administration can also be a more long term job, where the ideas are rooted in the planning of the work and in the budget. This presupposes  close contacts with the actors in the local government administration. One should, however, try to gain some positive results on the way, so that the group does not tire of everything before something happens.

 

Municipalities can be enablers

 

Since the local government´s own work is usually extensive and of great importance in the municipality, it is important that local development groups can get support from the municipality for their work. Not infrequently the community worker works with a three stringed strategy consisting of (apart from the local initiative and mobilizing of local resources and impulses, models and expert support from outside) the local government as means of empowering for local development projects. This means that one works for politicians and civil servants to have an open, flexible, accommodating and encouraging attitude and relationship to the initiative groups. Local government administration should contribute with counselling, guidance and practical help for the starting up, administration, development work and perhaps training of groups. In many cases it is also important for the local government to help with certain material and economic help or in surety on a loan, for example. In order to be able to help and support  development projects in a good way the local government ought to aim at dealing in a non-bureaucratic way and give practical help for the people taking the initiatives to pass through local government routines and procedures in a easy way. The local administration can support such a way of working by establishing organization development and a service spirit in the administration.  It can be the job of the community worker to help facilitate such changes in the bureaucracy. One method of starting a movement in the organization of the local government can be to get key persons in the local government to be involved themselves in local development work. It may be possible to get the local government to create some kind of development unit which can actively stimulate and promote local development projects.

 

 

11. Rooting in one´s organization

 

To get community work accepted and create room for action is often a relevant topic, not infrequently for state employed community workers. (e.g. a fieldwork secretary in social services, youth and community leaders and people employed in a project). Concerning the rooting of the community worker´s own work, role and programme in the organization or administration the above mentioned viewpoints can, in principal, be relevant (point 10 seen from a group perspective). The following can also be added:

 

the community worker should put himself/herself well into the aims, functions, ways of working, and needs of the organization (as well as regards the view of reality and value system prevailing there). It is important to know this in order to tie wording and argumentation in a suitable way to this - to gain easier understanding and being accepted. It can also be sensible to find out what kind of picture of oneself the organization wants directed outwards and what expectations and demands it has on one from the world around. One must know about the internal power structure, which actors and key persons there are concerning influence and decision making.

 

Between bureaucracy and local community

 

Laws, regulations, advice and instructions are all important documents which can be used for creating legitimacy for the work. One can also find points of support and arguments in the programmes and in the descriptions of the aims for the organization, (perhaps, even in political programmes and manifests). At an early stage one ought to ensure that one gets the opportunity to talk to the locally elected politicians, leaders, and other key persons to see how the work can be interpreted and to create discussion around how the work should be organized. There is opportunity here for an exchange of thoughts and ideas which can create a platform for the continued work.  It is also important to get the ideas around community work rooted in one´s colleagues, especially in those one is dependent upon for sympathy, support and backup. The community worker should pay special attention not to become isolated in relation to his/her organization, colleagues and bosses etc. This is easily done e.g. employed by the social services, the community worker works in a very different way in comparison to case workers. If one becomes isolated then sooner or later someone will realize that one is not needed. The community worker is then not regarded as useful for the organisation and his/her job disappears during some reorganization.

 

Unfortunately, the community worker must put in a great deal of work in working on different fronts at the same time.- both out of and into the organization. It is usually the case that the community worker who has strong support from the world around him/her (from the groups who use him/her and his/her partners in cooperation), is usually met by a greater tolerance and sympathy within his/her own organization.  At the same time the community worker should consider the fact that it is always easier to be met with sympathy and to have room for negotiation when there is some feeling of breaking up in the organization (due to retesting or a crisis or dissolution). Relations, structures and old approaches are not as firm. It is easier for new ideas to take root. The social scene may have changed, new demands and needs appear, the administration cannot use the same old routines. Established ways of thinking begin to break up and the hour of reconsideration approaches. As a rule this creates room for negotiation which can be used for going in new directions - if one dares to take the risk of ending up in conflicts.

 

 

12. Dealing with conflicts.

 

A community worker has to learn to live with conflicts of different kinds. In part, he/she is often working with groups of people who are oppressed, frustrated and mentally burdened and who are not used to working together. This creates conditions for conflicts within the group and between the group and the world around it (and even between the group and the community worker). In part, community work deals with victimized groups criticizing and placing demands on authorities, politicians, public authorities and the establishment. This results in protests and conflicts, even of the tougher kind. Sometimes the conflict is used  as a strategy for change. Since it is about how different interest groups can look after and promote their interests -and ultimately division of social resources - one can count on conflict in which the community worker can end up in the middle of. Then it is a question of standing right and getting a tactic in order.

 

How will the community worker behave in all these conflicts he/she can end up in? Naturally, it depends upon what the nature of the conflict is. Conflicts in the group can sometimes be good, if it means getting an old grudge out into discussion and clearing the air. Sometimes, one does not see what is happening in a group which is not working, because there are unsolved conflicts, envy, and suspicion under the surface. Conflicts bubbling up here are often constructive and can be welcomed. The community worker may also have reason to promote the start of such a conflict. This presupposes, however, that he/she has good contacts with the group and has trust with the members. If there is a basic will to keep together in the group then conflicts do not need to be something negative - on the contrary! This can create unity on a new basis.

 

Make people worthy

 

Conflicts which depend upon the group not having learned to cooperate, to organize its work in a good way, to lead to open discussion and make clear decisions understood by all are not constructive. The community worker ought to help the group then to be more clear and better organized so not to create misunderstandings and feeling of discord. Conflicts which have to do with the jantelagen can be dealt with by ensuring that all group members can make themselves worthy from their own conditions. (Jantelagen is a Scandinavian expression for jealousy, enviousness, intolerance and conventions, demanding a very conventional life stile. It origns from the town of Jante on an island in Denmark known from the auther Axel Sandemose. This "law" tells us that we should not think we are something, know and can do anything better than everybody else, i.e. to keep a low profile.) It is a question of how the work is organized and which tasks or work the group chooses to be involved with. Here, the community worker has an advisory and supportive role to play - fighting the Jantelag by making people worthy.

 

Conflicts caused by one, or more than one group member, being difficult, mentally disturbed or an addict, are considerably more difficult to deal with. Often the group members have difficulty in managing this and there is an established idea that the community worker will not be involved in this on an individual plane. The community worker is not dealing with therapeutic work. If the problem cannot be dealt with by group discussion and the group taking measures, or in discussion with the person/people in question, the community worker ought to offer to make contact with some other colleague with therapeutic knowledge. To go in oneself (even if one has a therapeutic background and knowledge) creates a very strange situation and wrong role expectations. This makes it difficult to act as a catalyst for the whole group later on.

 

Joint unity of action

 

Not infrequently does it happen that there is conflict with other interest groups, who aim their demands and expectations to the same authorities and fight for the same resources, or compete for sympathizers, positions and resources within the same "community". The best way of meeting this type of conflict is to start a dialogue with the competitors. Then one can see in which points one has common interests and for which issues one can possibly create a joint unity of action. Oppressed and victimized groups usually have most to win by cooperating. They will only be weakened by competition and internal conflicts. One must be especially aware of not letting stronger powers put these groups against each other - the theme of break and rule- (e.g. immigrant workers against Swedish workers). Instead, they should find out what their common interests are through close contact and dialogue.

 

Concerning conflicts with authorities and the establishment, the community worker can end up in a difficult double role. The community worker must show that he/she is on the group´s side and that they can trust the community worker. At the same time, he/she is the link and mediator between authorities and groups. This means that the community worker must have good contact both with the authorities and with the groups and understand their needs and ways of working. He/she can even be employed by just that authority, e.g. the social services. This does not make the situation any easier.

 

Clarifying ones role

 

The most realistic way of dealing with such situations is probably by having clarified one´s roles early on to the group and the authority. It means trying to take a freestanding position, not being directly allies with either the group or the authority. It is most similar to the role of lawyer in this situation (advocacy, a term used in Great Britain and the USA). The community worker is an advisor standing on the side of the weakest party in the relations with the authorities. But, he/she in not directly a member of the group on equal footing with the others. It means getting this role accepted in the different camps and thereby creating freedom for action. It demands flexibility and the ability to create a good dialog.

 

 

Finally external conflicts which can also have a positive effect on the group cannot be left out. This tends to strengthen the feeling of solidarity and identity and increases the consciousness of the group about itself and the community of interests. External conflicts usually have a mobilizing effect on the powers of the group and can result in the group seeking alliances with others in similar positions or with similar ideas. (see Coser, 1971).

 

 

Conclusion

 

The job of the community worker is also to ensure that the group can make use of the experiences made during the work. He/she ought to stimulate discussion and dialogue around events and impressions in such a way that it results in the building up of know-ledge and increased consciousness in the group.

 

 

13. Using the experience

 

By taking time to discuss the experiences and making this an important part of the group´s work and action plan the members are motivated, each and every one together, to think through what has happened and what conclusions can be drawn by it for continuing working. These parts can feel of importance since they will be the starting point of the continuation planning of the the work. There are a number of pedagogical models for how this can be done. The point is that it is a systematic process where the form is such that everyone feels motivated to actively participate. It will be easy to put forward one´s views and come to an overall assessment which will give new ideas. The climate for discussing in the group and the form of the work facilitate this process.

