Stages of Community Development

This webpage introduces the concept of 'Stages of Community Formation'. Since community building is an essential component of community development (CD) workshops, it is necessary for CD practitioners to have an understanding of the stages of community formation, in order to be able to facilitate these stages during workshops. The different models of community formation that we have described below provide a framework for CD practitioners to work with different types of communities. Most of the Participatory Learning Activities (PLA) that aid in community building have a focus on learning; this website aims to focus on the different stages of community formation, for example, how participants in different stages are likely to behave and what effect it has on the effectiveness of the community and its goals. The models that are detailed on this webpage focus on the components of community that are often the subtle, elusive secondary result of all CD workshops.


Sustainable community development thinks of community in terms of assets or capital. The notion of Community Capital has been developed as a foundation for sustainable community development and it includes natural, physical, economic, human, social and cultural forms of capital (Roseland, 2006). To strengthen community capital for sustainable community development, one needs to focus on these six forms of capital.


Figure 1: Illustrates the six components of Community Capital taken from (Roseland, 2006, p.210)

When using social capital methods, researchers often employ objective quantifiable indicators to reveal the presence or absence of community spirit. Surveys play an important role in quantifying these indicators. Everingham (2003) argue that these overlook the question of subjectivity ‘the complex processes of identification that draw people together so that they experience themselves as belonging to one kind of community rather than another’. “Our lived experience of community - our sense of solidarity - is experienced subjectively, through complex process of identification that occur when we recognize the characteristics we have in common with others” (Everingham,2003). Although a social-capital paradigm of community development is necessary, it is also imperative to acknowledge the subjective and experienced form of community that lends its strength to collective action.

The multifaceted nature of community life must be taken in to consideration when considering the strengthening of communities. There are many other indicators that are also used in measuring the strength of communities that are employed, especially by the Government (Hughes et al, 2007). Such linear measurements of community strength may not always provide the real picture. Some communities may have strong internal bonds, but may not be very trusting of new comers and other communities may be very accepting of different kinds of people, but may not have the capacity to address common problems andprovide working solutions for them. It is a challenge to build strong all inclusive communities that overcome issues of participation and traditional power structures. Here is a case study that acknowledges these problems and demonstrated that while difficult they are able to be surmountable.

Case Study – Community of Participation for the Most Marginal in Honduras (Classen et al., 2008)

Community-driven development has faced significant criticism for excluding the poor and most marginalised.Numerous previous participatory development programs have been unsuccessful in targeting the very poor.What kinds of self examination of a development program can be done to reduce or reverse the exclusion of the poor?Better yet what can be done to increase the participation of the most marginalised?
For a detailed description of the history of the case study please see Classen et al. (2008).It was realised that certain power relations in the case study community were blocking access of the poor to the program and shifting this power did not occur without outside intervention.There were five main factors contributing to the opening up of participatory spaces for the most marginalised:

1.Promoting inclusiveness – facilitating NGOs would send representatives to the communities to stay and visit each house to personally invite residents (both men and women) to attend initial meetings, where spaces were created for marginalised collaborators to rise through the ranks and possibly be eventually elected to the program executive.Initially community members voted for traditional leaders (elites), but this changed as more community members had the opportunity to develop skills that demonstrated their suitability to certain positions.
2.Long-term capacity building – takes patience!Lack of previous program participation, poverty, land (for farming) condition and lack of technology can mean capacity building is a lengthy process.Focus on what the community does have and can build on.The case study committed to participatory plant breeding to build up a seed bank and stopped giving funding directly to the executives, which deterred the elites from participating, as they could no longer misappropriate resources.
3.Facilitating participation and social learning – because most participants had not previously been a part of a community project, supportive training was required to overcome initial shyness, build confidence and create a sense of hopefulness.Be aware of preconceived ideas (of both the facilitator and the participant), respect different opinions, ask questions first to create an appropriate environment for social learning, “where members become empowered through knowledge generated by discovery learning, especially through group research and experimentation” (p. 2414).
4.Broadening the initial process – adaptability, nothing remains stagnant, as the community develops and changes so do the goals.Are there any unforeseen outcomes (good or bad)?
5.Building social capital – building relationships between participants increased local confidence.Many members subsequently joined other organisations, creating new networks and communities that have had flow on effects for the whole area, including the development of a political consciousness leading to collective action and protesting the introduction of genetically modified maize, and farmers’ rights to control over local plant varieties.

