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Community Agents

[See also - Guidelines for a Poverty Focused Community Assistance Service]

In this article we look at the emerging role of community development agents in the rural areas of Scotland where they may function as some mix of:

bulletCommunity Agent
bulletCommunity Animator
bulletCommunity Facilitator

In January 1995 the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that there was to be a wide ranging and participatory review of the Government’s rural policies and the mechanisms for delivering them.

Rural Forum is an alliance of 23 non governmental organisations with a broad concern for rural Scotland. It accepted the challenge by undertaking a consultation process which amongst other things considered the problem of community involvement. During discussions it was noted that:

A strong case was put forward for the appointment of local ‘animators’ in rural communities who would have their finger on the pulse of things and understand the needs of rural communities. They would be able to assess opportunities from an integrated perspective. It was felt that (local government) councillors could not fulfil this role as a rural specialist (in terms of knowing the systems and networks) was needed to act as a go-between amongst the various groups and bodies involved.

Rural Forum Scotland (November 1995) Rural Scotland – the White Paper Consultation

In 1997 the Secretary of State noted that the rural areas accounted for 90% of the land area and 30% of the population of Scotland and that rural development was thus one of his top priorities. In the discussion paper of October 1997 there is a section on ‘challenges’ one of which is the ability to revitalise democratic procedures.

One approach which merits attention is the use of community development agents, or ‘animateurs’ to help local, rural communities draw up their own development strategies. The aim would be to promote a cycle of regeneration led by local communities, who with the assistance as necessary from ‘animateurs’ would prepare an agreed vision for the future of their community, develop a strategy and a programme of action, before forming community partnerships to make things happen through accessing capital and revenue funding. The purpose would be to promote the well-being of rural communities by giving local people confidence, resources, skills and support to prepare and implement their own community strategic plans.

The Scottish Office (October 1997) Towards a Strategy for Rural Development – a discussion paper.

By 1999 the Scottish Office was able to publish material about new ideas in rural development which were based on field research on best practice. One such report (quoting Ruth Anderson of Rural Forum) recognised three community development roles.

Community Development Roles: Three Definitions

Watkins Lynn (1999) Community Development Agents in Rural Scotland; New Ideas in Rural Development No.7; The Scottish Office Central Research Branch; ISBN 0 7480 7843 6.

Available from The Stationery Office Bookshop, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ, UK Price 2.50

The definitions for the three terms for a community development agent reflect the primary functions they perform. Although it is useful to define these different roles, in practice, many of the activities described under the different headings will overlap.

Community Agent

One entrusted with the business of another

 

bulleta person who is employed (or contracted) to carry out a specific part of the aims, agenda and business of her employing organisation
bulletthe employing organisation may be a local community or an organisation such as a local partnership, enterprise company or local authority
bulletthe agenda which the agent will work with will vary according to the nature of the employer
bulletthe community agent will need a clearly defined description of the decision making powers given to her by the employer
bulletthe community agent will need to have good organisation knowledge, administration skills and an ability to work within a set agenda
bulletthe community agent will need a good knowledge of the organisation scene outwith the remit of her own employer so as to act as a signpost where appropriate, to other sources of support

 

Community Animator

One who inspires, gives life to, envigorates

 

bulletan animator may be employed (or contracted) by an organisation or by a local community to stimulate debate, discussion and action on issues or relevance to the community
bulletthe animator needs to be seen as non-partisan in this respect, with a broad remit to raise awareness, stimulate thought and involve the local community in identifying issues of importance to them
bulletthe animator will have leadership qualities in this context, in that she will act as a motivating element within communities, encouraging broad local involvement and participation
bulletshe will need to have excellent skills with people, an ability to listen and to speak, to draw out local issues, to co-ordinate group sessions and events
bulletshe will need a good, broad knowledge of community development and of the organisational map in order to advise and inform communities and agencies of activities elsewhere and to fit the unstructured aspirations of communities into an appropriate context, and promote partnership approaches
bulletthe animator will support community initiatives in obtaining appropriate support for the development of their ideas

 

Community Facilitator

One who expedites, makes easy

 

bulleta community facilitator will assist the community in the achievement of its aims, bringing skills and knowledge to whatever process the community is involved in to support the achievement of specific aims
bulleta facilitator will act as a support person who enables the community to meet its aims
bulleta facilitator will identify training needs in the context of the community’s aims and support the appropriate individuals to gain those skills
bulletfacilitators will have management and people skills which may be applied to specific projects or to community involvement techniques such as community conferences
bulletfacilitation will usually be the follow on stage to animation

 

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