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What Is Integrated Community Development?

Jan Fletcher
Jan Fletcher

Integrated community development is a process of increasing a community’s collective capacity to raise its standard of living. Community developers seek to teach typically poor communities in developing nations how to increase productivity and improve living standards. The focus is usually on development that is self-perpetuating and independent of outside assistance. Management techniques developed in post-industrial Japan are sometimes applied in integrated community development.

Typically, in an integrated community development effort, people with expert training and experience in this type of work will travel to an economically distressed community. They will then work with members of the community, teaching entrepreneurial skills. Aid workers may also identify viable means of sustainable economic activity for the community.

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Agricultural science is usually a critical component to integrated community development, as these are often agrarian cultures. Sometimes a basic, scientific understanding of agricultural practices, hydrology, and soil conservation is transmitted to community leaders. As these populations often lack access to fresh potable water and medical care, villagers may also be instructed in how to develop and provide clean water and basic medical services for the community.

Microenterprise techniques may be demonstrated to community members as well. Aid workers often use simple financial illustrations and examples that people in the community will readily understand. In this way, aid workers seek to educate community members on how to establish and run a micro-lending program. This may occur through a recognized community leader who has been previously instructed by aid workers.

For example, if the residents live on an impoverished island where coconuts are plentiful, community development workers may research, develop, and teach community members about ways to make an exportable product from that abundant natural resource. Negotiating skills will likely be taught within the mores and customs of the people receiving aid. Often there will also be a need to teach collaborative skills, and encourage the development of indigenous leadership.

Conflict resolution is another skill often taught to residents during the integrated community development process. Since these communities may not be able to depend on consistent outside help during difficult times, leaders may instruct residents in how to resolve conflicts and build consensus within the community. Social institutions may be strengthened through team-building exercises and other techniques to teach cooperative problem-solving skills.

Integrated community development is usually expected to continue after outside aid workers depart. To increase the odds of success, sometimes aid workers introduce modern management philosophies to an indigenous population. These philosophies are sometimes referred to as Kaisan, a business management system that arose in post-World War II Japan for the purpose of increasing manufacturing productivity. Indigenous community members are expected to take an active role in the development process. Sometimes, however, tribal customs and long-standing traditions may hinder collegial relationships.

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