Although the community did require outside assistance to over come long standing traditional power and status positions, it would not have been successful if the five main factors listed above had not been realised and encouraged. As a CD facilitator it is important to realise that failure to recognise inequalities in poor communities frequently leads to community projects being captured by the least poor (or village elites).Asset building or increasing community capital for sustainable community development among the most marginal requires labour-intensive facilitation, hence the importance of understanding formation of a community.

In the case of common property resource issues, Singleton and Taylor (1992) argue that groups that are able to ‘create, monitor and enforce wholly endogenous solutions [are successful] because there was enough community amongst their members’. They define community as ‘a set of people
1) With shared beliefs, including normative beliefs, and preferences, beyond those constituting their collective action problem,
2) With a more or less stable set of members
3) Who expect to continue interacting for some time to come,
4) Whose relations are direct and multiplex ’ (Singleton and Taylor, 1992).

They generalize this to any collective action problem and argue that to solve a collective action problem endogenously, the group should resemble a community. As the strength of the community varies, a range of solutions are enforced. For example, a fully decentralized endogenous solution is the outcome ofthe strongest community while a moderately strong community might put forward a solution that is endogenous, but employ a limited division of political labour and a for a weak community, solutions might depend on the state in varying degrees.

Models of Community Formation

The Making of a ‘True Community’

This first model, Stages of Community Making, is taken from The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck (1987), an American psychiatrist. He states that while all communities are unique with different purposes in mind they all go through similar stages in the process of developing into what he calls a true community.Not all community formation will follow the same path, some may never get past the first stage, but it is reasonable to expect some patterns to emerge, after all we are dealing with the human condition here!


A group of people who want to form a community can seem very willing and agreeable at first.Most are keen to form a community straight away and avoid disagreement.It is labelled ‘pseudo-community’ as the essential behaviour is conflict avoidance rather than conflict resolution.Participants tend to make generalisations and not acknowledge differences between each other.In order for a facilitator to help a group move past this stage is to question or challenge these generalisations and point out differences, not in a negative way, but to try and stimulate further thought into why such a generalist statement was made.


The effort required to maintain agreement with everyone will begin to wane for some participants and disagreements will arise.Participants will say what they really think or feel and openly challenge other’s ideas.This stage is called chaos as nothing is being achieved while there is disagreement and people are not yet willing to change their opinions or accept others.The duration of this stage is depended on the participants and the facilitator.Some groups are quick to realise they need to move forward to be effective, others remain distracted from the real goal of community for longer.


Peck states there are two ways out of chaos: organisation, which is never community; the other is emptiness.This stage could also be called openness, as it requires the participants to ‘empty’ themselves of preconceptions, prejudices and expectation and be open to accepting change and new ideas.This is the hardest, but most important stage of community development.Community building is often about going into the unknown, which can be threatening to participants who resist change.But they should accept they will not be going into the unknown along, but with all the other participants too.


Once the participants have emptied themselves and accepted each other for whom they are, they can then be called a true community.The journey does not stop here though as community maintenance requires that multiply major decisions will need to be made continuously over an extended period of time.Communities are not immune from falling back into previous stages; maintaining themselves, as a true community should take priority over all other tasks of their community, as the community and its participants are more effective at their objectives when they are a true community.

Figure 2: Illustrates the stages of community formation and how does not have to be a linear process; it is possible to move from one stage to any other stage, by passing another.

Stages of Cross-Cultural Awareness Within a Community

Christensen (1989) parallels the M. Scott Peck model of community formation with the formation of cross cultural awareness within communities that has four stages:

1.Unaware : The first stage when people have not encountered or thought about cultural ethnic or racial differences
2.Aware: People are becoming aware of the different cultural, ethnic or racial differences and are developing a sense of uneasiness and cognitive dissonance.
3.Conscious Awareness: There is evidence of conflicting preoccupation with cultural, ethnic, and racial differences and meanings, present and past. (The stereotypes don't fit anymore.)
4.Consolidated Awareness: There is commitment to seek positive societal change and promote understanding. (Reconciliation).