A schematic description of how the development of experience and collection works can look like the following:

 

 

Collect the experience

 

1. Boundary crossing actions

    The group members try something new which gives new impressions and experiences.

 

2. Reflection and thoughts

    Thinking about what one has experienced and observed. This is stimulated by a critical view and problem analysing and the desire to go for new knowledge.

 

3. Dialogue

    Exchange of views and ideas with friends in the group around experiences and thoughts. Everyone has gained these from the prevailing events (compare with what was said earlier about dialogue).

 

4. Documentation

    Collecting and noting what has come in by the critical examination and discussions. Writing it down in a clearer wording demands thinking about it all again in a new way .

 

5. The wording of the programme

    The examination and testing of strategies and programmes from thinking through and discussing experiences.

 

The role of the community worker in this process of learning from experiences, is to ensure that it will be realized. Via guiding questions he/she will stimulate the group members to reflect about their experiences and express their thoughts in discussion. The community worker also needs to help gain a constructive structure into the discussion. The more general questions are always: What can we learn from this? What does it have for consequences on our continued action? Not least, it is important that mistakes and failures come into the discussion, since this is what they want to avoid or forget. At the same time such discussions are important for the development of tactics and strategy.

 

Sowing small seeds

 

Katarina Grut explains in the interview above that she does not try to start something which the people are not yet ready for. People themselves must feel a need and take their own initiatives. It is most probably a wise strategy for mobilization work in this type of area. Katarina really knows what she is talking about, having herself grown up in Jämtland's periphery. There the inhabitants are very suspicious of attempts to steer them from outside and of all kinds of intervention, especially if it comes from some authority. Katarina stresses the advantage of her and her colleagues' working for an independent organization.

 

 

Nevertheless we should not interpret Katarina's message as meaning that as a community worker one should just sit with folded arms and wait for people out in the villages to seek contact. It seldom works that way. Instead it is a question of sowing small seeds, as Katarina says. The community worker should be active among the country people, spreading small "idea seeds" which carry thoughts about what can be possible to do. Opportunities can be arranged as we have seen here through seminars or theme days, or by holding an "Open House" at some active cooperative or other mobilization project.

 

Take advantage of opportunities

 

Often other opportunities arise where the community worker happens to meet people where he or she can stimulate them to start some project. Everything from the 50th birthday party, the barn dance or the midsummer festivities to the bank errands and board or club meetings. It is vital to take advantage of such opportunities and nurture these contacts. With a little imagination, familiarity with human traits and knowledge about the actual area, one can achieve much.

 

Models can enhance! Take advantage of whatever there is! Examples breed new ideas, someone may become more interested and begin to think about what they themselves can do.Sometimes they can start by joining a study circle or a discussion group. I believe that the initiative to start some concrete activity should come from someone in the local population, but the community worker can help them along the way towards taking the first steps - not by coming with readymade complete solutions but by sowing these small seeds. It is important that the venture is based upon a foundation of the involved individuals' own capacity. However, the community worker even here can help open their eyes so that they see their own possibilities. The community worker's role is to be an advisor and a catalyst for a continuing dynamic mobilization process. Inclusive in that role is being a link to other groups, organizations, authorities and local administration. We have seen here an example of how the Cooperative Center plays just that role.

 

A self-sustaining development

 

Finally, it is the job of the community worker to make himself, herself superfluous. The continued work of the group cannot build on the community worker always being there. Perhaps the community worker can come back at a future date or at different relevant times. But, the point with the work is that it is self organizing. The group must be able to stand on its own feet. That is why it is important for the community worker not to entice the group into activities which is does not have the chance of managing by itself. Otherwise it would be continually dependent upon help from outside.

 

Community work aims at helping to build up self carrying structures and self generating processes by which the people involved gradually become more competent about and knowledgeable in how to solve their tasks and problems. It is a development of people towards an ever more enriched and interesting life, by stimulating the actors to develop their ability, their community and the civil society. The community worker starts by being where the group is so that he/she can start the process of development from there. Community work aims just as much to make a development of the people and their knowledge for them to reach certain material results. Figuratively speaking, it is about changing the world and life!

 

Some community workers may not like to acknowledge it, but community work as means of societal change, quickly becames a question about politics. Changing the circumstances of life always involves power - and politics is about power, power to realize change or not. Power among other things depends on the means you have. One advantage poor people have, is that they are many. By organizing it is possible to gain the power to change. In the next chapter we will see how this works in practice when it comes to rural community development.

Disputerad 81.jpg

 

Swedish Community Work

 

Community work as the third method in social work grew during the latter half of the 1960´s in Sweden. However, grassroot organization and cooperation in the local community is, of course, not a new method in this country. Organizing oppressed and neglected groups has been used, above all, by the growing workers´ movement since the end of the 1800´s. Other similar examples of organizing on the grassroots level of neglected groups goes back a long way in Swedish history, e.g. among farmers, farm-hands and tradesmen (Bäckström 1963 and 1987).

 

Organizing on the grassroots level is one way of achieving changes in society through which many people organize themselves around mutual questions and act collectively to carry out their intentions. The strength lies in collective organization, action and cooperation. The new aspect is that this strategy and method began to be used in social work and in social action for change.

 

The development of community work

 

In order to understand the importance different types of organized activities have at at the grassroots level in Sweden, it may be appropriate to take a short look back at the development of the Peoples Movement and organizations. Ideas for our modern associations came to Sweden at the beginning of the 19th century, mostly from Britain and the USA. The first real modern association was the Swedish Temperance Society, which began in 1830. Leisure and educational associations came into being in the 1840´s. During the following decade Free Church and Christian associations developed. At the end of the 1860´s associations for self-help were started ( sickness and funeral expenses funds, cooperative trade associations, etc. ) (SOU 1987: 33, p24).

 

The Swedish Workers Movement in the modern sense started its development in the 1840´s through the creation of the first trades unions in 1846. The workers also organized people´s educational associations (folkbildningsföreningar) and associations for free-time activities. In the 1880´s the Workers Movement became more political and the Swedish Social Democratic Workers Party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetsparti) was founded in 1889. At the beginning of the 20th century, a more left-wing radical breakaway group organized the Socialist Left Party (Socialistiska Vänsterparti) in 1917. A few years later (in 1921) it became the Communist Party. (Bäckström 1967, p223 - 249).

 

 

The Free Church and Temperance Movements

 

The Temperance Movement came into being to remedy the widespread abuse of alcohol. The movement was to play an important role in adult education work and in the fight for the right to vote for all. The Free Church Movement was created by poor people and they were met by stiff opposition from above. Laws were passed against them and they were barred entry to public places. This same fate befell the Workers Movement. As a result of this the Peoples Movement began building its own premises: free churches, temperance lodges and the People´s Parks (Folkets hus and Folkets park). The struggle resulted in developing cooperation between the three Peoples Movements (SOU 1987: 33, p25 - 31).

 

Together with the increased organization and heightened awareness among workers, the creation of the trades unions got its real rise in the 1880´s. Most had close collaboration and cooperation with social democracy. Before 1900, thirty or so nationwide trades unions had been created (that is leagues of many trades unions over the country). The socialist trades union movement were organizations against employers and the prevailing conditions in society (Elvander 1969, p26). In 1898 the trades unions united in a nationwide organization (LO). Today, LO has 2.2 million members. Trade union organizing among salaried employees started considerably later on and it was not until the 1940´s that the salaried employees central organizations TCO and SACO were created. There are 74 trades unions which have 3.7 million members in total, around 80 percent of all wage earners are in one union or another.

 

The Workers Movement, the Temperance Movement and the Free Church Movement are regarded as the classical people´s movements. The Workers Movement was founded most of all to create better wages and working conditions for the workers. Increasing the level of education among workers was also an aim, which became more and more important when the movement became involved in the political struggle. By creating political influence over the state  they wanted to carry out social political reforms, create social justice and bring about generally improved living conditions for the working class. The Workers Movement´s political struggle at the beginning of the 20th century concerned the vote for all, which happened in 1918 for men and 1921 for women. Every person over the age of eighteen now has the right to vote. The struggle was also concerned with improved working conditions such as an eight-hour-day, holidays, industrial welfare safety and sickness insurance, as well as a housing policy for better housing, family policy etc (Elmer 1963 p89 - 112).

 

Strong society activities

 

The work of associations has continued to develop strongly. Today, there are nearly     200 000 associations of different types. Together they have 31 million members. Ninety percent of the population are a member in one association or another, and many are members of more than one (average 4.3). 42 percent are said to actively take part in the work of the associations (SOU 1987:35, p189).

