Felt needs community development theory
by hamdawaiy sheriff
Visitor Question: What is felt needs theory in community development?
"Felt needs" is an idea about a change that is considered necessary to correct a community problem.
That sounds pretty unremarkable, but it stands in contrast to the urban planning model of collecting data, analyzing it objectively, creating alternatives, and making choices, as explained in more detail on our community planning process
In "felt needs" theory, analysis in community development work is replaced by intuition and normative ideas of what is right and appropriate. When the community expresses its ideas, hopes, and dreams, these are taken as givens.
Opinion and perception are everything when following the felt needs community development model. This applies not only to problem diagnosis, but also to community problem solutions.
Those who identify with this approach believe that the purpose of community development
is to enable swift action that will allow a favorable comparison between today's conditions and reality at some point in the future.
For those with an activist bent, this may be much more practical than the more studied and academic approach to town planning.
Although we generally subscribe to the tenets of urban planning as practiced in the U.S., there is considerable merit to propelling a conversation right to the obvious solution when faced with something completely unacceptable in light of local norms.
Severe building dilapidation may call for immediate demolition, for instance. It's hard to argue that in the face of a rat infestation, the first thing to do would be to collect data on how many rats you have, where they are living, the root causes of the problem, and possible courses of action. No, probably most communities would skip right to running those rats out of town.
Underlying this theory is the idea held by some practitioners that the aims and objectives of community development
should include alleviation of suffering at the top of the list.
So "felt needs" allows a participatory method to emerge. Participatory design, such as a charrette
might align well with this kind of thinking. In fact, most charrettes we have attended start with some assumptions, often dictated by a major client or stakeholder in the process.
So you can see that the felt needs model of community development isn't as far-fetched as it may seem to planners. In fact, one can argue that taking the approach of seeing, understanding, and acting in the face of obvious problems or wrongdoing is only common sense.
The disadvantage of felt needs practice is that it can be seriously culture-bound. Assumptions and cultural norms may not be questioned, and in the end the status quo in terms of the social order is extremely likely to be upheld.
On the other hand, in a more analytical urban planning practice, constituencies usually find a way to protect the existing social pecking order as well.
So choose your own theory. And by the way, you can find those principles by using a search engine, but you can't hear our commentary that way!