Figure 3: Illustrates the different stages of cross-cultural awareness in communities.

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are everywhere. We all belong to a number of them–at work, at school, at home, in our hobbies. Some have a name, some don't. We are core members of some and we belong to others more peripherally. You may be a member of a band, or you may just come to rehearsals to hang around with the group. You may have just joined a community and are still trying to find your place in it. Whatever forms our participation takes, most of us are familiar with the experience of belonging to a community of practice (Wenger, 1998).

Communities of practice develop around things that matter to people. As a result, their practices reflect the members' own understanding of what is important. Obviously, outside constraints or directives can influence this understanding, but even then, members develop practices that are their own response to these external influences. Even when a community's actions conform to an external mandate, it is the community–not the mandate–that produces the practice. In this sense, communities of practice are fundamentally self-organizing systems. It is helpful to model a CD workshop as a community of participation (only in cases where it can be applied). And in this context, the stages of development of a community of participation modeled by Wenger (1998) are helpful.


Figure 4:Different stages of development of communities of practice.

Communities of Practice in Formal Organizations

Formation of communities of practice has been facilitated in many organizations in an attempt to improve their functioning. IBM global service has been implementing a business model that supported the growth and development communities of practice within the organization that focused on competencies of the organization. They have developed an appropriation of the model suggested by Wenger (1998) which can be applied in most formal organizations. The different stages along with their functions are given in the table below.


Figure 5:Stages of community development in IBM Global Services.

Another formal Organisation (FHBB) has come up with a very similar model, following Wenger’s (1998) model.


Learning Communities in Formal Courses (Bounded Learning Community)

“Bounded learning communities are groups that form within a structured teaching or training setting, typically a course. Bounded learning communities do not spontaneously form, but develop in direct response to guidance provided by instructors and supervisors, supported by a cumulative resource base” Wilson et al, 2004.

When groups of people come together to do a formal course together, they are bounded by expectations and a time frame. They do not choose their fellow learners and the instructor. Under such circumstance, formation of community is depended on the support and facilitation provided by the instructor or leader. Wilson et al identifies 7 features that facilitate creation of learning communities: (1) shared goals, (2) safe and supportive conditions, (3) collective identity, (4) collaboration, (5) respectful inclusion, (6) progressive discourse toward knowledge building, and (7) mutual appropriation. A detailed description of these features is given in the table. They also note the development cycle of a bounded learning community, as stated by Ludgwig-Hardman (2003) , that has three stages: Initiation, Participation and closure. Students are asked to engage in a predefined sequence where they first learn the ropes, then enter into intensive interaction with peers, then conclude the experience with reflection and some kind of ritualized closure experience. In a formal setting, it is helpful have such a framework in mind when designing for the facilitation of bounded learning communities.


Figure 6:Illustrates a development cycle of a bounded learning community.


Table 1:Different features of a bounded learning community

A workshop that introduces and demonstrates different stages of community formation for CD practitioners

