top of page


Anchor 1


Grassroot Collective Logo

Models of Community Organising

Paul Bagtas

Working with communities is a deeply rewarding experience. I have leaned towards roles that would create impact in communities simply because I desire taking part in creating mass effect, witnessing collective empowerment, and help achieve sustainable development. Achieving these goals depends largely on the approach one takes when working with communities. The key must fit the lock, so to speak.  Identifying “felt” and “perceived” needs are imperative in order to decide on the right approach. Once these needs or issues have been identified, one can proceed in the proper approach. Presented here are three community organizing models that can guide development workers in their work with communities. It describes the conditions and issues presented when to use a certain model.

Locality Development

Locality Development presupposes that community change may be pursued optimally through broad participation of a wide spectrum of people at the local community level in goal determination and action. [1] Locality development places a heavy emphasis on process goals, with aims such as establishing cooperative working relationships (sometimes including that of the community and external stakeholders), creating sustainable community problem solving structures, improving the power-base of the community, stimulating wide interest in community affairs, fostering collaborative attitudes and practices, and increasing indigenous leadership.

The fundamental intervention approach in locality development may be summed up in this phrase – “let’s all get together and talk this over.” Which is an attempt to get a wide range of community people on board in determining their “felt” needs and resolving their own problems. Tactics of consensus building are stressed, that is, discussion and communication among a wide range of different individuals, groups and factions.


Social Planning

The social planning approach underscores a technical manner of solving a problem with regards to significant social problems, such as children in conflict with the law, access to potable water, and substance abuse. Rational, deliberately planned, and controlled change has a central place in this model. This approach presupposes that change in a complex industrial environment requires expert planners, who through the exercise of technical abilities, including the ability to manipulate large bureaucratic organizations, can skillfully guide complex change processes.[2]

Emphasis on task goals are placed heavily in this model such as it entails the completion of a concrete task or the solution of a defined problem relating to the functioning of a community social system – delivery of services, establishment of new services, and passing of specific social legislation.

The basic change strategy of this model can be summed up in the phrase – “let’s get the facts and take the logical next steps.” It should be noted however that the “planner” can gather facts without the participation of others, depending on their orientation with regards to participatory development and the context or organization the planner is in.

Fact finding and analysis is an essential technique in this model and tactics of conflict or consensus may be utilized depending on the analysis of a certain issue.


Social Action

The social action approach presupposes a disadvantaged segment of the population that needs to be organized, perhaps in alliance with others in order to make adequate demands on the larger community for increased resources or treatment, more, in accordance with social justice or democracy.[3] This approach may lean either on process goals e.g. improving the power base of communities or in tasks goals e.g. changes in policy.

The basic change strategy of this model can be summed up in the phrase – “Let’s organize to destroy the oppressor.” Processing issues so that the people know who their legitimate enemy is and organising mass action to bring pressure on selected targets. In social action, confrontation and direct action is a tactic commonly employed. The ability to organise a sizeable number of people is necessary in order to organise rallies, demonstrations, and forming picket lines.


Not one size fits all

Clearly, depending on the need of the community who you work with, these models can be employed. The issues that communities face is ever-changing, thus requiring a community organiser to be flexible and dynamic in their approach.


For the locality development approach, you need to have the characteristic of an enabler or an encourager. This means that you can facilitate a problem-solving process, leveraging on people’s unique and intrinsic abilities to decide for themselves, or even to express their discontent. You would need to use your good interpersonal relationship building skills in order to encourage the community members.

For the social planning approach, it will be great to show off some of those technical expertise and skills in fact finding, program implementation, stakeholders analysis and so on. Skills in appraisals, research, comparative analysis, evaluation and providing technical information won’t go amiss either.

The social action model requires that you be an “advocate” or an “activist.” You will be partisan in a social conflict and aim to only serve the client’s interest.


Community Organising and Sustainability

There are steps in community organising that every community organiser follows, and while it is not covered in this article, the last step of that process is making an exit. Every community organiser must exit, not because of discontinued funding (but sometimes, this is sadly true), but it is part of a process that is anchored on the principle of empowerment and giving autonomy. We cannot be there forever. However, we would sure like to see that what we have started with the community, the projects that have been started, will still benefit the community long after we have “exited.”

Among the three models, locality development has the unique feature of creating sustainable community structures. This should mean creating systems for financial sustainability, organizational development and project management. Locality development also has the unique feature of creating partnerships, which is essential in creating a network that can help in funding proposals or technical assistance. But most importantly, locality development favours dialogue and discussion which helps the community in being expressive of what they really need, and this is a good indicator of ownership and empowerment.


While the utilization of the other models should not be discounted, once they have been employed and their goals met, an organiser can shift to locality development to sustain the gains that have been made and ensure that we really did left things better than when we first found them.

[1] Zastrow, 2006, p. 299 ; [2] Rothman, 1972, p. 24 ; [3] Ibid


About the Author

'Paul is a Development Practitioner currently working in the Philippines as a project management consultant for International NGOs. He has also worked with Pacific Island Countries and Territories. His areas of expertise include community mobilisation, grant management, and monitoring and evaluation. He has previously worked with organisations that implement projects funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). He is passionate about promoting the power of participatory development in International development'

A place to learn about grassroots development in action.

This article is one of hundreds of free resources created to support people interested in sustainable community development.



Explore our library of articles written by guest development authors.

What is development; and who decides what it looks like?

Achieving lasting change through collaboration with other NGOs

5 ways to attract new donors through


Balancing accountability to project, donor and beneficiary

5 tips to help you conduct ethical interviews in your community

Which model of community organising should you be using?


Discover the essential development frameworks and practical guidelines you need to design durable projects in collaboration with the community. This 9-part course has been created for everyone working with local communities to design durable development projects.



With 10 individual modules tailored to the specific needs of nonprofits, this course has everything you need to master the art of online crowdfunding for social causes. Learn how to choose the right platform, design your campaign and create the online buzz you need to see donations flowing into your project.

BLOG            POLICIES            CONTACT

Support local development

bottom of page