 

What is unique for Sweden is that the associations often have a strong centralized national organization. No less than 146 000 associations are part of the 577 national organizations. The fact that the associations have joined the national associations has strengthened their position within society. Society activities have a strong power of creating opinion and influence political decisions. State funding for associations is 5 billion SEK. Added to this sum, about 1 billion SEK come from the local authorities and county councils, and a further 2.7 billion SEK through subsidies for premises and facilities of various kinds (such as sport grounds etc) (SOU 1988:39).

 

 

What is a Peoples Movement?

 

A peoples movement is a federation or an organization with the following: a large number of members, democratic system (open to all, elected representatives, one member one vote, a democratic humanistic ideology, non-discriminatory, influenced by the members and regular meetings), permanence (i.e. not a temporary association) and finally having an ideology (definition from ABF).

 

The following organizations are regarded as peoples movements:

Free Church movement, the Temperance movement, the Workers movement (SAP and Vänsterpartiet, and LO and the trades unions), TCO and SACO, educational organizations (ABF, TBV, Medborgarskolan etc) tenants organizations (Hyresgästernas riksförbund), large ideal organizations such as the Red Cross, Save the Children, Lutherhjälpen etc, cooperatives (Konsum, HSB, Riksbyggen), sports associations, local movements (Centern, LRF, hembygdsrörelsen etc), and large interest groups such as Pensionärernas Riksorganisation, Friluftsfrämjandet, Turistföreningen, Naturskyddsföreningen).

 

The Swedish adult education associations play a very important role in the history of community work. Sweden has a long tradition of adult education which has been essential in the development of our democracy. ABF (Arbetarnas Bildningsförbund), which is part of  the workers movement with close ties with the Social Democrats, was founded in 1912. The Conservative parties have Vuxenskolan and Medborgarskolan. The Temperance Movement has its own adult education association, civil servants have TBV, and so on. The tradition of meeting in study circles is still a strong one and around 2.5 million people take part every year in one or more circle or course. Meeting in a study circle is not an uncommon way of starting community work  in Sweden.

 

New Movements

 

During the seventies and eighties new movements have appeared. Associations which built on being together and recreatioin have increased their number of members, as well as organizations which work as pressure groups on the public sector. Union and ideal movements have, on the other hand, gained relatively fewer members. The new interest organizations, such as housing organizations, parents organizations, environmental associations, village organizations etc, as well as sports movements have gained in strength (SOU 1987:33 p89). Housing tenant associations now have 3 700 contact committees. The new village movement (village associations, parish councils, village development groups and local cooperatives etc) now has around 2 300 associations and there are 1000 local village associations (hembygdsföreningar) with 431 000 members.

 

Friluftsfrämjandet has 490 local district offices and around 200 000 members. The Tourist Association has 305 000 members. There are 23 cooperative leagues with 7000 local offices and 9.4 million members. The 43 cultural and educational associations have 1.4 million members. Naturskyddsföreningen has also had an influx of members. Interest in the new type of local and pressure group associations (which also mean being together) shows that it now seems easier to organize people around concrete problems, needs or interests with direct links to the target group. Interest in larger working and political organizations has decreased (SOU 1987:33). Of course these changes are of interest to community work. At the same time it is taken for granted that  the comprehensive range of associations is of importance to community work. There is every reason to talk of a Sweden of associations.

 

The pioneer projects

 

The first projects with community work as a method in social change were carried out in Östergård and Rosengård in Malmö, and Aspudden and Fagersjö in Stockholm (Andersson 1975, Flemström Ronnby 1975, Ahlberg et al 1976 and Lindholm 1977). Other projects to note which followed these were: Pilängen in Landskrona, Midsommarkransen in Stockholm, Kristallen in Luleå and Kroksbäck in Malmö. Today, Fittja is one of the noteable projects (Jensfelt 1988).

 

The pioneer projects were all projects in town environments. We did not hear much about some countryside projects until later. There were two types of conditions which gave rise to the projects with community work. Partly there was the problem of rundown, old housing estates in poor areas with social problems (such as Aspudden and Östergård). And partly there were the large new modern suburbs with the inherent alienation, rootlessness, broken families, alcohol abuse, conflicts between groups of inhabitants (especially between immigrants an Swedes), vandalism caused by teenage gangs and general uncertainty.

 

The community work was started in order to motivate and help the inhabitants organize themselves around common questions. By organizing they could use and develop the local resources better, as well as gaining new resources to the area through political actions. The work also aimed at creating a better feeling of solidarity and of being together. The latter had high priority in the new suburbs. Practically, this meant getting better public communications, common meeting places such as community halls etc. It was even concerned with improving services: day care centres, local health clinics, better resources for schools and better shopping facilities. More often or not their efforts went into improving the local environment: more trees and shrubbery, playgrounds, recreation areas, fewer cars and better air, as well as improved traffic environment. What were both the aims and the means of the community work were organizing people in groups and associations of different types of local activities and influencing political decisions.

 

 

Local authority community workers

 

Most of the community workers were employed by the local authorities, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Youth and Recreation. The community workers are often trained at schools of Social Work or at schools of Youth Work. Conflicts between the community workers and the heads of the local authorities and politicians often took place, and do take place.

 

Today, community workers are accepted as the third method in social work. But during the pioneering stage many people in power did not see it as something belonging to social work. All to often it was regarded as purely political work and they did not understand the fact that the community worker worked as a catalyst for action. The fact that the projects often resulted in criticism towards authorities and the establishment did not make it easier. It was usual in the towns that the organizing resulted in criticism towards and demands upon the public sector. The work was clearly more political this way. It meant creating opinion and support from the public to put pressure on the politicians and the adminstration to execute the desired reforms. People fought for the way in which resources in society should be distributed.

 

This was a time when the expectations upon the Swedish welfare state were high and policy was high up in social work. Policy was the instrument for welfare, the distribution of resources and social justice rather than private business. Community workers often saw themselves as standing between the establishment and the people - it is true they were often employed by the local authorities, but they had a freer position compared to other civil servants, more like publc advocates.

 

The need for decentralisation

 

The background to the increasing interest for grassroots movements and community work was found in the development towards a centralistic line, strongly evident within many areas during the 50´s and the 60´s. The merging of local authorities in the 1950´s and the 1970´s resulted in the present number of 248 municipalities from the previous 2000 in the 1950´s. As a result the number of elected politicians reduced from 240 000 to around       40 000. This has meant that it has become a great deal more difficult in keeping contact between politicians and the citizens, which has lead to the new need for decentralized political work.

 

The demokratiberedningen  in 1983 - 84 had as its task to investigate how democracy in the local authorities can be developed. This can be achieved through strengthening the role of the peoles movement, amongst other things, and increased consumer influence in participatory planning and public work. The report presented experience of the commitment on the part of the people´s movement, cooperative and direct participation by groups in different local authority work.

 

Some of the key words in the demokratiberedningen´s bill are:

participation, sharing and responsibility (SOU 1984:83 and 84).

The report contributed to stimulating experimental work and discussions around more direct participation in the public sector. Recently, two new reports from  the National Committee on Social Services have been published, and they continue on the same theme. But, they are more connected to the sector of social services (SOU 1993:82  and 91).

 

The criticism of technocracy

 

From the end of the 1960´s to the end of the 1970´s one million new houses were built in Sweden. It was a social democratic housing  program of large scale. It also used large scale planning and technology on such a scale as had not been witnessed before in the country. Bergsjön, Hammarkullen, Rosengård, Skärholmen and Tensta are just a few of the well-known examples of  this planning and building. Undoubtedly it was a great feat to build all these houses, and most of the slum districts in the cities were to disappear through this ”million homes” project. However, there was criticism fairly early on against the large scale and the anonymity in these housing areas and against the large reallocation of people who were a part of that program. There was the change in structure within industry and the concentration to the expansive, urban areas in south and central Sweden. Thereby the labour force moved, contributing to the process in which the ”million homes” program was a part. Together these created and increase in the feeling of alienation. A ”drain of people from Norrland” was talked of. Approximately 100 000 people moved from the inlands of Norrland during the 1960´s, with a net loss of nearly 40 000.

 

Generally expressed, it can be said that the problem of alienation in the new suburbs was the direct cause of a number of community work projects starting there. The projects aimed at creating improvements in the environment, activities for children and young people and  a feeling of solidarity among the residents. In 1976 one hundred and fourteen new projects with community work were counted in 64 municipalities (Wahlberg 1977, p170).

 

 The sixties radicalism

 

The expansion of the welfare state in the 1960 ´s and 1970´s created new expectations on services and prosperity. When these expectations were not fulfilled, criticism and demands grew. The radical expansion of education for large groups of students led to increasing criticism of the authoritarian education system and later against the whole authoritarian society. Strong criticism was directed against profit hungry capitalism, ever increasing technocracy and bigwig politician, and the large established peoples movements in the experience of increasing social problems and pollution of the environment.

 

The new radicals wanted to have participatory planning in which people´s needs - not the narrow economic efficiency and interest in profit - were in the centre. The culmination were the student riots at the end of the 1960´s. Through this, community work was also to be radicalized. In many places it was a part in a radical community movement which wanted to have radically different relations in the community. It was also popular to become linked with radical Swedish traditions of mobilization in workers and peoples movements.

