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Community cooperation and social solidarity: a case study of community initiated strategic planning

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:15 authored by Joel Siegel
This research explored the process of creating a shared future and the evolution of cooperative collective endeavours in a regional rural community through a bottom-up planning process that involved professionals, public leadership and residents of a rural region in Israel. Using the MT rural region in Israel as a case study, the research was an interpretive exploration of how this community changed the way it collectively functions to achieve individual and shared aspirations. It examined how the community restructured its patterns of interaction, changing the social dynamics – which people interacted with each other, how they interacted with each other, and who felt committed to whom. The motivation for this inquiry stemmed from my desire as a practitioner to better understand the processes by which communities learn to function cooperatively. What are the elements that contributed to enabling a community to create the conditions for collectively utilizing and sustaining common resources rather than dividing them up for private consumption and exploitative narrow interests? What type of cooperative mechanisms enabled people to accomplish together what they cannot accomplish alone? Specifically, there are three research questions: how the change process was initiated in MT, what was significant in the nature of participation in the planning process, and how the mechanisms for regional community cooperation evolved. It was a case study of the planning and development process that I facilitated in MT from 1994-1999 (prior to my intention to undertake research) and is based mainly upon recent interviews of the participants (in that process), their recollections, and retrospective interpretations of that experience. The case has been explored from the theoretical perspective of viewing society in general, and community life in particular, as processes of constructing shared social realities that produce certain collective behaviours of cooperation or non-cooperation (Berger and Luckmann, 1967). This research was about understanding the process of making social rules that incorporate shared meanings and sanctions (Giddens, 1986) for undertaking joint endeavours (Ostrom, 1990, 1992, Wenger, 1998). Specifically two primary insights have come out of this case analysis: 1. In the MT case there was a mutually reinforcing three-way interplay between the strengthening of commitments to mutual care on the regional level, the instrumental benefits from cooperative/joint endeavours, and the envisioning of a shared future. 2. The community development process was owned by the community (not by outside agencies) and they (the community members) set the rules for community involvement. They structured the social interactions which formed the basis for creating shared understandings as a collective to achieve their common future. These insights shed light on how a community's structuring of its interactions and development interventions influenced its ability to act in a collectively optimal manner. By looking at the interrelation between trust as a function of social esteem (Honneth, 1995) and risk taking linked to instrumental benefits of cooperation (Lewis, 2002; Taylor, 1976; White, 2003) we can better understand what contributes to the way some communities continue to miss opportunities (Ostrom 1992), while others are able to promote their collective development and mutual wellbeing. By examining the process of designing (not only the design itself) community development programmes (Block, 2009) and by observing participation not as technique but as an inherent part of the way a community begins structuring its social interactions with their tacit (Polanyi, 1966) and explicit meanings, we can better understand the role of practitioners. And finally, perhaps the elements of chance and opportunity that bring certain combinations of people together in a given time and space may need to be given more weight in what remains a very unpredictable non-linear field of professional practice.


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