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Community Development in Flanders and Brussels Gh 2009

Community Development in Flanders and Brussels Gh 2009

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Community Development in Flanders and Brussels

Gerard Hautekeur Samenlevingsopbouw Vlaanderen In Flanders, the term “Community Development” is used to describe the method of work characterised by an approach to community problems calling for the participation of the target group. It is a way of working which involves community development workers and neighbourhood workers. Other types of work are individual assistance and socio-cultural work. First of all we shall give a short history of developments in the practice and the legislation, then we shall look at the key tasks of community development, and we shall sketch out some of the challenges facing the CD sector. Finally, we point out which forms of democracy are beneficial to the participation of disadvantaged groups. Historical background The pioneers - the original community development workers - were involved in a number of initiatives under the title of Community Development. The community involvement of community workers and neighbourhood workers set the tone in those neighbourhoods and areas in which they were working, and they identified with the disadvantaged groups of local citzens. Given their critical standpoints with regard to society, the government, and more especially the local authorities, saw them as an adversary, and vice versa. Yet, in the 1980s, many community workers were among the founders of local community consultative platforms which, in consultation with government and other partners, worked to provide appropriate facilities for rural areas. The pioneer phase saw the coming into being of all sorts of initiatives: the Flemish government enabled a great many flowers to bloom in the area of community work, community development work according to category and functional and territorial-based development work. To put it another way, community-based enthusiasm and commitment were central. There was little or no talk of methodical or strategic ways of working, never mind personnel management. The latter was quite out of the question. Some staff workers were owed months of back-pay by the organisations for which they worked. Many community workers were in fact their own employers. Many worked for years in a precarious situation and with temporary contracts which were renewed time and again. In 1983, the Flemish authorities providing the subsidies carried out a fundamental restructuring of the whole community development landscape. It subsidised one Flemish support institute to provide support for community development in Flanders and in Brussels and, in addition, regional institutes for community development work in the five Flemish provinces and the major cities of Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. The latter are the employers of the community development workers in their city or province. With this restructuring, the Flemish government decided that it would no longer subsidise neighbourhood work, but rather support temporary projects of between two and four years to combat deprivation. The regional institutes provided community development workers in those areas with social problems and in socially deprived areas in the countryside. Community development was directed at the whole area, but the methods of participation focused more especially on those residents least able to stand up for themselves. In 1983 the restructuring of the sector put an end to the symbiosis between community development and neighbourhood work. Community development workers became the employees of the regional institutes for community development work, and were then employed in projects which were to produce results. Neighbourhood work was orphaned. Up until 1991, there was really no satisfactory legislative basis for the recognition and subsidising of the Community development sector. To obtain subsidies institutes and other bodies had to take account of the regulations set out in the annual letter sent out by the ministry. Structural regulation only came with he Decree of 26 June 1991 with regard to the

recognition and funding of “community development work” (the term “Maatschappelijk Opbouwwerk” used in the Flemish Decree). Implementation was regulated by the Decision of the Flemish Government of 20 February 2004 (which replaced the decision of 31 July 1991. The basis for the recognition and subsidising (as a package) of the Regional Institutes for Community development work and for the Flemish support institute (Samenlevingsopbouw Vlaanderen) is the long-range plan. In this the organisations set out how they plan to implement the tasks outlined in the Decree over a period of six years. A central aspect of the long-range plan are the programmes. In other words, all those areas of action, of projects and other activities focusing on a given problem. They also define the target groups and the areas of activity on which they focus. The term project means: a planned and integrated unity of activities aimed at solving a concrete, social problem, including a definition of the problem, the identification of the target group, the territory, concrete aims, and defined in terms of time and which is to be established and implemented with the participation of the target group. On an annual basis, the long-rage plan is given more concrete form in an annual plan, setting out the targets, projects and other activities. The Flemish content of Community Development was, in the beginning, very much inspired by the approach in the Netherlands, but the context in Flanders and Brussels nowadays differs in essence from that of the Netherlands. The Flemish government provides the basic subsidies for the institutes of community development, whereas, in the Netherlands, the competence and financial support is decentralised and is the responsibility of local government. This statement should, however, be nuanced. The regional institutes for community development work in Flanders can always call on additional financing from the local authorities. To this end they enter into an agreement in order to implement certain tasks e.g..: organising local people to establish a plan for local development or the organisation of participation in the Local Social Policy Plan. In recent years, it is striking that the government increasingly takes the place of non-governmental organisations or that of the non-profit sector. The local authorities, on their own initiative, establish participatory processes and set up their own community development or community training. We shall not go any further into this in this article, because we have no precise idea of whether, when it comes to community development, the local approach is actually effective. Key tasks of Community development The key tasks of community development determine the priority aspects in order to achieve its mission. The sector itself has an excellent social and political key task. On the one hand Community development supports and strengthens the target groups, so that their voice and their community-based concerns can find their way into the community and political debate (the key social task). On the other hand, Community development, in co-operation with the target group, looks toward renewing appropriate and above all structural solutions for community problems. The emphasis in policy is to transform the solutions into appropriate measures (the political key task). Both key tasks are intertwined. In concrete terms, this means that the target groups supported by Community development, seeks solutions which will bring about renewal and long-term measures, with the aim of influencing policy. Supporting target groups Community development workers pay special attention to those who struggle with poverty and social exclusion. Together with the target group, they try to ensure that they enjoy equal opportunities and a fair share of social services and provisions. They are taught how to organise as a group, how they can become, and remain, actively involved. Implementing solutions which offer renewal and which are sustainable Community development workers, together with the groups which they support, work towards appropriate and renewing responses to social exclusion. This involves bringing in other partners On the basis of their knowledge, insights and experience they work together