 

The Alternative Movements

 

The radicalism of the sixties was to be reflected in the growth of many new action groups and associations. They generally went under the name of the alternative movement. Included in this movement were new village groups, neighbourhood block groups, radical environmental groups, the new women´s movement, radical left-wing groups, radical student organizations, developing countries groups and other anti-imperialistic groups.

 

There was a miscellaneous body of action groups of the type Alternativ Stad, Arkiv Samtal, Bilfritt City, Clarte’, Den nya Vänstern, FNL movement, Folket i Bild-Kulturfront, Grupp 8, Rödstrumporna, Studerande för ett Demokratiska Samhälle, U-aktionen. These new groups experimented with direct democracy, influence and political actions. In practice the result of radical community work was naturally much more modest that people first expected.

 

Linked to the radical people´s movement

 

The old peoples movements were criticized for no longer being peoples movements which built upon active members striving to improve society in a radical direction. They were, instead, led by bigwigs who sat content in their offices with what they had achieved. They were regarded more as conservative administrators of the prevailing order than radical organizations working for change. The young radicals could not see that there was  a lot going on that was of interest  behind these fossilized movements. ”Back to Basic” meant going back to the time when peoples movements were actively campaigning organizations which mobilized people at the grassroots level and fought against the establishment.

 

There is another interesting point in this for community work. The Workers Movement has never liked social care services and social work. They have been accused of preventing real changes in social conditions by giving alms to the poor, by trying to raise and check society´s lost children. The Workers Movement wanted changes in society and a social policy which created a more equal society with social justice. By linking history and tradition, rather than social work, the radical community workers wanted to demonstrate that community work was not an extension of the old care of the poor or the new socio-therapy. But since most community workers were employed by the Department of Social Services or the Department of Youth and Recreation, an attempt was made to make legitimate radical community work by linking it to community work in the USA and Britain in the 1960´s and 1970´s in order to make the claim of community work as the third method of social work. But quite different from case-work! (Flemström 1975, Ahlberg 1976, Lindholm 1977).

 

Community work in the countryside

 

Concerning community work and community development in the countryside,it has been connected to a greater extent with finding work and maintaining services than in the cities. It has also been concerned with the maintainance and the improvement of services and infrastructure in the local communities. Rationalisation within forestry and agriculture during the 50´s and 60´s combined with the upturn in the economy and the expansion within the larger towns and cities resulted in a large movement of people from the countryside and the smaller communities, especially in Norrland, to the more expansive, urban areas in southern Sweden. The inland district of Norrland greatly felt the reduction in population. For example, Jämtland lost 20 000 inhabitants from 1950 to 1970, a space of 20 years, and a reduction in the population of 14%.

 

School strikes

 

The reduction in the population also led to both public and commercial services ending up in a difficult situation. Schools, shops, bus services, local medical practices, the social and local authority services, post-offices, petrol stations, libraries etc were closed or moved to the local towns. Threatened with closure, village schools, for example, took to protest action and strikes in several well-known cases. In some  of the cases they managed to keep the school: Västerljung in Södermanland in 1970, Drevdagen in Dalarna in 1971, Markitta in Norrbotten in 1972 (Ronnby 1976).

 

In several cases the local population felt that their local community was threatened through the fact that the only large workplace, or several smaller workplaces, were to be closed. This was especially so in the towns with a dominating steelworks or papermill - typical for rural industrial Sweden. Several of these became well-known through the inhabitants struggle and ability to create new conditions, for example Båtskärnäs in Norrbotten in 1966, Målerås in Småland in 1979, Norberg in Västmanland in 1981, Orsa in Dalarna in 1983 and Övertåneå in Norrbotten in 1983 (Daun 1969 and Mårtensson 1986).

 

Saving the local shop

 

In order to confront the problem of survival in small places in the rural countryside, during the 1980´s it became more and more usual for the local people to start different types of small cooperatives. This strategy has become very common in Värmland and in Jämtland. There are many examples where the local people have taken over the village shop when it was threatened with closure. One example is Alsen and Högarna in Jämtland. In many villages they have organized their own children´s day care nursery when the municipality, which usually runs the nurseries in Sweden, has not been able  or has not wanted to  run this service.There are now more than 50 such cooperative day care nurseries in Jämtland. People have also created cooperative service housing for old people. For example,  the small village of Lövvik in north Jämtland was the first to open a cooperative home for the old people. In Rötviken a similar cooperative with more services and functions can be found there. Several other old people´s cooperatives are being planned.

 

Private and non-profit schools (Tyvärr vet jag inte hur man översätter det här uttryck på rätt sätt. Jag vet att det finns någonting i England som heter ”opted-out” schools, men ideén skiljer sig lite grann med den svenka friskolan)

 

Nowadays there is no need to fight with the municipality administration to keep a village school which is threatened with closure. For a time now, Sweden has new legislation which makes it possible for private and non-profit schools to open. This means that a non-profit organization or a cooperative can take over the running of the school. And, more importantly, they can get some economic support from the municipality. This has happened in several places, for example in Tannäs in Härjedalen.

 

A new survival strategy for small villages has been to create multi-purpose cooperatives or village cooperatives. The purpose is for the villagers to be able to meet and discuss their common problems and issues and through collective work be able to carry out change and    development work where the local community´s collective resources can be used for the improvement of the quality of life.There are many examples of successful village cooperatives in Jämtland (for example Huså, Byssbon and Storsjö). In Jämtland there is a total of 16 community or village cooperatives.

 

Project community workers

 

Community workers in the countryside are not employed to the same degree as in the towns by the municipality´s department of social services or department of youth and leisure activities. It is more common for them to be connected to a department of planning or a public development enterprise or even to a project. This can be with running a youth project or a special project for women, for example Skorpan in Pilgrimstad, Draken in Stugun, Vildhuset in Hammerstrand and Lilith in Svenstavik. Kvinnum is a women´s project covering the whole county (with its base in Ås). The municipality can stimulate collaboration in the countryside and starts a project with this in mind. There are many such projects in Jämtland where there are project leaders employed by the municipality (for example, Framtid för Hotagsbygden and  the Hoting/Fjällsjö project).

 

Cooperative Development Centres

 

Since the 1970´s there have been a number of projects with the purpose of participatory planning, for example in Hedemora and in Långshyttan, Dalarna in 1975 and 1983, and in the municipality of Berg in 1985. From the beginning of the 1980´s development of new resource centres was started. These are separate from municipal or state control, but are often sponsored by them. An important factor in community work in the countryside is the new cooperative advice centres for the new cooperative movement which has grown in many places in the country. These are often called Cooperative Development Centres (CDC) and there are 18 of them in Sweden. Their purpose is to stimulate and encourage the development of local cooperatives. Jämtland has its CDC in Ås, which is situated in the outskirts of Östersund. Cooperative advisors, a kind of community workers, have contributed to an extensive development of new, small scale cooperatives in the county, everything from child care cooperatives to village cooperatives.

 

 

Village committees

 

Concerning community work in the countryside it can be linked with old traditions of cooperation in the farming community, in fishing and in factory towns. We can find village committees and village clubs, harbour and boat clubs and foundry clubs (Hellspong/Löfgren 1979, p285 - 318). The village club collectively owned the fishing waters, the fields and forest, as well as the common and the village square. In Norrland the village club even sometimes owned the mill and the sawmill, or they were owned by special mill clubs. Certain areas of stock-farming were also an object for collaboration. For example, the cattle-drive to and from the chalets (shielings) and hay-making. The neighbourhood league (grannlag) was another form of collaboration. It was used when help was needed in  say, house-building, or planting, or well-drilling for water, or even the running of the village forge or the battue.

 

Characteristic for the villages in the countryside before the land redistribution reform of 1827 was the villagers´ dependency upon each other for defence and safety in the village, and for their concern of common issues and problems. However,  working together was often associated with festivites (ibid p54 - 74). This has not disappeared in more modern times. Today´s village clubs and village associations continue to keep some of these traditions and they work as a collective force for different types of collaboration and festivities in the village ( for example Walpurgis night (30 April), midsummer, harvest time, the hunting season and lucia on the 13th December).

 

These traditions and forms of working together, which go back a long way, are much stronger in the countryside, and especially so in the rural areas, than in the towns and cities. They are valuable in devopment and community work. It can be said somewhat critically that volutary contribution is a necessity in the rural area, whereas people can buy the services in the towns and cities or can obtain them from public services. In the rural areas the public sector is usually very much under-developed and even if there is money the services may not be there to buy. The people themselves have to make things through working together.

 

Definitions of community work in Sweden

 

The inspiration for community work as a method in social work (as noted) came to Sweden from  England and USA among others, as well as from the new grassroot movements in Sweden in the 60th and 70th. In community work the four international approaches can be recognised. But community workers meet problems when they try to transfer directly these Anglosaxon models to Swedish conditions. The political structure is (as you have seen) in part different in Sweden, mainly because the public sector range and influence, the understanding of the autonomy of the municipalities as well as the lines drawn between what politicians and civil servants should or can do. In Sweden there is a fundamental understanding that the state (at a national and local level) in principle serves the people and wants it so - a view of looking at the state which community workers in, for example, USA do not share.

