Community development and the ‘policy governance’ approach : have we voted out democracy?

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Kenkel, David
Prestidge, P.
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Journal Article
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
community organisations
Becoming cognisant of research informed by kaupapa Māori in early childhood education: Issues and contexts
organisational culture
governance and public policy
Carver governance model
Kenkel, D. & Prestidge P. (2015) Community development and the ‘policy governance’ approach : have we voted out democracy?, Whanake: The Pacific Journal of Community Development, 1(2), 53­‐61. Unitec Institute of Technology. Unitec ePress. Retrieved from:
We argue that the ways community organisations are typically structured, with a Board, Chief Executive (CE) and workers, creates an inherently anti-­‐democratic dynamic. We suggest that the hierarchical concentration of power in the governance board and CE, and neo-­liberal distinctions between governance and management roles, cut against the inclusive aspirations and hopes inherent in community development. The solution is not to ‘integrate’ them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become ‘beings for themselves’ (Freire, 1972, p. 48). The authors have spent considerable time as NGO employees and managers, and in governance roles. We have been friends for a long time and share a passion for community development’s commitment to small-­‐scale democracy. Our mutual involvement in social justice activities and organisations goes back to the 1970s and to varying degrees we have both remained active. We also experienced the growing ascendancy of the neo-­‐liberal paradigm through the 1980s and 1990s, and now into the 21st century. It is striking for us that we are the last generation who lived for a time as young adults without the shadow of that ascendance colouring our social world. We decided to write this piece after noticing in recent years similar sorts of ‘anti-­‐democratic’ problems happening in a wide range of community development organisations and NGOs. Somewhat tongue in cheek we take the opposite position to Tolstoy’s famous statement that: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ (Tolstoy, 2015, p.1). Inverting Tolstoy, we have noticed that happy NGOs are usually happy in their own unique ways, whereas unhappy NGOs are typically unhappy in very similar ways and, we have begun to suspect, for very similar structural reasons. A common feature of these ‘unhappy’ problems is a reduction in the sorts of behaviours and attitudes one might associate with a vigorous and healthy participatory democracy. That is: a sense that everyone can speak freely and that their opinion is valued, a shared sense that everyone owns the work, and robust inclusive discussion that leads to actions aligned with the aspirations of the many not just the few.
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