A Sense of Ownership in Community Development: Understanding the Potential for Participation in Community Planning Efforts

By Lachapelle, Paul | Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

A Sense of Ownership in Community Development: Understanding the Potential for Participation in Community Planning Efforts


Lachapelle, Paul, Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society


The term "sense of ownership" is frequently cited as a significant characteristic of community development. While there is increasing use of the terms ownership or sense of ownership, there is a paucity of research regarding what these terms mean, how this" body of knowledge influences community development, and the various approaches that can be applied in contemporary community research and practice. A sense of ownership in community development is described as a concept through which to assess whose voice is heard, who has' influence over decisions, and who is affected by the process and outcome. Applying the concept of ownership can determine how the strategic interests' and actions of individuals' or organizations contribute to community development efforts. In addition, the potential for ownership can be understood in part by examining the capacity for and quality of trust. Implications are discussed regarding how the concept of ownership advances the current field, specifically regarding community development research and practice.

Keywords: Sense of ownership, trust, public participation, planning, risk

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Enhancing public involvement in community planning and development efforts has been promulgated on developing and acquiring "buy-in" which signifies the support, involvement or commitment of interested or affected parties to a community development proposal, plan, strategy or decision. Buy-in is a term used in securities markets, business management and even poker playing to signify the commitment of stakeholders to a decision by agreeing to and supporting the formulation of a process with an interest and influence in the outcome. The term ownership (or sense of ownership) is increasingly cited as a critical element in determining the potential for buy-in and, consequently, public involvement in community planning and development efforts. For example, the term ownership has been specifically used in community development contexts (Simpson, Wood, & Daws, 2003; Bessant, 2005; Bowen, 2005; Zimmerman & Meyer, 2005). The term is popular in environmental policy literature and in scholarship associated with sociology, education and curriculum development, and organizational behavior (Schneider, 1985; Barufaldi, 1987; Ehrmann & Lesnick, 1988; Gusfield, 1989; Mattessich & Monsey, 1992; Hajer, 1995; Himmelman, 1996; Kearney & Kaplan, 1997; Loseke, 1999; Wondelleck & Yaffee, 2000; Buyukdamgaci, 2003; Brian, 2004). As with the term "sense of place," the term ownership is also referred to as "sense of ownership" (Watt, Higgins, & Kendrick, 2000; Doe & Khan, 2004; Harvey & Reed, 2007). The above body of literature is loosely predicated on the assumption that if individuals are intimately and authentically engaged, dedication to the process and outcome will be created, leading to greater chances of political support and implementation.

Yet, in these contexts there is little in the way of precise definition explaining what the concept of ownership is, how it can be applied in the context of community development and how it can be expanded or improved. While Lachapelle and McCool (2005, 2007) have presented material to define and present examples of sense of ownership, this article expands these previous discussions and presents a more formal description and explanation as applied to community development. In this article, the following questions are raised: 1) What essential characteristics define a sense of ownership? and 2) How can the concept of ownership be applied in community development research and practice? Gaining a better understanding of the many characteristics of ownership in a planning process is critical toward furthering the study and application of community development since it can lead to better analysis of complex interactions, greater chance of public involvement, and increased support toward the realization of community development goals.

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