 

In Sweden the term community work (samhällsarbete) is rather diffuse. There is no generally adopted definition and it is difficult to capture in an encompassing definition that which, with consideration to both international comparisons and Swedish tradition, can reasonably be seen as community work. At the beginning of the 1970s, Carin Flemström and Alf Ronnby used the terms grannskapsarbete, organisationsarbete, social planering and aktionsarbete (Flemström & Ronnby, 1975, p. 206-218). These terms can roughly correspond to community development, community organization, social planning and community action, adapted to Swedish conditions.

 

Grannskapsarbete (community development or neighbourhood work), which later was also called områdesarbete (area work), stands for a method and a desire to create contact and help people in a certain geographic area or a certain social group, to organise themselves and together change their conditions for living, their housing living conditions for example. Organisationsarbete ( community organisation) refers to getting organizations, local associations, and institutions to collaborate and make adaptations to their work for the needs and the wishes of those people who used them. Social planering (social planning) are attempts at trying to place social aspects in community planning and adapting the social services to the needs of the people, as well as getting the consumers/citizens to actively take part in all sorts of community planning so that they can look after their interests. Aktionsarbete (community action) aims at getting the community workers to help oppressed and victimized groups find opinions for their issues and use political pressure through more or less militant action (ibid).

 

Neighbourhood or Community work

 

Ulf Blomdahl, from the Swedish Settlement Association, claimed around the same time (1974) that it was completely wrong to translate  community work as samhällsarbete , since it would later give the understanding that the conditions in the society could be affected via samhällsarbete. Those who held this belief have an idealistic interpretation of that which guides community development. Instead, the correct name should be grannskapsarbete (neighbourhood work), since it is above all the conditions in people´s neighbourhood that can be influenced by the methods which community work stands for. Grannskapsarbete (community development) is therefore a method with the aim of stimulating people in a community to create relations and activity (Blomdahl, 1974, p. 16-19).

 

Kerstin Lindholm, lecturer in community work at Stockholm University, defined community work in the middle of the 1970s as work where people, from certain conditions, goals and methods, work and intervene in people´s surroundings to make social changes at the middle level (that is to say, individual - community level) The community worker stimulates developments and processes in the surroundings of the people to improve their living environment through helping certain neglected groups. By this the latter can increase their influence and participation in issues which are important for improving the situation. Then they can work together with the groups in question on their terms, as well as by influencing the community´s various institutions and bodies to adapt their forms of work and contributions so that they assimilate everyone´s needs and can be accepted by everyone (Lindholm, 1977, p. 29-36).

 

Kerstin Lindholm points out that the term grannskapsarbete,  which sometimes came to replace the term samhällsarbete, can give a misleading picture of the activities. It can give an impression that everyone in the neighbourhood have the same conditions and values. Community work is about supporting the groups most at risk and this can lead to conflicts with other groups in the neighbourhood (ibid. p.30).

 

Loyalty to and support of the groups most at risk and without power is also what Stefan Wahlberg, lecturer in community work at Örebro University, stresses in what he, and others, call the grassroots  community work. This type of community work is also seen as a way in which community workers assist people in coming together to draw up frames of work and organize themselves to change their situation (Wahlberg 1978, p. 37-38).The strength lies in the collective efforts in changing the situation, and the goals and problem framework for community work must happen directly with the cooperation of the people involved. The perspective is focussed on getting closer to the realization of democracy and equality. The community workers endeavour to work on the theory behind the origin of social problems and how they shall be tackled.

 

The writers of this publication (Samförstånd eller konflikt?) say that the grassroots community work is in opposition to another kind of community work, which is social administrative in character. The social administrative community work  tries to get rid of social problems through administrative means such as social planning, coordination and adaptations of the programmes and work of the "welfare institutions" to defined needs. It is about strategies for change which are developed, planned and implemented by experts and professionals, from the perspective of the authorities and administration of what should be done. It is a kind of strategy from above and the social-service-umbrella which opens examines the conditions in order to meet the needs of the people in a more efficient manner (ibid. p. 36-37).

 

The Swedish approach to community work which can be compared most closely to community action is defined as follows:

 

"Community work is a grassroots organisation and development of collective forms of working and cooperation amongst oppressed and politically poor groups with the aim of developing critical thought and changing actions in the interests of the group. It involves the participation of as many as possible in the process.

 

When community work is used as a method in professional social work, it is a way of encouraging self-help, where the community worker acts as a catalyst, that is to say, someone who starts and supports the process of social development." (Ronnby, 1977, p. 135.)

 

Later community work has come to be known as area work (områdesarbete) by a number of writers and debaters in the subject.

 

At the beginning of the 80s Owe Ringdahl, social work officer in Stockholm, preferred to talk about area work than community work. Ringdahl wanted to redefine community work to mean work where one stimulated, developed and utilized the resources of both badly treated and well treated people. Through the direct participation in planning by these groups one could create social environments which gave the badly off a working daily existence. Area work (områdesarbete) was carried out in the neighbourhood with the participation of people on a broad front. Area work (områdesarbete) under social service presented all three main functions of social service ( i.e. individual, general and structured contributions), with the structure approach as the main contribution. At the same time coordination and collaboration between the different main participants and administration was stressed (Ringdahl, 1983, p. 97-99).

 

In a book written in 1986 by the youth and community worker Jan Calissendorff and others, dealing with social fieldwork, the authors wanted to draw a clear distinction between  the work of political people´s movements and local authority social work as well as community work as a method of social work. The motive was that all social work works at, or in any case has the function of, adapting people to the prevailing order. It is naive to believe that one could achieve any radical changes with community work under the local authorities (Calissendorff, 1986, p. 31-33).

 

An official definition

 

The most official definition of community work is found in the Swedish Government Official Report on Social Welfare of 1974 (Socialutredning). It says that this method (community work, community organisation: samhällsarbete/grannskapsarbete) is aimed at "influencing group or environment problems in the local area " (SOU 1974:39, p. 246-247). Community organization and neighbourhood work (grannskapsarbete) has the aim of stimulating the people to plan, organise and implement desired activities themselves, within the framework which the politicians give. The Social Welfare Report also gives two fundamental principles which concern community work, as there is for every other operation within social welfare." Community organization (grannskapsarbete) as a methodology for social welfare shall be carried out within the frames for the goals and approaches which legislation, the Supervisory Authority (tillsynsmyndighet) and the social committees give. The affairs brought up within community organisation shall be dealt with according to the same principles for the distribution of competence in the decision-making process, as also is valid for other affairs" ("Grannskapsarbete som socialvårdsmetodik skall bedrivas inom ramen för de mål och riktlinjer som lagstiftningen, tillsynsmyndigheten och de sociala nämnderna anger. Ärenden som aktualiseras i grannskapsarbetet skall handläggas enligt samma principer för kompetensfördelningen i beslutsprocessen, som gäller för andra ärenden") (ibid)

 

There is good reason to suppose that the Government commission who wrote the Social Welfare Report had not thought of any community work (grannskapsarbete) which is influenced by any ideology or strategy connected to community action. According to the view of the Social Welfare Report community work is to a high degree an institutionalised way of working, woven into local authority bureaucracy. This reasoning is also based on the idea that the public administration is there for the good of the people and is good for every citizen. There is in the Commission very little critical distance or reflection about which interests are served by various parts of public administration. The community worker does not generally have this innocent or naive view on the welfare state, and does not generally see his or her role or work as a direct representative  of the local governmental bureaucracy - more an intermediator between bureaucracy and the citizens.

 

The Social Welfare Report is of the opinion that community work touches upon political work. That is the problem with this method. The concern of the Report that community workers would mix the roles of the community worker and the politician probably originates in the fact that the Social Welfare Report had not put itself in the role of the community worker and tried to see things from this perspectives. The concerns are also based upon the idea that one cannot have social civil servants supporting or even fostering activities from groups which direct criticism and demands and act against authorities and public bodies. But this can (and should) happen, of course, since the community worker works with oppressed groups, something which is probably not always the best thing to expect from national and local government authorities. The discriminated and oppressed must, of course, direct demands and action at the social state, which is the mediator of social resources. It is a part in the struggle for the distribution of resources in society.

 

The fact that a state employed community worker supports and fosters the endeavours of these groups should not be any more sensational than the state paying advocates and lawyers who help clients to look after their interests against the state or municipality. The mistake which the Social Welfare Report makes is not to see the differences between the role of the community worker and the role of the politician.

