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 MSM are built and delivered.

What is the activity?

The term community is often used to describe groups of people those who share a range of characteristics such as sexual identity, race or ethnicity, culture, age or geographical location. Community development describes a process of developing and supporting active and sustainable networks based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about enabling and empowering people to directly influence the things that affect their lives. Making it Count has 14 over-arching community development aims that constituted the strategic priorities of the CHAPS partnership in 2011-12.

A document produced by the last Labour government, Communities in control: real people, real power (2008) contains a number of initiatives and ideas to help boost community development with the aim of increasing participatory democracy and direct advocacy. The current coalition government’s proposed increase in community engagement through the notion of ‘Big Society’ has still not been fully articulated, but this can be regarded as an opportunity for voluntary sector agencies to devise their own vision of the Big Society.

The Making it Count 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 gay 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 engaged in their development and evaluation will improve their feasibility and acceptability.

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. Support should aim to include: fostering the skills, interests and desires among individuals within community groups that help them to thrive; sustaining social networks within which gay men in England can flourish; and establishing a norm of collaboration and partnership working within the HIV prevention sector, which is increasingly fraught with aggressive competition for increasingly scant resources.

When community development focusses on organisations it shares many characteristics with organisational development. Here community development can include financial support to new (or struggling) organisaitons, or the offer of free 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 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 offering support and other resources to 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. Workforce development interventions (such as training, conferences or seminars) can contribute to an increase in technical proficiency, but do 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 to or impracticable for 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 engaged in the process of their development and implementation. This holds not only for interventions for gay men and other MSM, but also for structural interventions.

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 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 engagement 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 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 just the targets 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.

Aims and outcomes

Community participation reinforces the community values discussed in the the Making it Count approach. Aims for, and outcomes from community development interventions, can include:

  1. Stronger organisational links between organisations and community members and more robust partnership working (see Community aim 14, for example).
  2. Gay businesses exist and increase activities which reduce HIV prevention need among gay men and other MSM (see Community aims 5-8, for example).
  3. Mainstream businesses increase activities which reduce HIV prevention need among gay men and other MSM (see Community aims 9-10, for example).
  4. Identification and strengthening of informal support networks among gay men, and evidence of community members’ input into local decision-making processes (see Community aim 2; Community aim 11 and Organisational aim 1, for example).
  5. Increased understanding of our values and the ways we feel gay men can contribute to the health and well being of their own communities (see Community aim 11 and Organisational aim 1, for example)..

Monitoring and evaluation

In terms of outcomes and impact, very little priority is given to evaluation of community development interventions.

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 more widely understood.

Page last updated: 5 July 2013

Case study

Peer mentoring programme

The Metro Centre runs the Metrosafe mentoring programme, to assist men in taking control of their sex lives and their health. Referrals come through Health Trainers or clinics. Men are initially assessed using a behaviour, attitude, skills and knowledge scale called the BASK Inventory. Men work through structured modules with trained volunteer mentors, looking at how sexual behaviour might be affected by issues such as self-esteem, drugs and alcohol. Participants complete the BASK Inventory again during and at the end of the programme to measure changes. Key to the programme’s success is its mixture of structure and informality. Mentors share their own experiences, helping to empower men and engender ownership of their sexual health and well-being.

Case study

Count Me In

GMFAs Count Me In campaign asks gay men to commit to a five point action plan to reduce HIV. Video clips posted on Youtube and Facebook show men’s accounts of why preventing HIV infection is important them, and the challenges and solutions they face. Men are invited to post their own videos and to comment on current videos. At the heart of the intervention is an understanding that preventing HIV comes from within communities of gay men. Men are invited to sign-up to publically support the action plan and to ask their friends to do the same.

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Case study

Residential weekend for men in rural areas

A group weekend for MSM in the South West of England was run by Healthy Gay Cornwall and The Eddystone Trust. Men were supported to discuss personal and social strategies for remaining HIV negative. Through exploring emotional and physical well-being, men were encouraged to explore new strategies and discuss them with each other. HIV was discussed in the context of a holistic approach to sex, risk, proximity to HIV, and strategies for maintaining emotional and physical well-being. The group has continued to meet informally, leading to new friendships. One-to-one, follow-up therapeutic sessions were offered, and some men continue to volunteer and participate in local community activities.

Case study

Black Gay Men’s Group

Facilitated and supported by a community development worker from Yorkshire MESMAC, a Black Gay Men’s Group was set up in February 2011. It was established following a survey of black MSM in the Yorkshire region, which indicated they were looking for a safe space to meet other black MSM and to receive and build peer support. Initially some men were concerned about being ‘outed’ by joining the meetings but a core group of men were instrumental in recruiting peers and friends. The group addresses the needs men bring, rather than a set programme. This includes support with coming out; learning about gay culture and history; dealing with homophobia and discrimination; sexual health and developing relationships and friendships.