The relationship between community engagement and community development

The relationship between community engagement and community development

Community engagement is at the heart of community development.

In her useful discussion of community development, Jessica Smart (2017) discusses the difference between community-based work “which involves the community”, and community development, “which is led by the community” (para. 5, emphasis added).  She suggests that community-based work is characterised by:

  • Decision-making power rests with the agency
  • The problem or issue is defined by the agency
  • There are defined timelines
  • Outcomes are pre-specified, often changes in specific behaviours or knowledge levels (Jessica Smart, 2017).

Community development is characterised:

  • Power relations between agency and community members are constantly negotiated
  • The problem or issue is first named by the community, then defined in a way that advances the shared interests of the community and the agency
  • Work is longer term in duration
  • The desired outcome is an increase in the community members’ capacities
  • The desired long-term outcomes usually include change at the neighbourhood or community level (Jessica Smart, 2017).

As can be seen, one of the differences is that the community is much more engaged in community development. In strengths-based approaches to community development (such as asset-based community development) community engagement is particularly important because of their emphasis on being community led or, as Kretzmann and McKnight (1993) describe it, ‘building communities from the inside out’.

Community development, however, involves much more than simply engaging the community. Likewise, community engagement is not simply about community development. As well as its role in community development, community engagement plays an important role in planning and decision-making, and in service delivery.

Even though community engagement is at the heart of community development, it is still important to recognise that they are separate and involve different skills.

It can help to think of the relationship between community engagement and community development as a Venn diagram (above). There is much overlap but they are not the same.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. An introduction to community engagement
  2. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  3. Bottom-up community development
  4. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  5. What is the Spectrum of Public Participation?
  6. A story of two communities

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Evanston, Ill.: Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University.

Smart, J. (2017). What is community development? Child Family Community Australia Resource Sheet (January).

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Working with communities and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The relationship between community engagement and community development

  1. Anonymous says:

    thank you for your perspective

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Relation ship between community mobilization and community engagement


  3. Iza says:

    This is a nice article about community development. On point!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Miriam Mahnic says:

    Excellent perspectives – and terrific dialogue points! Thank-you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

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