Community Engagement: A Critical Guide for Practitioners

 

commengagement

Ta to sustaining community

 

As ever we are more than pleased to draw your attention to this excellent resource, courtesy of CONCEPT, produced by those stalwarts of critical practice, Mae Shaw and Jim Crowther. Speaking personally it highlights the common ground occupied by youth workers, community workers and community educators; underlines our shared values, skills and knowledge base; and crucially faces up to the contradictions of our interventions into the lives of young people and the community. To whet your appetite, find below the introduction.

Community Engagement: A Critical Guide for Practitioners

Introduction

The motivation for this critical guide to community engagement
comes primarily from our experience over many years as teachers on
undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of community education.
These programmes have historically been validated both by the
university and the appropriate professional body, so they are firmly
located at the interface between academic and vocational standards;
between theory and practice. We have found that these di!erent,
sometimes contradictory, demands create a productive dynamic which
has been at the core of our teaching, our writing and our relationships
with the broader field of practice. We consider that an engagement with
significant theoretical frameworks, an awareness of important historical
traditions and an empathetic identification with the social reality of
marginalized groups are all necessary in order to practise critical
community engagement.

One way in which we sometimes characterise this dynamic relationship
is through the notion of ‘theorising practice’. Except in the most
instrumental of cases, practitioners don’t put theory into practice in
any straightforward way. They put themselves into practice! This
suggests a need to think critically and carefully about what role
community engagement fulfils in particular times and places.

It also means that practitioners need to develop the confidence,
skills and knowledge to apply that understanding in practice.
The role of practitioners in seeking to make creative and critical
connections – between personal experience and political structures;
macro-level decisions and micro-level consequences; the potential
for personal agency within constraints of power – should be a core
feature of professional practice as well as of academic study.
The following chapters have been designed to work as one-o!,
freestanding sessions, or as a relatively coherent educational
programme. It goes without saying that they should be modified to
suit particular situations as required. They are intended to open up
discussion rather than to stifle or close it down. In some cases further
efforts will be required by practitioners to make them accessible and
relevant to specific circumstances or groups. Above all, they are
intended to develop clarity about, and consistency between,
educational values, purposes and roles.

Finally, at the heart of this project is the idea of the practitioner as
an active educational agent, rather than simply as an agent of policy.
This position necessarily creates tensions and dilemmas that need to
be confronted, and some of these are presented here. In particular, it
requires practitioners to engage strategically and creatively with the
politics of policy, whilst also attempting to enlarge the democratic
spaces available to communities. We hope this critical guide will
enable people to do this more systematically and more collectively.

Mae Shaw, University of Edinburgh
Jim Crowther, University of Edinburgh
(jim.crowther@ed.ac.uk)
May 2017