towards solutions. Community development, however, should also be a discussion partner who seeks to bring about sustainable (or durable) changes. For this reason, Community development look for alliances with other organisations and social movement bringing about changes in the political agenda. Influencing policy Community development workers encourage policy makers to adapt existing policy and/or to create a new policy. For weak members of the community, appropriate measures, solutions and changes are always needed. Both the content of policy and the way in which it comes into being require to be corrected, since it should not always be the more privileged groups who benefit. The weakest groups must be able to take part in the preparation, implementation and evaluation of measures taken in their interests. Community development seeks to ensure that people are offered the opportunity to express to policy-makers their opinions and wishes with regard to a given policy. Not just to tell them what goes wrong, but also to put forward their own proposals. Thus local people can cooperate in the construction of a better policy for all those in their neighbourhood and for other people in similar situations Participating in policy-making also enables people to defend their own interests. Thus they feel that they are better understood and more respected, and more involved in society. In this way participation helps combat social exclusion. Characteristics and challenges First of all, we shall sketch out some of the characteristics of modern community development projects, and then we shall examine the present challenges. 1. The increasing degree of professional training: community development workers pay great attention to a planned approach to local citizens’ participation. The sector (and in the first place the Flemish support institute Samenlevingsopbouw Vlaanderen) makes a major contribution to the training of community development workers, research, documentation and the publication of it own review with regard to local policy and community development (The Magazine ‘TerZake’); 2. Community development workers are often at the basis of the creation of new networks, bringing together all partners focusing on a given problem. 3. Many community development workers work closely or even on behalf of local authorities, for example recently in the area of Local Social Policy. Thanks to the new professional approach of the community development workers, and at the same time through the different attitude of the authorities themselves, the mutual prejudices and the old enmity are more or less things of the past. 4. Thanks to the pooling of community development workers in Regional institutes for community development work, employees in the sector have achieved a greater degree of legal security. 5. There is a contrast between the older generation of staff, often with 15 to 20 years of experience behind them, and the great turnover among the fairly young generation of community development workers. 6. There is a growing tendency towards common co-operation in a more common profiling of the sector, especially within the new six-year plan for Community Development. At present the sector is working on a new six-year plan (2009-2014) to respond to the new challenges. One of the priority themes, it is a question of social cohesion of diverse communities and cultures in the same area. How does one deal with the diversity? What are the repercussions on the content and the methods of the approach and on personnel management?

The Flemish government which provides the subsidies is increasingly involved in management. Thus it is pressing for greater co-operation between community development and the sector of associations in which poor people can make themselves heard, and which also, in a participatory fashion, seek to combat poverty and social exclusion. The Community development sector is not against closer co-operation with the sector of associations which enable the poor to speak out. Working towards a structural solution to the problems of poverty and social exclusion belong to the “core business” of Community development. The Community development sector works, as a priority, with socially deprived groups. In other words, all its activities and long-range planning centre on combating poverty and social exclusion. While the battle against poverty and social exclusion represents the most important aspect in the project work, it is sometimes inappropriate to isolate work with the disadvantaged (the danger of stigmatisation, emphasizing the victims), rather they should be integrated into processes of neighbourhood or rural development. The Flemish government also imposes all sorts of requirements in the framework of the Quality Decree, and the so-called ‘Boordtabellen’ which is increasingly being used to measure and to evaluate the results of Community development. An increasing number of municipalities are setting up their own Community development projects or CD training. The question is that of what the (local) government itself should do and what it should leave to the non-profit sector. A number of political specialists emphasize the need for local authorities themselves to implement fewer tasks, and to concentrate on the role of bringing the relevant partners around the table and making strategic choices. Nevertheless, the role of community development is undoubtedly recognised in the organisation and participation of weak social groups within the community. There is a growing call for a professional and methodical approach to residents’ participation. Community development focuses on the local level within the neighbourhood, local area, city, or region. The local people and their common, shared needs and problems are central. Community development workers encourage people to make their voices heard and to join in the search for possible solutions to the needs and to see the bottlenecks. In short, Community development strengthens self-confidence and participation among social groups. Emancipatory process and autonomy Community workers, in the first place, support people whose basic rights are under pressure or those who can be ground underfoot, such as people living in poverty, deprived parents, singles, deprived non-nationals people without papers, tenants of social housing and people living in furnished rooms. Their voices are too little heard, and as a result their interests go undefended. People have a right to a job, social protection, adequate housing, a healthy living environment;…. In this, community workers help make basic human rights achievable and accessible. Firstly for those groups who have been (or who are in danger of being) left behind. For this reason, community workers place great emphasis on autonomy or a broad degree of policy independence in order to give a clear voice to local people, and, in the first place, to deprived groups and, where necessary, take a critical approach to policy. Community Development always gives a central role to an emancipatory group process from the bottom-up. It can achieve its emancipatory role most effectively if it retains its autonomy vis-à-vis government. Community development workers build bridges between local citizens and policy. The worker gives a voice to local people, acts as a supporter and advocate for local residents’ groups. They do not work FOR but WITH the local people. Community development work strives for solutions of a lasting nature. A solution is to be found for the problem situation initially addressed. Similar problems and needs which might arise in the future must be able to find similar solutions.