 

Worry about radicals

 

The wording above from the Report´s principle thinking appears in the final report with the difference that shall is changed to should: "the affairs brought up within the work should be dealt with according to the same principles...." ("ärenden som aktualiseras i arbetet bör handläggas enligt samma principer...") (SOU 1977:40, p. 100-101). Perhaps this can be interpreted as a little softening on the SOUs part in fear of community work (field and community organization) developing into a difficult-to-control organisation. At the same time, wording like this reveal that the writers of the text have not fully understood what community work is about. The final report talks about activating the citizens in operations so that they will be able to have influence over their situation; the work has its basis in the idea that every individual has resources which can be released, developed and strengthened in collaboration with others. That is why community work should stimulate cooperation within the voluntary, political and trade union organisations and in other forms of solidarity built on mutual interests. In the Social Welfare Service Bill (socialtjänstproposition) it is underlined that social work can initiate field and community organization in order to get the people who live there to take care of the work. But community work should  build upon the contributions made by the local political and ideal organizations (Prop. 1979/80:1, p. 168) to as high a degree as possible. This does not stand in opposition to what community workers were claiming, but the written material in question in the Social Service Act (socialtjänstlagen) pre study has the hint of an interesting and in part paradoxical fear of the involvement of the social welfare service being too large - paradoxically, in how the social state and the public sector have developed in other areas.

 

Grassroots community work works on helping oppressed and neglected people to meet around their problems, wishes and needs in order to be able to organize themselves and make it possible to deal with the problems and change their situation and conditions of living. The aim is, therefore, towards self organization and self activities, i.e. strengthening the civil society. It is not for the community worker to use them for his or her own political interests. The Report of Social Welfare overestimates the capability of the community worker to manipulate people and to get them to act for something which is not within their own aim. Grassroots community work also rests upon other principles than those which could be thought or believed, starting from the Social Welfare Report and the Social Welfare Service Bill.

 

Setting the limits of community work

 

The basic idea for community work can be said to be one or several community workers acting as catalysts who help a group of people to meet and organise themselves around some kind of activity. Through this activity the group tries to find their common interests, to tackle problems common to them and to satisfy the needs of its members. Naturally other forms of activity can start from spontaneous, local initiatives: the way chosen in this work is to keep to forms of community work  where an active community worker is involved.

 

A community worker is the one who helps to bring about a change. Each community worker has a task, either as a private or public employee or as a member of an organisation, to stimulate and help people organize themselves in their common problems and issues and thereby using grassroot participation as method and a catalytic approach in order to foster the development of people´s  capacity, during which they bring about work for betterment.  The aim of setting limits as to what community work is, is to avoid having community work being used as a label for every possible thing which has to do with the community. The term would become so watered-down that it would lose its meaning, standing for everything and nothing.

 

For a comprehensive categorization and division of community work it can be seen that there are two main forms; the one which is local work for change and development, which can be radical  (starting from the conflict or consensus perspective), and the other which is social planning and project collaboration. In the first category the following can be counted: neighbourhood work or area work (grannskapsarbete, områdesarbete), town regeneration with strong participation with the people, village development projects and local cooperative development projects and similar where there is a facilitator involved. In the second category, the following can be counted: for example, social service participation in community planning and other social planning with the condition that the people are involved in some way. Social planning without the participation of the people is not what is meant with community work (for example, a group of social service officers taking part in some town development planning project or in the coordination of social services). The participation of the people means that the people affected by change ( whether desired or not) actively take part in the work themselves.

 

One area of work where the social worker can first of all think of in the discussion of community work is fältarbete (area work) - contraty to office and residencial work. It is above all in fieldwork where one works with community work. However, this does not mean that all field work can be counted as community work. The field worker works with, amongst other things, community work, but often the work is orientated to the individual (for example, setting up work, different kinds of social welfare officer work, consulting young people etc.).Even if the field work is group orientated it is not certain that the form and organization can be called community work according to the definition above. Often it is about social group work, which is separate from community work, as it is more or less directed to rather than from the group. This  means that the worker is more interested in using the group and the dynamics within the group in a kind of therapeutic process. The feelings and needs of the group members can be reflected, made clear and strengthened. The group and its dynamics are also of interest in community work, but then they are a resource and possibility, an instrument if you want to say so, to make possible collective, structured orientated work for change.

 

Structure orientated work

 

What is meant when talking about structure orientated work (strukturinriktat arbete) is an activity in which a group of people, collectively or in an organization, try to influence the relatively stable laws, rules, regulations and patterns of action (roles, role expectations, and social institutions), organisations and physical milieu which affect and rule people´s actions through planned and organised actions. Structures are therefore economic, political, social, cultural and physical. The term economic structure refers to production methods and material resources, political refers to power relationships, social refers to class and group organization and cultural refers to value and norm systems, perspectives and views of the world as well as patterns of action which are ruled by this, whereas physical structures refer to the built environment, etc.

 

In general, structures are regarded as a result of a collective action, and structures are maintained and changed through collective action. Here structure orientated work means to develop strategies for collective action in order to bring about changes in ( or maintaining) certain systems, social institutions, organization patterns and physical conditions. Oppressed groups can see structures as totally determinating, forcing themselves upon the groups, and they therefore stand powerless and impotent before these conditions. Community work works on the idea of breaking down their powerless situation. The structure orientation is also a kind of "holism", to try and see and understand the cultural, social, economic and political patterns or structures which human beings are part of. People´s reality is built up from their social relations, for example, and their understanding of themselves is formed in the interplay with their surroundings. One can try to understand how people experience and interpret their situation from their viewpoints and action within a certain structural connection and from their interplay with the surroundings. People are not separate, isolated units and one must therefore analyse the social situation they are part of and their social relations in order to understand how they can act and shape their lives. At the same time one has to be conscious of how the systems of society people are dependent upon create certain conditions for their lives and possible changes. The structure orientated work also means an interest in the connection between people and structures.

 

This way of seeing structure orientated work means that one has to have a different perspective than that which is found in the Government Official Report on Social Welfare (Socialutredning) and the Social Welfare Service Bill (Socialtjänstpropositionen). The first main function of social welfare services is called structure orientated work.However, in this category, setting up work had been introduced to work with social problems in the community: field and neighbourhood work, and social service´s participation in community planning (Prop. 1970/08:1, p.168). From the reasoning above only the last two mentioned aspects are regarded as structure orientated work. Social service participation in community planning can also be regarded as community work if there is a clear contribution made by the people. Otherwise this is a question of social planning or its like according to the terminology above.

 

 

Ideas and principles for community work

 

This section will deal with the principles and idea of community work for mobilization and development work. It concerns resource people who come from outside to a community or a group to help the people organize themselves. Then they can try to find what is wanted and can be done from their own conditions and resources.

 

The aim is to give some perspectives, ideas and principles which can be found  for such local work for change and development, beginning with the description of community work´s starting points, ideas and "philosophy", view of people and society, followed by a number of basic principles  and aims in community work. There are at least ten formulations of ideas which community work can rest on, everything from participation to social pedagogy. It is one way of formulating starting points for community work, building upon theories for understanding society, the collective and the group, and theo-ries for action.

 

In the discussion around principles and approaches in community work there are several so called perspectives, (theories, assumptions, approaches, and understandings) which make up the starting points or background for certain attitudes. The most central ideas in the discussion are the views on people and society. The view of people which is supported here can be summarized as the following: the community worker looks at a person as a being who has the capability to reflect over his/her existence and to gain knowledge about reality through working on it. A human being is a creative being who strives to shape his existence,to be able to control his/her conditions for life and understand how he/she is part of the whole. He/she is a many faceted being who usually acts purposefully for the motives and aims he/she has. A human being develops his competence by relating to others, and the relations in the social group is of great importance for a person to develop his capability. All people have a latent capability for developing into creative, knowledgeable, conscious and all-round people. A lot depends on the environment, the social interplay, the freedom for action, encouragement, stimulus, challenges and motivation. The most important function of the social group is to be a basis and condition for stimulus, dialogue, motivation and collective action.

 

This is, so to speak, a positive view of human beings. It differs from the view where one looks at people as inferior, perhaps in need of help, needing support and being taken care of by an enlightened elite. This view also differs from the view of human beings where certain people are seen as foolish and irrational, constantly needing to be affected by the social control and group pressure in order not to become a problem for themselves or for others. In this perspective the function of the group is foremost to exercise social control for the managing and supervision of people´s actions.

 

Conflict or consensus?

 

Concerning the views of society and understanding of how it works, there are in principle two strongly competing approaches current in community work. These are namely the conflict and consensus perspective. The conflict perspective says that society is in principle divided into several competing classes. Between them there are basic oppositions due to their societal conditions of existence. On the whole there are two dominating classes: the one which has power and influence over society´s material resources and means of production, and the other which does not have this influence, forced to sell its workforce in order to survive. Between these two main classes there are smaller fractions and a large middle group, or middle class who are more difficult to define and ideologically and politically more mobile.

 

In practice there is a more complicated picture than this more schematic one . The importance which the conflict perspective has in community work is foremost that one claims that weak, oppressed and neglected groups have to organize themselves in order to take power, gain power and influence to be able to affect conditions. It is, therefore, not about  creating understanding and goodwill from the people in power for the weak groups. Instead, it is about these groups developing strategies to control their own resources, gaining political influence and being able to affect the division of societal resources, somehow creating scope for action on their own part.

