The Community Development Model

Action for Healthy Communities uses a community development model, a dynamic involving people applying different methods (See Diagram 1). Led by the AHC vision and mission, staff and volunteers engage  with individuals and groups to continue reflection and learning to eventually sustain actions that create  community health and well-being (see Diagram 2). This process allows people to connect across cultures and ability levels to collectively identify community issues, create strategies, and apply effective solutions to those issues.

Using this model, AHC makes it possible for the following to happen:

Individuals from different backgrounds break their isolation and connect with services and people. Within the process, people not only learn to acknowledge issues, but their talents and values as well, usually leading to changes in behaviours to build healthy relationships with others. By learning to tolerate, accept, and love themselves, people are more likely to tolerate, accept and love others. By learning to work on their own issues, people are prepared to think collectively to work with and for others.

Program participants relate to AHC as partners rather than as beneficiaries. People increase awareness about their role as citizens or residents of a community. They accept that they not only have a say, but also a responsibility to address community issues. Moreover, they realize that solutions can start by using assets and talents available in their communities and that by starting, they can more likely get attention and support from external resources.

Small groups (minimum three unrelated individuals) increases individual and small group’s capacity, using their current wisdom, talents, and resources, and by doing so, they build collective capacity to create the community environment they need and want. By sharing skills, knowledge, talents, beliefs, and cultures, as well as acquiring new ones from external sources, community members are empowered to create a community development continuum where all members can grow and develop.

AHC uses a community development model that implies an Ecological Participatory Action Research (EPAR) approach. The EPAR approach is collaborative in nature, community-based, and grounded in community contexts. It is used to promote development and research. EPAR helps to combine the personal motivation and perspectives of staff with organizational values and strategies that help use and create appropriate knowledge, techniques, and methods to work collaboratively with people in the process of enhancing community life in their environments. EPAR is both a tool and a product; it is used to implement a specific development/research project while it takes specific characteristics from the context where it is used.

In AHC, EPAR means:

Ecology is the “engine” of the community development process, which makes the process start and move. Ecology relates to all environments in which people live, their positive and negative impacts, not only on people but also on programs development and sustainability. It enhances the abilities to reach ecologically sound decisions, helping to find strategies to create and sustain healthy and balanced relationships between program participants and their environments.

Participation is the “gas” that moves the process. Program participants take ownership of the process and find opportunities for increasing capacities and collective action. People with different and often opposing worldviews come to work together, dealing with complexity and individualism and acting with creativity. Participation is critical in the decision making process.

Action is the “gear” that leads the process. A variety of activities lead the process to expected and unexpected outcomes. Action involves negotiation, linkage, and mediation among parties among people, facilitating interchange of knowledge, experience, and resources, while emphasizing the need to understand interactions within specific socio-cultural contexts.

It is the “odometer” of the process, registering findings, issues, solutions, and trends as well as new knowledge created/developed/generated and relation between people-to-people and people and their environments modified or changed. It is a community-based research whose results bring elements for sustainability because it’s not only about documenting actions developed, but also about documenting human relationships modified or changed: relationships among humans or between humans and their environments. EPAR functions holistically and applies an Action for Healthy Community model that uses formal, informal and experiential learning techniques and theory to increase community capacities for people, and to create healthy individuals and families in healthy environments.