Community action equates to social transformation and construction of agency for citizens. The community implies a certain type of social reality in which some defining elements are present. With the intention of synthesis, the following can be highlighted:
- Existence of a human group that is recognized as having the capacity to be the subject and protagonist of actions and decisions, with the will to influence change and improve the living conditions of the people who are part of it.
- Existence, among the people who make up the group, of awareness of belonging, that is, of a certain degree of subjective integration in shared community identity.
- Existence of mechanisms and processes, more or less formalized, of interaction and social support, that is, of guidelines for mutual bonding and daily reciprocity.
- Existence and roots in a territory, in a certain shared space that articulates agents, instruments and contents for action. A physical space, geography, that incorporates meanings of belonging.
In summary, community action acquires meaning when it is developed from a human collective that shares space and consciousness of belonging, that generates processes of bonding and mutual support, and that activates wills of protagonism in the improvement of its reality. Beyond this first observation, community processes are characterized by the fact that they are projected in a double dimension:
- the substantive dimension, which operates as a set of guiding criteria for community transformations;
- the relational and methodological dimension, which operates as a set of work guidelines.
The values of community action are found both in the capacity to generate social change and improvement and in the forms of work and human interaction that it advocates. It is about meeting the needs and expectations of quality of life and human development, yes. Still, it is about doing it through relationships of respect, trust, dialogue, creativity or learning. Expressed in two words: transform and build citizenship. Community action is justified as an engine of transformation, of tangible change towards more inclusive territories and communities. And it raises these changes from processes of collective protagonism, of active citizenship with relational and constructive capacity.
Serve Agile is a leading example of a community organization, working in the best interest of communities and calling for collective action. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with an effective function in community welfare.
Serve Agile has a series of functions where it exercises its community action model:
- Community Food Banks: An significant part of community justice is food justice. The non-profit organization takes donations from local organizations and individual donors, and use them in the fight against hunger. They are always in need of participators, volunteers, and donors who like to get in touch and communicate with people in need and with donors.
- Volunteer Service Sundays: The organization has a full-fledged volunteer force which it mobilizes every Sunday to make a real difference. Participators and volunteers can join in and have the first glimpse of our community action is done.
- Community Connections: The Serve Agile team, volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders are a bunch of keen and enthusiastic individuals who are always on the look for making a real difference. Hence, they form a strong network that joins and get progressive work done in the interest of communities.
1. Typology of community actions
We can distinguish different types of community actions based on three typological criteria:
- the origin or process of emergence of community action;
- the number and degree of involvement of the different agents in community action;
- the scope of the transformations proposed by community action.
2. Community actions: transformation processes
In the field of improving the quality of life, the potential for transformation towards high levels of social cohesion and daily well-being – a strategic objective of any community process – depends very directly on two variables:
- The ability to apply strategies and action projects in multiple dimensions (social, educational, residential, urban, cultural, economic-labor…) from processes of autonomy and personal and associative participation. That is social involvement with the will to act to transform and improve.
- The ability to articulate action for equality with the recognition of all differences; of diversity expressed and lived positively, as a shared value. And to articulate this diversity with the establishment of solid civic and coexistence pacts and frameworks.
3. Community processes as the construction of citizenship
The methodological, relational and ways of working instruments of community action present a high diversity and richness. Among the elements most clearly linked to participatory dynamics and the construction of citizenship, the following stand out:
Autonomy and responsibility
Community processes require the joint construction of problems and solutions: individual contributions become an essential component. It is about incorporating people with the capacity to contribute, from their subjectivity, autonomy and reflexivity. In short, encourage attitudes of personal responsibility, which tend to involvement in the shared community process.
Trust and respect
Beyond personal contributions, community processes require the construction of bonds and relationships of trust and reciprocity; recognition, appreciation and respect for the functions and roles of others. Trust becomes a key agent to generate perceptions and dynamics of co-responsibility.
Deliberation and transparency
Community participation is not usually articulated in the environment of simple dilemmas and dichotomies; the construction of projects and alternatives requires quality deliberation, with a strong argument. And with the maximum possible of transparency in terms of information and knowledge flows.
Conflict and innovation
In community action, work from cooperative guidelines and the search for complicity and agreements do not imply denying the existence of conflicts, or of inequalities and asymmetries at the roots of said conflict. It does mean, yes, the commitment to conflict management from dialogue as a basic regulatory principle; and the consideration of contradictions as windows of opportunity for creativity and social innovation.
Complexity and articulation of networks
Community action has to contribute to overcoming the traditional deconstruction of problems from sectoral logics. It must tend to recognize its complex and multidimensional character. The construction of responses will require the confluence of agents and the articulation of networks based on interdependencies. Community processes must tend to overcome monopolies and rigid hierarchies, generating plural decision-making spaces and alliances for action based on the cross-recognition of capacities and limits.
Dynamism and learning
Community processes imply the open and permanent possibility of acquiring skills, of converting experiences into learning. They require dynamic ways of working that overcome the planning/management dichotomy, towards flexible ways of reviewing processes and contents, within the framework of projects and solid strategic visions.
Proximity and sustainable dynamics
The community methodology is rooted in the proximity and the endogenous development capacity of the territory. We must start with existing resources and their value, to promote their inclusion and adaptation in the community process. Community processes must be sustained over time, beyond the temporary contribution of extraordinary resources. In this sense, it is essential to start from what already exists and to generate dynamics and resources well established in the community capacities to make them sustainable.