A True Community Works Better?
A case study in common pool resource management.
Energiser:Choose one or both (5 min.)
SHOE FACTORY: Have the group stand in a large circle.Then have everyone remove their shoes and put them in the centre (to make the energiser shorter just have everyone remove one shoe, making sure it is the left OR the right shoe).After the group has formed a pile with their shoes, get everyone to choose two (or one) different shoes other than their own.They should put them on their feet (halfway if they are too small).The group then needs to successfully match the shoes and put them in proper pairs by standing next to the individual wearing the other shoe.This will probably result in a tangled mess - and lots of giggles!
SOLEMN AND SILENT: The instructor explains that this exercise will take self control.Members pair back to back.On the count of three, everyone must face their partner, look each other in the eyes, and then try to remain solemn and serious.No speaking!The first to smile or laugh must sit down.All who remain standing then take a new partner and the activity continues until only one person has not smiled or laughed.(Second round of playing can involve two teams competing to outlast each other.)If you get a pair at the end who are both keeping a straight face, the rest of the group can act ask hecklers to disrupt them.
Activity: Stages of community
Introduce the Stages of Community Formation (Peck, 1987) briefly so participants are aware of the concept of the stages (1 min.).Have the stages of community written on board.
Tell the participants (in groups of 3-5): “There should be a train service to Monash University Clayton Campus”. Discuss. (3 min.)
Give the students further information:“Building a train line to Monash University Clayton Campus will divert funding from International student scholarship programs and increase International student fees”. Discuss. (3 min.)
Get participants to reflect & write down thoughts. (3 min.)
Discuss again with the group.Have perceptions/opinions changed? (3 min.)
Debrief/ discuss:- Did you notice the stages of community taking place?Pseudo-community, Chaos, Reflection, True Community.(6 min.)
(Total 20min)
Case study: Common pool resources (Kumar, 2002)
Introduction / moving into groups: Everyone draws a coloured number out of a hat, ask participants to move into groups with the same COLOUR (5 min.)
The Situation:
Location: A small village in Jharkhand, India.
The government has concluded that unmonitored use of the local forest is leading to degradation of the resource and wish to instate a Joint Forest Management (JFM) program. A committee will be formed with representatives from each household of the village and this committee will manage the forest for timber extraction.The financial gain will be distributed among the committee members with the intention of providing income for all households.Access to the forest will be restricted in order to allow timber species to grow without interference.
Marginal/ landless farmers
Large farmers
Forest Department
Marginalised and Landless Farmers
Your share of forest income to total household income is high, especially compared to non-poor farmers.Marginal farmers generally have less than 1 ha of land.
You are dependent on non-wood forest products (NWFP) for subsistence and extra income. If Sal trees are selected preferentially for forest growth they hinder the growth of the understorey, due to the canopy that shades and blocks sunlight.NWFP predominantly grow in the understorey.
Skills possessed are based on farm work only and extensive knowledge of the forest, it is difficult to find work in other areas.
Work is mainly found in traditional labour networks.The networks provide free or highly subsidised group labour in exchange for a nominal sum and a common feast.A marginal farmer has said that … ‘taking part in a traditional labour network is a financial loss to me because I don’t need a large labour-group for my farm work, but this is a village tradition which should be respected… gives us an opportunity to dine together (for the common feast) which gives me a sense of social inclusion.’
These networks are disproportionately favourable to medium and large farmers.
-The forest is an important source of Non Wood Forest Products (NWFP) such as fruits and medicinal plants.
-These products are vital for subsistence and extra income as most of your husbands are labourers for wealthy farmers and receive extremely low wages.
Joint Forest Management means:
-restricted access to the forest on a daily basis.
-A small financial sum once a year when the village committee harvests logs.
Forestry Department
The officials of the forest department had been in control of the forest resource before the implementation of the ‘Joint Forest Management program’. They had been involved in taking bribes from the wealthy farmers in exchange for illegal access in to the forest for logging. As the secretary of the Village committee, the representative of the Forest department will have more power and control over the decisions and outcomes of the committee and the officials in the department are planning to use this power in order to make a deal with the wealthy farmers so that both the parties are benefitted.
Wealthy Farmers
-The forest provides timber for construction.You also sell timber for extra income.
-Poorly monitored use means trees are being extracted when they are small and don't reach their potential timber value.
Joint Forest Management means:
-Timber extraction can be controlled with a focus on producing ideally sized logs, and more of them.
-Other use of the forest can be minimised to maximise timber production.
1.Write down your interests and group’s position and what you think should happen to the forest.(8 min.)
Ask participants to move to mixed groups based on the number of the colour they picked:(1 min.)
2.The groups are now a heterogeneous representation of the Village Forest Committee. Tell participants to let the others know your stance on the forestry access and management.(8 min.)
3.Advise the participants its time for a ‘tea break’ from forestry discussions.Get them to talk to their group members and find something which they have in common.Maybe you both have children or you both like cricket... (8 min.)
4.Tea break over, now get the participants to discuss again their position and situation.This time, try to reach a general agreement about how you think the forest should be managed.(8 min.) (Advise them that if they feel compelled to help another member of the committee and feel constricted within their role, feel free to move beyond it and help and remind them that this is a human thing to do)
5. Make each group present their decision and explain how they reached or did not reach a consensus. (This will make them reflect on the journey they went through in forming a community)
6.Move into a circle with the entire class.Use the talking stick to move around the group and each express their opinion.(15 min)
Discussion & debrief: (20 min)
(Talk about): Stages of community with relation to managing common pool resources.
Pseudo community stage: Everyone will express a desire for the whole community to benefit but, because they are still identifying as individuals, are really interested in protecting their own interests.
Chaos stage: Individuals become aware of the interests of other community members.These interests often conflict but are no longer ignored.From here, Peck (in the reading) suggests movement to organisation where probably the more elite community members will take control or true community, where consensus can be reached and collaboration can happen.
Reflection:In this stage, Peck recommends that individuals think about their disagreement with other community members and attempt to overcome the barriers that are preventing effective communication.
True Community: Individuals now identify as a community member and therefore honestly want to improve the circumstances of the entire community.They have a collective identity.
References :

