Doing it Differently

- Networks of Community Development Agents

Alana Albee and Graham Boyd, March 1997

A 25 page paper

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[table of contents]
Caledonia has contributed this paper to a set of international resources: A Virtual Collection of HIV/AIDS Capacity Development Tools (2005). The collection is published by the Institute for HIV/AIDS, Family Health International and is available at no charge by e-mailing: .


This document is written for practitioners and professionals interested in the processes and methods of establishing and stimulating networks of Community Agents. Such networks are a potential mechanism for strengthening the participation of local people. However, their development within Scotland is relatively new. Like community, the terms network and agents are in danger of losing their meaning through becoming phrases used to cover any loose association of people. The value of defining and drawing the parameters of Community Agents and their networks is to give legitimacy in terms of their value in enhancing local involvement. These mechanisms need to be understood by people involved in the practice, training and funding of community development.

The starting point is the appreciation of people's participation, and the realisation that this rarely happens spontaneously. It is not brought about through theoretical and mechanical arguments about its usefulness. What it does involve is social preparation. This is a process of supporting people to:
bulletgather information about their circumstances and resources,
bulletanalyse their situation,
bulletprioritise actions they wish to pursue,
bulletjoin together into a group or organisation, and
bulletwork-out the means to implement these actions.

Social preparation necessitates a systematic pattern of action-reflection-action which is the fundamental core practice of participatory development.

"Actually doing this social organisational work is more difficult by far than waxing romantically or sloganeering rhetorically about the blessings of people's participation". (Cernea, 1992)

How does it all get started? This paper provides a discussion of the various ways of observing known 'good practices'. Information is replica watches provided about why and how to support the development of local Agents, both before they start to network and during the early phases of growing into a free-standing organisation. Within any part of the process many location and issue-specific concerns will emerge. This is what makes each network and people's process both particular and unique. There is no single answer or model to promoting participation through networks, there are only frameworks and guiding principles.

The document begins by reviewing the general issues involved in networks and capacity building of local activists. It then looks in detail at organisational issues, training, contracting and self-management.

Finally, although this document portrays the process of establishing community networks as linear, in reality it is not. The reader should use it as a general framework and not a step-by-step guide.


bulletNetworks as Development Mechanisms
bulletCommunity Agents within the Spectrum of Community Work
bulletAlternative Networking Strategies
bulletGood Practice in Developing and Managing Community Networks
bulletQualities and Characteristics
bulletTraining and Learning Opportunities
bulletIssues in Developing a Network's Autonomy
bulletWeaning Measures by the Support Organisation
bulletWeaning Measures by the Network Members
bulletManagement Tools
bulleta. Legal Frameworks
bulletb. Terms of Reference
bulletc. Work Plans
bulletd. Guiding Code of Good Practice
bullete. Social Auditing - an innovative approach to monitoring

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