How Community Capacity Process Impacts Participatory Community Development in Taiwan

Written by Takako Sasaki.

Image Credit: Public Domain

It can be said that Participatory Community Development (PCD) is a process to solve communities’ problems by local people, as illustrated in Figure 1. This is a valuable measure for communities wanting to revitalise their weakening condition under globalisation, and various activities have been reported globally. Generally, PCD is advanced by a volunteer residents’ group, such as the community development association (CDA) in Taiwan. Along each stage of the PCD’s process, a CDA will need various abilities: At the first stage, while observing a community’s situation, the CDA will learn the community’s needs. When setting PCD’s goals at the second stage, it will need an ability to plan. Thus, when starting a PCD’s action, it will need resources to carry out activities and mobilise other residents’ participation.

Figure 1: The general process of PCD

As the above process shows, PCD is also a learning process for participant-residents. These abilities are collectively defined as a community capacity. They learn how to objectively watch their community’s situation and decide how to solve the community’s problems pre-emptively. By repeating this process, a CDA acquires community capacity. Recently, the importance of community capacity has been noted as a core capability for a community to participate in PCD.

Yong-le village is a farming village known for its wax apple produce. However, although fruit was grown here, this village was also suffering from frequent floods. When the 8/8 flood caused by the typhoon Morakot hit southern Taiwan on the 8th of August in 2009, two-third of the village was flooded. Mr T, a village mayor and a founder of the Yong-le CDA, made efforts to protect the village from floods with PCD methodology. However, there is only one full-time worker at the CDA of Ms Z even though Mr T and Ms Z are supposed to be actual leaders of Yong-le’s PCD. The author did interviews with these two actors and divided its PCD process for about 20 years into three periods according to their speaking as follows.

The first period: 1998-2008

Mr T found that inadequate ditch drainage and maintenance causes floods. In 1998, he ran for the village mayor election with a philosophy of “the drains must be open”. Mr T started cleaning the village according to his campaign pledge since becoming the village mayor. He called on residents to clean the village as volunteers, but the concept of “volunteering” was not popular among Taiwanese at the end of the 1990s. Moreover, there were very few who responded to his appeals. However, in less than a year, 16 volunteers had joined him. Hence, according to an environmental project implemented by the government, Mr T established an environmental volunteer team in 1998. Consequently, in 2000, the volunteer numbers increased to 106, and Mr T established the Yong-le CDA and was inaugurated as its chairman. 

In 2001, Mr T came up with an idea to renovate a delipidated Taiwanese traditional house called san-he-yuan (三合院) in the village and started reconstruction work according to another government project. Many residents joined the work as volunteers. In 2008, the san-he-yuan was transformed into a site including other facilities, such as the CDA office, a community farm and a community activity centre. Thus, eventually, it opened to the public as the Fuji-gucuo (福記古厝).

Meanwhile, Mr T mourned that children did not know about agriculture because, although they all lived in a farming village, many parents had already found jobs outside its remit. Thus, he started the farming experience activity for school children and their parents using a community farm. Looking back, while Mr T said that he did not know precisely what culture was, he wanted to know what he should do.

The second period: 2009-2016

The 8/8 flood took place in 2009, and as village mayor, Mr T had to deal with the unprecedented destruction caused by this disaster, although he was also a victim. Hence, even while in a state of confusion, he proceeded to approach the prefectural governor for necessary support, negotiate with government officials, and learn that the government’s opinion and the village’s opinion are occasionally different. He knew residents’ needs based on the village life and wanted to express this to the government. 

The Taiwanese government worked out a comprehensive environmental project in line with global sustainable development trends, and the Yong-le CDA participated. Ms Z was too occupied with practical affairs to progress the project. However, retrospectively, she learned how to develop activities and draw an action plan. The range of activities thus widened, and the CDA applied for additional activities to different projects according to each activity’s content compared with the first period. In short, one activity corresponded to one government project. For example, a private funding association provided a project to the Fuji-gucuo before the 8/8 flood. Although this was a fixed-term project, Ms Z has kept in contact with the foundation even after the project ended and has embarked on different activities.

The third period: 2017-present

According to a government project, the CDA started an elderly care project and conducted its original activity, such as a music concert at the Fuji-gucuo and a jogging event on the bank of the government’s constructed drain ditch—a part of the infrastructure improvement project. It seems that Mr T intended to make a community activity more attractive for residents. Unfortunately, as it turns out, this was not the case. He said that the purpose of the jogging event was to let residents know the place and function of the ditch to protect the flood. Moreover, conducting a music concert aimed at making the Fuji-gucuo more accessible to general residents. These activities attracted many non-members of the CDA, and participants increased more than before. Mr T has kept his philosophy of “the drains must be open” and, on the other hand, has said that “we do culture”.

This case indicated that the CDA learned how to advance government projects and plan projects based on daily the village’s daily life. Moreover, the change in thinking seen in the CDA executives proved that their PCD process was a learning process. One can argue that PCD leaders have unintentionally acquired community capacity through progressing projects. 

It has been 20 years since Yong-le CDA began PCD, and this case suggested that community capacity was gradually acquired over a long period. PCD research often targets projects with a limited span of period, and it cannot be said that community capacity has been thoroughly discussed. That being said, its importance was still recognised. Thus, current research must deepen over a more extended period.

Takako Sasaki is a postdoctoral researcher/concurrent assistant professor at Chang Jung Christian University. Her field of expertise are rural planning, social geography and Taiwan studies.

This article was published as part of EATS 2021: Narrating Taiwan special issue. All articles in the special issue can be found here.

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