Community Development Practice Methods

Relevancy to Community Development

Edwin Hamilton (1992) talks about how there is a process to a person engaging in social action activities. First, any person, whether they acknowledge it or not, has an ideological standpoint from where they perceive the world and act. This ideology is the basis for an individual to feel as if society should change or not. This view that society should change, if strong enough, leads to the individual believing in the need for social action. One form of social action can be adult education or more commonly popular education. It is easy to see how this could drastically change the face of community who had a dedicated group of people working towards the same goal.

It is important to realize that community development does not always take place because an individual, group, or organization wants it to. Often times it is a by-product of other initiatives in the community such as adult education. Guo (2006) describes an adult learning initiative in Canada for immigrants that had a positive community development effect. Hamilton’s process of social change was portrayed in this example. There was a perceived failure of the Canadian government to provide social services and education opportunities for Chinese immigrants. Because of this group of dedicated people, over the years an adult education centre for Chinese immigrants was created. After 25 years of service the organization has a multitude of adult education programs ranging from direct work related training to advocacy skills building classes.

Community Development and adult education do not necessarily have a connection all the time. One form of adult education that is often tied to community development is collective adult learning. The following information is from Aprill & Townsell (2007).

As was previously described, one of the basic premises of adult education is how adults have a plethora of knowledge and experience upon which to draw information for the future. When planning a community development project, people of the community are often pushed away and not given the opportunity to share their own knowledge. Many times they are subject to the decisions of experts. This article emphasizes how there needs to be more of a focus on the collective learning of a community during the process of economic development or other such events. This collective adult learning perspective is based on the idea that adults can do more than push their own agenda during community development and have the capacity to cooperate and engage in meaningful dialogue and critical reflection.

This article explains how learners need to reveal their personalities and individuality to themselves and also to the other learners. A case study is explained using art as a mode for this personal disclosure due to its innate attribute of self-expression. Art was used as a medium to reveal individual talents to the individual and the other learners because although adults have knowledge and experience it is not always formed in a way that can be described to others.

An International Perspective

Akande (2008) talks about how each of the millennium development goal can be addresses through community adult education. Many people agree that the way to achieve the millennium development goals is indeed through education, however, this has mostly been thought of as formal education. All forms of education need to be recognized. As well local communities need to take the MDG's and "make them their own". This initiative will be more successful if it is community driven and owned. Adult education can help with this because it emphasizes self growth and reflection, community participation, and self-reliance.

As can be seen in these examples, community development and adult education can fit nicely together. Although community development is sometimes an unintentional result of adult education, when intentionality is used by a practitioner there can be beneficial results for the community engaged in adult education.

The Implications

The implications of adult learning for community development practitioners are endless. As demonstrated, adult learning can take place within in any strata of society, thus change can take place anywhere, within any form.  In the context of working with communities both Knowles and Freire's methodologies can be used to combat complex community issues. 

Adult education, as defined by Knowles, is driven by the immediacy of individual need and skill development. In the context of community development, adult education can take on the role of  providing the tools needed for improving one’s quality of life and or for personal development. Through identifying the needs/desires of the individual, concrete skills are offered to help sustain not only the individual but strengthen the skill set of the community. 

The obvious implications for participants of adult learning is education and training. Adult education is a life long process that takes its participants on journey of self discovery. Through participatory experiences, learners engage in self-reflection, critical thinking, cooperative learning and innovative ways of creating and learning. Often overlooked are the added benefits such as community cohesion and open dialogue, the potential for social, political and economic change and an improved quality of life. 

Adults, being recognized as life-long learners, once possessing a skill will not only apply this skill within the community but share their new knowledge with others. In tight communities knowledge is shared openly and as such the gains of news skills by one individual in many ways contributes to the capacity of the community as a whole.

The following link is to a 2001 report : A Report on Adult Education and Training in Canada. The report looks at the  demand and supply, trends and end results of adult education within Canada. It provides insight into the growing needs and want for adult education within this country. 


With Freire’s focus on social justice, popular education many times serves as the guiding foundation for a community to work toward their identified issue of injustice, be it lobbying for better sanitation or female literacy. Participants of popular eduction acquire the skills needed to critically analyze systems of power and participate in the facilitation of meaningful change. Due to the self-directing nature of popular education participants themselves become the change agents they need to create sustainable, meaningful transformation.  Changes that take place within the guidelines of popular education are aimed primarily at being politically transformative. Acknowledging that the personal is political, popular education, targets oppressive structures and institutions. Results within this methodology can vary from creating a community centre to forcing the government to hold a referendum. 

The following short video is of the African Community Centre (ACC) in Swansea . Here, the local people came together to create a community centre to empower the entire local community.  Using media, having bike riding programs, a community garden and other community events, they promote and educate people on affordable, sustainable ways of living. They also have specific programs aimed at women, young, recognizing the gaps in services for these populations.
Drawing on the strengths of the community and focused on capacity building to bring people out of poverty, this community run centre is an excellent example of popular education in practice. They are not only seeking social justice for themselves but strengthen and created sustainable community.


The key to a healthy community is participation, cooperation and adaptability.  Both models instil these qualities into communities through active participation and knowledge sharing. As a consequence, natural incentives for participation are built into both models as they are participant directed. In other words; the community both identifies the gaps and needs required, and then proceeds to facilitate the process by which change is implemented. 

Adult education and popular education both build upon and strengthen the skills that exist within the community. Through unitizing and creating collective and individual knowledge the community becomes a place where each member is valued and seen as indispensable. This in turn creates confidence, support systems, alliances, trust and stability within the community. Stronger, healthy communities make for stronger, healthier societies. The success and failure of these "education" models within CD lies primarily within the participates, as they themselves are the facilitators. 


Lastly, adult education and popular education are both bottom-up approaches to community development. Based on grassroots principles of focusing on local participation and direction. The following film shows how communities have the capacity to help themselves once they begin to share knowledge and build upon their skills. This is an excellent example of informal adult education at work within communities.