Christensen, C. P. (1989). Cross-cultural awareness development: A conceptual model. Counselor Education and Supervision. 28, 270-287.

CLASSEN, L., HUMPHRIES, S., FITZSIMONS, J., KAARIA, S., JIMENEZ, J., SIERRA, F. & GALLARDO, O. (2008) Open Participatory Spaces for the Most Marginal: Learning from Collective Action in the Honduran Hillsides. World Development, 36, 2402-2420.

EVERINGHAM, C. (2003) Social Justice and the Politics of Community, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing Limited

HUGHES, P., BLACK, A., KALDOR, P., BELLAMY, J. & CASTLE, K. (2007) Buliding Stonger Communities, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press Ltd.

KUMAR, S. (2002) Does "Participation" in Common Pool Resources Management Help the Poor?A Social Cost-Benefit Analysis of Joint Forest Management in Jhrkhand, India. World Development, 30, 763-782.

ROSELAND, M. (2006) Curtain Call: In Search of a Missing Actor for Sustainable Community Development. IN SHRAGGE, E. & TOYE, M. (Eds.) Community Economic Development: Building for Social Change. Sydney, Cape Breton University Press

Singleton, S. and Taylor, M., 1992, Common property, collective action and community, Journal of theoretical politics, Vol.4, no.3, p.309-324

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998, June). Communities of practice: Learning as a social system. Systems Thinker. Retrieved October, 2008, from

Wilson, B.G., Ludwig-Hardman,S., Thornam,L.S., Dunlap,J.C., 2004, Bounded community: Designing and facilitating learning communities in formal courses, American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

This page was created by Lakshmi Venugopal & Ruth Oliver as part requirement for IDA4120 - Community Development in a Globalising World.
31 October 2008.
(Everingham, 2003)
(Hughes et al., 2007)
KUMAR, S. (2002) Does "Participation" in Common Pool Resources Management Help the Poor?A Social Cost-Benefit Analysis of Joint Forest Management in Jhrkhand, India. World Development, 30, 763-782.

CLASSEN, L., HUMPHRIES, S., FITZSIMONS, J., KAARIA, S., JIMENEZ, J., SIERRA, F. & GALLARDO, O. (2008) Open Participatory Spaces for the Most Marginal: Learning from Collective Action in the Honduran Hillsides. World Development, 36, 2402-2420.
EVERINGHAM, C. (2003) Social Justice and the Politics of Community, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing Limited.
HUGHES, P., BLACK, A., KALDOR, P., BELLAMY, J. & CASTLE, K. (2007) Buliding Stonger Communities, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
KUMAR, S. (2002) Does "Participation" in Common Pool Resources Management Help the Poor?A Social Cost-Benefit Analysis of Joint Forest Management in Jhrkhand, India. World Development, 30, 763-782.
ROSELAND, M. (2006) Curtain Call: In Search of a Missing Actor for Sustainable Community Development. IN SHRAGGE, E. & TOYE, M. (Eds.) Community Economic Development: Building for Social Change. Sydney, Cape Breton University Press.