Jack Rothman - models of community organization

Jack Rothman – models of community organization

In the year 1968, Jack Rothman introduced three models of community organization. These were:

1) Locality Development
2) Social Planning
3) Social Action

These three models construct were revised and refined by him in the year 2001 (Rothman, 2001), taking into account the changes in practices and conditions in communities. Instead of referring to the three approaches as the ‘Models’, he preferred referring to them as the ‘Core Modes of Community Intervention’.

Moreover, these three approaches or modes are described as ideal-type constructs, which to a very large extent do not exist in pristine, full blown form in the real world, but are useful mental tools to describe and analyse reality.

Jack Rothman - models of community organization

Jack Rothman – models of community organization

According to Rothman, these three modes of intervention to purposive community change can be discerned in contemporary American communities and internationally. Community intervention is the general term used to cover the various forms of community level practice, and has been used instead of the term community organizing, as it has been found to be a useful overarching term to employ. The three modes of intervention are:

a) Locality Development
b) Social Planning/Policy
c) Social Action

Mode A: Locality Development

This approach presupposes that community change should be pursued through broad participation by a wide spectrum of people at the local community level in determining goals and taking civic action. It is a community building endeavour with a strong emphasis on the notions of mutuality, plurality, participation and autonomy. It fosters community building by promoting process goals: community competency (the ability to solve problems on a self help basis) and social integration (harmonious inter-relationships among different ethnic and social class groups). The approach is humanistic and strongly people-oriented, with the aim of “helping people to help themselves”. Leadership is drawn from within and direction and control are in the hands of the local people. “Enabling” techniques are emphasized.

Some examples of locality development include neighbourhood work programmes conducted by community based agencies, and village level work in community development programmes.

While locality development is based on highly respected ideals, it has been criticized by people like Khinduka, who characterize it as a “soft strategy” for achieving change. Its preoccupation with process can lead to a slow pace of progress and may divert attention from the important structural issues. Embracing consensus as a basic modus operandi, those who stand to lose from the proposed reforms may be in a position to veto effective action. Moreover, in contemporary context, locality is steadily losing its hold over people and powerful national, regional and global forces are influencing the patterns of life of people.

Mode B: Social Planning/Policy

This approach emphasizes a technical process of problem solving regarding substantive social problems, such as housing, education, health, women’s development etc. This particular orientation to planning is data-driven and conceives of carefully calibrated change being rooted in social science thinking and empirical objectivity. The style is technocratic and rationality is a dominant ideal.

Community participation is not a core ingredient and may vary from much to little depending on the problem and the circumstances. The approach presupposes that change in a complex modern environment requires expert planners who can gather and analyse quantitative data and manoeure large bureaucratic organizers in order to improve social conditions. There is heavy reliance on needs assessment, decision analysis, evaluation
research, and other sophisticated statistical tools.

By and large the concern here is with task goals: conceptualizing, selecting, arranging and delivering goods and services to people who need them. In addition fostering coordination among agencies, avoiding duplication and filling gaps in services are important concerns here. Planning and policy are grouped together because both involve assembling and analyzing data for solving social problems.

Two important contemporary constraints impacting this mode, according to Rothman are: (1) Planning has become highly interactive and diverse interest groups rightfully go into the defining of goals and setting the community agenda. It involves value choices that go beyond the purview of the expert or bureaucrat;


(2) Impact of reduced governmental spending on social programmes, due to economic constraints, leading to a lower reliance on the elaborate, data driven planning approach.

Mode C: Social Action

This approach presupposes the existence of an aggrieved or disadvantaged segment of the population that needs to be organized in order to make demands on the larger community for increased resources or equal treatment.

This approach aims at making fundamental changes in the community, including the redistribution of power and resources and gaining access to decision making for marginal groups. Practitioners in the social action domain aim to empower and benefit the poor and the oppressed. The style is primarily one in which social justice is a dominant ideal (Karp, 1998). Confrontational tactics like demonstrations, strikes, marches, boycotts and other disruptive or attention gaining moves have been emphasized, as disadvantaged groups frequently rely heavily on “people power”, which has the potential to pressure and disrupt’.

Practitioners of this approach mobilize low power constituencies and equip them with skills to impact power. This approach has been used widely by AIDS activists, civil rights power groups, environmental protection organizations, feminist groups, labour unions and radical political action movements. Human service professionals have not been prominent in the social action area, but there has been participation on a small scale basis. Modest salaries,
absence of professional expertise and need for long term commitment are important deterrents in this approach becoming more widely used.

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