Urban Governance and Social Innovation

Negotiating consent in neighbourhood-based community development work


This chapter discusses the efforts of community workers to obtain consent in local communities as a basis for taking action on issues that are affecting local people’s lives. Crucial here is that community workers resist the initial urge to settle for consensus and as a consequence limit the possibilities for creativity, exploration and interpersonal development. Drawing on two case studies, one from Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and one from Chelsea (US), the requirements and process of acquiring consent are outlined. Consent in general refers to a form of permission to act or take action.

In this chapter we consider it as a sense of approval by neighbourhood community members to engage in a collective course of action. Community workers often play a crucial part in the acquisition of community consent as they support the process of recognition of the diversity of interests, opinions and values that characterises local life. Consent is necessary for creating sustainable local initiatives, incorporating, instead of eliminating, conflicting positions. This acknowledgement of diversity can be seen as an ethical requirement in community development practice, but also as a strategic issue for community workers. After all, without being able to obtain legitimacy for their engagement with local issues, effective community development work is impossible.

This chapter focuses on neighbourhood-based community development work in geographical communities. However, similar principles apply in all forms of community development, including work with communities of interest and identity. We use the term ‘community worker’ to refer to someone who takes on a facilitating and coordinating role with members of communities to build community capacity and/or bring about social change. Such workers may be paid and professionally qualified, or unpaid volunteers and activists. They may live in the communities where they work/are active, or reside outside these areas. These circumstances influence the legitimacy of their interventions, as well as how consent is gained and consensus reached.

Reference Gradener, J., & de Kreek, M. (2019). Negotiating consent in neighbourhood-based community development work. In S. Banks, & P. Westoby (Eds.), Ethics, equity and community development (pp. 83-102). (Rethinking Community Development). Policy Press.
1 January 2019

Publication date

Jan 2019

Research database