Community development

The key to this intervention At the heart of community development is a commitment to equality. Sustainable networks of social, physical and emotional support provide the foundations upon which HIV prevention interventions for African people in England are built.

What is the activity?

The term community is often used to describe those who share a range of characteristics such as race, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, age or geographical location. Community development describes a process of supporting active and sustainable networks based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about enabling people to directly influence the things that affect their lives. The KWP approach asserts that interventions that work to improve networks of social support among communities will help to reduce power inequalities, which in turn reduces the likelihood of HIV exposure and transmission.

HIV prevention interventions do not occur in a vacuum, and it is vital to connect programme aims and objectives with local realities. The local knowledge possessed by African community groups is a key tool in shaping the context of local HIV prevention interventions. Helping to ensure that those who are the targets of future HIV prevention activities are part of their development and evaluation will improve their feasibility and acceptability.

Community development interventions are frequently delivered alongside:

Providing resources for the development of community groups

Five key elements of successful community development (from Rifkin et al. 1988) are:

  • recognition and assessment of need in the population group,
  • leadership,
  • organisational infrastructure,
  • resource mobilisation, and
  • management.

New and developing community groups will often require support in one or more of these five core areas. Such support should aim to include: fostering the skills, interests and desires among individuals within community groups that help them to thrive (this is sometimes called social capital); sustaining social networks within which African people in England can flourish; and establishing a norm of collaborative, partnership working within a sector that is often fraught with competition for scant resources.

As such, resource provision may include financial support, and is also likely to include the use of meeting space, sharing of office equipment and infrastructure (such as photocopiers, telephones or internet access), or the sharing of human resources and expertise. In this way, provision of advice on a broad array of activities (such as project management, drawing up budgets or establishing charitable status) helps to increase the stock of social capital within community networks and organisations.

Community groups with few resources are more likely to actively seek external support than those with greater capacity. This can lead to adverse selection of community groups because it is not necessarily the community groups that have the most impact or reach that seek or receive support. In the main, selection happens coincidentally, or can be based on historical or personal relationships between individuals. To avoid such trends, it is worth considering the following competencies before making a decision about resource provision for a group:

  • Clear articulation of aims informed by demonstrable local need.
  • Proven leadership or leadership potential.
  • Willingness to engage with HIV prevention aims and interventions.
  • Capacity and willingness to work with other organisations to develop interventions and programmes.
  • Capacity to respond to changing needs and policy environments.

Promoting community voices

Intervention planning that takes a top-down, unilateral approach is generally controlled by those with the relevant resources. Recent increases in training provision and skills development for those involved in planning may contribute to an increase in professionalism and technical proficiency, but does little to increase interaction between funders, providers and beneficiaries. For example, health promoters may develop HIV prevention interventions using the latest technology or psychological models, but may be surprised if their interventions are unfamiliar or impracticable to those in the target population (say because of literacy levels or cultural considerations).

Feasibility and acceptability are therefore best ensured when members of groups intended to benefit from interventions are involved in the process, from development to implementation. This holds not only for interventions for African people, but also for structural interventions including policy development.

Enabling and supporting community members to voice their opinions with decision-makers at local, regional and national levels helps to build confidence among individuals, decreases social marginalisation and exclusion, and helps to make services and policies more relevant to needs. Direct input ensures that lessons can be taken from people’s experiences of previous successes and failures, as well as increasing community ownership of interventions.

Interventions to ensure direct service-user input can help individuals gain technical and interpersonal skills that will help to increase personal control in other areas of life. Thus, for some people the skills acquisition and experience processes can result in voluntary and paid involvement in the HIV prevention sector. Community development therefore also contributes to sustaining a vital, skilled and personally engaged workforce.

In this way, community members are empowered to become the subjects rather than the objects of HIV interventions. The following considerations have been suggested (Rifkin & Pridmore 2001) as useful for those aiming to promote community input into intervention planning and delivery:

  • Facilitating a range of stakeholders’ input requires mutual trust, which can be enabled through the use of fair, step-by-step participatory approaches accompanied by some flexibility.
  • A careful balance between generating robust content, and establishing an inclusive process.
  • Demonstrating appreciation and encouragement to those who participate helps to develop a sense of belonging, which in turn helps to sustain communal activity.


Community participation reinforces the community values discussed in the KWP approach. Outcomes resulting from community development interventions can include:

  • Stronger organisational links with sustainable grass-roots community groups
  • Identification and strengthening of informal support networks among African people, and evidence of community members’ input into decision-making processes.
  • Increased desire among African people to contribute to the health and well being of the community (see associated needs here and here).
  • Improved ability to raise funds necessary to sustain existing and future interventions among organisations and community groups (see associated needs).
  • Increased organisational understanding of interventions and services offered by others (see section on partnership working).

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring involvement in community development interventions, by keeping an up-to-date record of current and past activity, enables agencies to monitor their level of capacity to engage in similar activities in the future. Participant observation and process evaluation of community development interventions will help to ensure that outcomes are understood.

Page last updated: 22 July 2013

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