 

Community work and political struggle

 

The conflict perspective is often associated with a view of the state as an area for political struggle in which the interests of the already strong group have priority. The state is, therefore, not a neutral institution which takes care of the common interests of all the citizens. It is also not, in a society system as the Swedish, a monolithic organization keeping guard on economically and politically strong interests and the order which is good for these. The continuous ongoing political struggle makes the state (and local government) workings influenced by the political and ideological conditions of power. Even then, the prevailing societal and production conditions determine in a decisive manner the conditions for the work of politics and the state. The conflict perspective can also be associated with an idea that one should choose the strategies for conflict, which is not the same as a conflict perspective on society. Conflict strategies usually mean that one recommends political organizing and active struggle in more or less militant forms (see Alinsky, 1972) and one stands, therefore in opposition to solutions by mutual agreement.

 

If one has a consensus perspective on society this means that one sees there being  a kind of basic value solidarity despite possible oppositions. This makes society possible, that it can exist and not be dissolved in everyone´s fight against everyone and chaos. The value solidarity, accordance to what concerns basic norms and values, is, therefore a kind of cement which keeps society together. Conflicts do not have their origins in basic oppositions but are caused by lack of understanding, a communication problem, jealousy, intolerance and selfishness.

 

A class society

 

According to this approach society consists not of classes, which are against each other, but of a number of individuals and groups ( and strata, which make up a continuum from low to high), all struggling for power and influence in order to create various advantages for themselves. Through creating equivalent conditions for influence and action on society´s stage, and through contact and dialogue between the groups, one can reduce damaging dysfunctional conflicts and instead develop understanding, tolerance, sympathy and solidarity and a kind of balance can be maintained in society.

 

Tied to this perspective is the idea that the state is a neutral entity which stands above group conflicts and takes care of the superior societal functions of order, stability and solidarity in society. The strategies one chooses are often based on improving communication between groups and creating situations for negotiation.

 

Perhaps it is a question of getting a fairer distribution of welfare, based on goodwill and solidarity or reason and enlightenment. It can be about having insight into the great gaps in society and the injustice which creates social alarm and irrational conditions in society. Therefore, social conflicts shall be minimized through a sound policy which aims at so-cial justice.

 

Simply put, with the starting point to a conflict theory one asks the questions: how can society be changed?, how can oppressed groups take power and change their conditions of living? At the same time, looking from a consensus perspective one asks how society is possible, what are the binding elements and how can they be kept or strengthened? In the practice of community work the ideas and standpoints become more complicated, since a number of tactical, strategical and practical considerations come into the picture. This is also dependent upon whether one discusses changes in a long or short term and what ambitions one has for community work. There is often a gap between analytical theories and action theories and between theory and practice in general. Furthermore, pedagogical aspects often play an important role (not only tactically or strategically) when the community worker chooses the conditions and methods which are evident from the basic principles.

 

The local initiatives

 

The best initiative for work for change and development is taken locally by the people concerned and that the municipality and other resource people can come in and support the group in its work when required and asked for. The most advantageous situation for a community worker is when he/she can come to a group when he/she is wanted and asked for. The job of the community worker is to support and help the group develop itself and its work by being skilful and pedagogic in his/her approach. Basic principles for community work should be there as a natural part and in a two way communication.

 

However, if no local initiatives are taken despite negative development in the community, neighbourhood or the social group, the local government authorities have the duty to try and start up a process to meet the problems. This can be a village development project, tenant influence in area planning, the improvement of milieu for children, helping the old to be together and creating activity and safety for them, creative milieu for young people etc. Such work must comprise of a mobilization of the town/village people, the social group and the local resources, if it is going to have any strength in the longer term. The local mobilization work requires the capability to put oneself into the local conditions and make an analysis of the problem. This also demands the capability to making good contact with people and be accepted by them. The community worker also needs to have knowledge of theories of action and strategies and also good pedagogy in working. Knowledge of suitable methods for mobilization and skilful pedagogy are required when the local authority officials help local groups to start or follow through some kind of mobilization work.

 

Principles of community work

 

Then we study what kind of principles and ideas (beliefs, essential features and intentions or vague purposes) community workers have for their approaches in community work, we fined quite a few, maybe not all at the same time in the head of one community worker but in the collective. Common ideas in Sweden are:

 

The idea of participation  is summed up by the thought that a broad participation of the people affected is fundamental in community work. This is also central thinking in the democracy theme where the citizen shall actively participate in a number of ways in the life of the community and in the various forms of society and government. This idea comes from political science to community work and plays a role on the political arena. Through using principles of democracy the citizens find out what democracy is, and they will better understand both themselves and how they fit into society. One can say that the way the people learn about the strength and character of democracy is in the idea of participation. The participation line of thought also refers to the idea that people must participate politically and be active in order to be able to have an effect on the distribution of the resources in society. Weak groups cannot expect the goodwill of the people in power to give them better conditions for living. They have to take power themselves and have influence through participating in political processes in different ways.

 

The idea of human-relations   refers to the idea and theory about the importance of informal social relations in forming people´s attitudes and way of behave. One can say that this is a more social psychological variation on the theme of "participation". This idea comes from industrial socialogy and social psychology (the "human-relation-school") and plays a role in modern management thinking. The problem in our society is that many people are just cogs in the machine. The human-relation line of thought builds upon the idea that a human being must be allowed to be involved in the decisions over his/her existence and in the activities he/she is part of so that through them be a participant and responsible. Otherwise he/she can easily be left out of things and become passive and indifferent. The message is therefore one of decentralisation, increased influence, taking responsibility and the right to be consulted.

 

The idea of integration  concerns people´s integration in society by them belonging to social groups, and the importance of the social ties for how people act in society. It is about group pressure and informal social control. The theory says that if people are not part of social groups then they do not get guidance for their action. They easily become a problem for both themselves and for others. People need to be part of a social network which supplies norms. The community of values, concensus are considered to be the cement in society.This is created through the social interplay in which people have in close relations to each other and where group pressure (the informal social control) can work.

 

The large scale urban society where social ties are broken through people moving and living anonymously creates a lack of norms, the experience of pointlessness and despair. Simply put, the integration line of thought is the idea that one should recreate the small group society in which people can feel at home and keep an eye on each other.

 

The idea of socialisation  is closely connected to this theme. Here it can be said that the focus is on the importance of identification and role participation for learning and supplying of norms. People have to learn their societal roles through the interplay with socialisation agents in the so-called socialisation process. This is done through the passing of every new generation in society. This process also works in the various instruments of mediation for the different cultures and norm systems which one belongs to during the different stages of his/her life ( friendship groups, school, workplace, the political organisation etc). Part of today´s problem is the weakening of the socialisation agents. The family, school, workplace, organisations etc, have gained a more superficial character and cannot carry out their functions of passing on norms. It can be said that the message is to create tighter social relations, clearer role models and clearer tasks for people in different places in society. This is also concerned with a strengthening of the socialisation agents and the integration in various social connections in order to create closeness, clearer models, identification and roles.

 

The idea of pluralism  is about the changing of class society to a society consisting of social strata and interest groups. One therefore has a society consisting of various interest groups fighting for power, prestige and influence in order to look after situations pertinent to them. There is a continual fight between various groups, and certain groups have better conditions for taking care of their interests than others. Community work is seen as a method for counterbalancing the unequal opportunities for participation and influence. By organizing themselves and obtaining knowledge, underprivileged groups can be capable of asserting themselves and safeguard their interests.

 

The idea of grassroots is connected to the thought of active participation in the life of the community by the broad social groups and the implementation of change from below by mobilizing people´s resources. It is about the ideas of direct democracy and anti-authoritarian and non-hierarchical forms of work and organization, mobilization, organizing and movements from below. It can be said that many of the original ideas of the people´s movement have now given way to new organizations such as the women´s movement and the environmental movement.

 

The idea of mobilizing aims at those working in community work try to activate and mobilize human and material resources found in the broad strata. The starting assumption is that people have hidden or latent resources which can be developed under special conditions - and that these resources are kept back by others. Authority, guardianship, the idea of the jantelag, (this "law" tells people to keep a low profile - "don´t think you are something!") specialization, professionalization and far-reaching division of labour and the structures which create these condition keep people from acting themselves in a number of  areas. This prevents their capability and competence from developing. Through this people do not participate in the life of the community in a way they would do under other circumstances. Through community work one tries to take stock of the experience of ordinary people, their knowledge and latent ability. It is they themselves from their own resources and conditions who will be able to tackle common problems, change their conditions for living and satisfy their needs.

 

The idea of collective action  is connected to the earlier argument that community work is often about changing structural conditions. The theory tells us that structures are a result of collective action and are borne by many people´s action (conscious or unconscious through, for example, routine); that is why structures must be changed through conscious collective action to reach certain goals. This is especially of concern for neglected and oppressed people. They must organise themselves and act jointly in order to gain power and influence over their conditions for living. They do this by influencing the conditions under which they live in society. The problem can be, for example, that these people have not enough training in organizing themselves and cooperating on common issues. The disorganised group or isolated individual does not believe in the opportunity of bringing about change in their own interest. That is why one of the important lines of thought in community work is to help neglected and oppressed people organize themselves into collective action around common goals.