In this, other partners are brought in. By using and bringing together their knowledge, insights and experiences in an effective fashion, they co-operate in solving the problem. Community workers can thus be pathfinders in new forms of co-operation between groups, individuals, services, organisations and movements. Local authorities and those at a higher échelon play a major role. Community development workers, together with citizens’ groups, appeal to governmental and public agencies who can take decisions with regard to the problem involved. They are approached and influenced to develop a new policy or to upgrade the existing one. The result must be that the authorities react to a greater extent, more quickly and better to the needs of the people. Via the local authorities, Community development can set the concerns of the target group on the policy agenda and achieve lasting solutions. Via community development workers, the local authorities can, in their turn, gain a greater appreciation of the agendas of the diverse residents’ groups and adapt their policy as a result. In this way, co-operation benefits both the quality and the breadth of policy. The Community development sector has some 300 subsidised development workers and falls within the remit of the Flemish Minister for Welfare, Health and the Family. With regard to administration, it comes under the Welfare and Community branch of the Flemish Ministry of Welfare, Health and the Family the Department of Welfare, Health and the Family. Participation The organisations involved in Community development together, give a voice to residents in order, with them, to better the quality of life in their locality. In this, the political participation of residents in local politics is a relatively small area of the participation in public life. Clearly there is a link between the two. People are more active in politics if they are also involved in, and feel themselves citizens in areas such as their children’s schooling, social life…. The problem lies with those people who feel they have nothing to say and who, quite literally, cannot voice their opinion because they have no right to vote. The researchers Elchardus and Hooghe, in their research into the role of the non-profit sector have demonstrated that certain social groups for example e.g. the long-term unemployed, form no part of the new social movements, nor of the existing social movements. They have no say in civil society. As a result the government should make more money available for residents’ initiatives and for residents’ support groups such as community development and residents’ organisations. The right to take part in discussion and participation are often intertwined. The right to take part in discussion means that local people should be informed and have the opportunity to give their opinion with regard to the (already developed) plans of the authorities. The right to be heard all too often is associated with the traditional forms of participation, such as hearings or meetings for information. Through various territorial (neighbourhood committees) or by category advisory bodies (youth council, senior citizens’ council, welfare council, cultural council, etc.) local authorities can offer residents the opportunity to express their opinion with regard to policy. We see the right to be part of and to take part in government planning as involvement rather than participation. The political researchers Filip De Ryck and Eissse Kalk, in their memorandum on “Burgerbetrokkenheid en bewonersparticipatie” (Citizens’ involvement and residents’ participation) speak of quadruple democracy: 1.Representative democracy by means of which politicians deal with citizens as electors and individual clients of services; 2. Participatory democracy: electors are invited in the course of a hearing, referendum or meeting for information to reflect actively on policy preparation (on the basis of the policy makers’ agenda);

3. Interactive democracy: citizens, from the outset, are involved in policy. The decisionmaking process is organised in such a way that citizens, together, can make policy and plans as part of an interactive process; 4. Direct democracy: the elected policy-makers hand back part of their mandate. A clear example are neighbourhood budgets where the local residents decide which projects to develop in order to upgrade living conditions. It would seem that increasing numbers of citizens are turning their back on public affairs. But has this not more to do with the cutting off of certain forms of political activity. The best way to encourage people to play a more active role in policy is for the government to take as is starting point the initiatives of residents, businessmen and socially active groups in the community. De Ryck and Kalk arrive at a new definition of participation: the time has gone that the aim of participatory policy could still be formulated as “involving citizens in the development of government policy”. That aim should rather be replaced by: the aim of participatory policy is to involve government in the commmunity-based initiatives of their fellow citizens and, where possible, to encourage them and support them. In other words, participation begins with the agenda and the perspective of the citizens. It starts with the problems citizens experience. Participation is based on an equal partnership and shared responsibility. Citizens enter into dialogue with the government with regard to problems, offer suggestions for solutions and become full participants in the implementation or carrying out of the plans. Citizens are recognised as full participants, with their own insights and expertise. In this way, government recognises the right of residents to cooperate in decisions with regard to the structure of their own living and life environment. It will become obvious that community development comes into its own in a interactive and direct kind of policy-making. Indeed, in some municipalities this type of policy-making is already being put into practice. A complete overview of the legislation with regard to Community development work (social development work) can be found on the website "http://www.wvc.vlaanderen/opbouwwerk/index.htm". See, also, the Community development site: "http://www.samenlevingsopbouw.be/"

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