 

The idea of praxis is about how human beings gain knowledge about the world by having an active relation to it and how they understand how to act in a social context. It is also an action theory which includes a theory of cognition, which I am going to elaborate on in the next chaprer. Praxiology works on understanding how the history and background (experience, competence and expectations) of the individual and the group blend with the aimed future (his/hers or the group´s intentions, theories interests, dreams and hopes) into concrete action. Praxis is, therefore, when people act to realize their dreams, wishes and intentions against the background of their experiences and interpretations of reality and the knowledge they own, as well as other mental, social and material resources.

 

Therefore, praxis is about understanding how people act (and can act) both from their practical and theoretical conditions as they themselves see these. The different conditions are present in the moment of action and when people plan their action.

 

The idea of social pedagogy  has the aim of moulding a social context in which the person can develop his/her knowledge and competence. The basic thinking of  this line of action is that human beings develop together with others, the individual develops in action with the social group. From a cognitive theoretical perspective and for a mobilization perspective it is of interest to understand how the social milieu and interaction of people should look in order for it to be a pedagogic, creative and releasing power. Community work should have as its goal an attempt at creating a good environment for learning. The group is of interest because of its ability to release human power and ability to contribute to the development of human resources (not for its ability to stimulate social control, as in the integration line of thought!).

 

 

Setting the goals in community work

 

As an introduction to the goals for community work, it can be of interest to point out the formulation by Harald Swedner, professor in social and community work at Gothenburg University, about the general goals for social work for change . His ideas coincide with what has been talked about already about the approach to community work. He says that " all work for change at micro-, meso- and macro level should be carried out in such a way that the result favours groups and individuals who are poor in resources, discriminated, have problems and are downtrodden" (Swedner, 1983, p.105). A number of goals which are felt to have "been missed" in the earlier argument and which rest upon a number of fundamental values and principles in community work are presented below.

 

Objectives in community work

 

1.   Create confidence and trust in one´s own power in oppressed people.

 

2.   Develop creativity, competence and consciousness about one´s own situation and con-

      ditions in the surrounding world.

 

3.   Freedom to express oneself, reflect over the situation, build up one´s own picture, de-

      velop ideas and the capability to express oneself.

 

4.   Develop the active participation of people in common struggles and solidarity with vic-

      timized groups.

 

5.   The right to self determination, to control one´s own resources and shape one´s ex-

      istence.

 

6.   Organizing, creating new relations and patterns by local groups to break down the

      oppressive or blocking conditions.

 

7.   Develop horizontal forms of cooperation and solidarity in action.

 

8.   Stimulating generative processes for the development of human resources.

 

9.   Developing competence through one´s own efforts when working with others and new

      combinations of resources through changed relations and social milieu.

 

10. Breaking down hierarchical structures, the conditions for dominance and coopting.

 

11. Opposing centrifugal forces, fragmentation, marginalization, isolation and illimination.

 

12. Fighting cultural repression, the dominance of the upper class and the centre over subordinates, the periphery and the community.

 

13. Stimulating development of social groups or communities without suppressing others development of the understanding of the multicultural society.

 

14. Promoting civil society. Mobilizing local and social resources with consideration to the ecological balance and the interests of future generations for a good living environment and historical values.

 

To summarize it can be said that the goals for community work are helping people with problems to organise themselves. By doing so they can have greater influence over their conditions of living and the things which are important for these. In their activities people will learn to function in such a way that they can develop their and other people´s consciousness and competence. This will enable them to work as democratic and creative citizens in society.

 

It is evident from the wording of these goals that most of them can be considered goals on the way to other larger goals. It is possible to call them action goals. The further goals, which often are recollective of community work, are usually concerned with the endeavour to create a democratic society in which the citizens on a broad front take part in the different forms of power and activity in society in order to obtain an active influence over their conditions for living. Whilst taking an active part in social life, people are said to develop into active, knowledgeable, aware, competent and creative citizens in society. This in turn is expected to lay the ground for a continued democratic development of society and bring about welfare and social justice.

 

Social justice

 

Social justice means an equal distribution of rights, freedom and opportunities. Welfare shall be distributed so that the people worst off are favoured. Welfare has in view the aim of a contented life, achieving satisfaction in fundamental human needs ( for example, physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for love and community spirit, the need for self confidence and the appreciation of others as well as the need for self realization), opportunities to develop one´s potential resources as well as a social development which takes the following into consideration; the total living environment, the ecological balance and the preservation of nature values and the coming generations´possible demands on the living environment.

 

It is clear that this type of normative propositions falls back on other fundamental values and ethical principles. One cannot make an analysis here of these, but several can be pointed out which seem probable and which the body of community workers stand for. Fundamental is the idea of all people being equally valued, the principle of human value. Another  idea  is everyone´s  right to make  the best possible  out of his/her life, and taken into consideration is the fact that people have differing conditions and needs. This must not damage the rights of other people (the solidarity principle).

 

From the above there follows other ethical principles. For example, that we shall treat other people as our equal (the principle of equality), and rules for action and principles of distribution shall be valid for everyone under the same conditions (the principles of universality and justice). We should promote the endeavour of making the best of one´s life (the principle of kindness). To this principle a modified utilitarian principle can be added which tells us that any action (political or other) is correct if it brings about consequences which are good for everyone (Grenholm, 1991).

 

From these ethical principles one can argue for a democratic order of society which is based on the idea of equality of all people, and which gives people the right and opportunity to influence the conditions for their lives and create welfare for everyone. From the principles of equality and justice one can argue the position that welfare policy and community work should be to the advantage of the worst off in society. Equality does not mean an equal distribution of welfare since people´s conditions are different. It is the actual result which counts - that people in all respects reach an equally valuable human life.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Community work as an approach and method in social work did not come to Sweden until the end of the 1960s. The ideas and inspirations mainly came from England and the USA and they were associated with a more offensive social policy, or with a new radical criticism of the authoritarian hierarchical class society. In the first instance, community work stands for an endeavour to adapt social services to people´s needs through decentralisation, cooperation and close contact with the people using the services. In the second instance, community work is an attempt at helping oppressed and victimized groups to organize themselves so that they can influence their own conditions for living.

 

A recurring attitude has been the line drawn between community work and other political action - which has also been a concern for the Government Report on Social Welfare. No clear answer can be given, since the role of the community worker as "organizer" diverges from the traditional idea in Sweden of the public civil servant. Moreover, in the tradition of community workers there is not the same superstition of the "good administrator" or well meaning social state. Instead there is the idea of certain victimized groups also having to lead a fight against the establishment. For a state employed community worker supporting and fostering such work is not any more unusual that the justice service paying a lawyer to support his/her clients in their fight against the state.

 

The position of the Government Report on Social Welfare and the Social Welfare Service Bill is that the community worker can initiate community work (fieldwork and community development), especially by working with ideal organizations or suchlike, but then to withdraw. The understanding by community workers is that they do not need to be so careful, as long as they keep to the fundamental principles of grassroots community work (stimulating people´s self activity and self organization). The community worker is only a catalyst for these processes, and anything else is just an expression of the superstition of the community worker being manipulative.

 

Another important attitude has been to which people or groups community work should be directed, where the term community or "lokalsamhälle " has been of great importance. The reason for this is that the term is central to the theory of methodology for community work in the parts concerning conditions for organizing, cooperation, creation of action and strategies for change. The argument in this chapter has led to a traditional social anthropological and sociological definition of community which is not relevant in modern Swedish society of today.

 

On the other hand, it is still realistic for the community worker to direct his/her work at oppressed and victimized groups of people in a local connection. This means directing work to some kind of local, social unit (for example, a youth group or a group of pensioners) whose members have relations and/or connection to each other in some way (a common problem or something else which they have in common). These people are called the interest group.

 

A third discussion point has been what separates community work from other social work directed outwards, fieldwork of different kinds, structure orientated work, participation on community planning etc. The meaning here is that community work is characterized concerning work where the community worker acts as a catalyst and promoter of group work directed outwards. The aim of the group´s work is to improve the conditions of living of victimized people through collective action and bringing about structural changes, changes in societal orders of importance for the group in question. What differentiates community work from other work with the similar aims is that the people concerned take part in the work for change. This is not simply a democratic principle. It also has great pedagogical importance which rests on the theories and ideas around the development of human resources and civil society. Community work is, therefore, a kind of "adult education" which takes place through the stimulation and promotion of people´s active participation in society and the shaping of their own conditions of living. At heart, certain principles of community work about setting goals rest upon several ethical principles; the equal value of people, the right to make the best out of one´s life. Principles which also come to the standpoint for the most victimized in society and their fight for better condition.

 

How then is it possible to promote constructive actions among oppressed people in the work to change their conditions of life? We have earliler touched upon the idea of praxis and the praxiological theory of action and mobilization. Now let us go further in to this theory, to see what we can learn about the prerequisites for human and group actions. Can the praxiological theory of action be used as a vehicle for developing our strategy in community work? Let us go further to see what we are doing when we are doing community work.

 

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