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Community Organizing  







Frequently Asked Question on 

Community Organizing

1) What are the strengths of CO

2)  What are the qualities of an Organizer

3) What are some of the common weaknesses of  an  organizer

4) What are the Principles of CO

5) What is a conflict situation

6) What have been the lessons of CO in the last 25 years

7) What are the 10 CO Steps 

8) What are the Basic Values in Community Organizing

9) What is Issue Based Community Organizing (IBCO)  Approach

10) But what is CO ?


1) What are the strengths of CO 


1.    It generates immediate success thereby encouraging people to further their actions; it makes people realize that they have the capacity to change situations, that they have the power to make things happen.

2.      It immediately breaks the culture of silence, encouraging people to speak out or articulate what they think, what they feel about matters that affect their lives; it enables them to challenge the oppressive structures and build alternative thereof

3.      It is usually successful in building critical, self-reliant, creative grassroots organizations.

4.      As an approach for empowering people, it is relatively simple and can be learned easily by anyone who has the drive, the perseverance, the dedication  and commitment to do mass work, although initially, one may need supervision from experienced organizers and trainors.

5.      Openness to experiment-  openness to varied experiences and theories coming from other parts of the world; openness to try out, adopt, modify methods proven successful by other groups and willingness to adjust.

6.      It is rooted in the community – wherein an organizer goes to the  people where everyday problems occur.  It is in these issues where CO work is sustained, leading eventually to the building of a PO which continues to work on community problems.


2)  What are the qualities of an Organizer


            There are certain qualities fundamental to an organizer.  He should have the right attitude for organizing work and should have basic organizing skills.  Although one may not have them in the beginning, it is possible to acquire them through training.  Training uncovers, develops and sharpens skills and other qualities so that the organizer uses them more consciously.  The following section discusses these basic qualities and skills essential to organizational work  and can be used as recruiting criteria. 

1.      Irreverence

2.      A Sense of humor

3.      Creativity

4.      Flexibility

5.      Tenacity

6.      A genuine love for the people


 What do we mean when we say an organizer is irreverent?  We mean that he considers no tradition, law or value as totally sacred when it works against the people.  Put another way, no authority or institution is so respectable that it cannot be challenged or even rejected when it denies service to the people.  In this sense, the organizer’s irreverence is really but the other face of a deep reverence for people and life.  He sees that the Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 

How does this irreverence develop?  An organizer starts becoming irreverent when be begins to question his own previously held values.  His values undergo constant reevaluation in the course of struggle with the people, with their every encounter with agencies, institutions and authority. 

The organizer must pass on this quality of irreverence to the oppressed too.  The organizer will discover that as they form organizations, some of the people’s leaders can become oppressive.  This happened in the case of one labor union.  After winning a big wage victory, some of the leaders were blinded by though they had shown great courage and commitment in the past, these leaders were thrown out by the people, who were, in the proper sense, irreverent.

Most especially the organizer and the oppressed should learn to be irreverent towards the people’s oppressors.  Losing their awe for over  blown tyrants is part of the process of shattering the “culture of silence” that afflicts the oppressed.  In fact, the time will come when these formerly cowed people learn to enjoy deflating the pompous oppressor.

A Sense of humor

To keep same and avoid giving up in frustration, the organizer must maintain a sense of humor.  This means keeping a sense of proportion about everything - - the people, their problems, their enemies, and especially oneself.  Definitely, the organizer must avoid thinking that the whole liberation of the people is his burden.  He has to do his best in his place but remember that it is only part of the whole struggle.         

Actually, the oppressed   themselves teach the organizer a bit about humor.  They generally retain the ability to laugh at their own problems and weaknesses.

The organizer who wants to avoid being ridiculously serious need not swing to the other extreme of trying too hard to be humorous.  A lead person reports.

One organizer always went to the area looking so serious.  Folder in hand, he went around giving assignments to people, like a foreman.  So, I asked him to be a little more humorous.  But his fellow organizer who overhead the advice, went to the opposite extreme.  He went around all day telling jokes and laughing.   One  leader  came up to me and asked, “Is he crazy?”

Instead of forcing himself to crack jokes, the organizer can listen to the people, and learn what it is they appreciate and laugh at, and the jokes and stories they trade.  A good, balanced sense of humor is one way of getting closer to the people.

There is another meaning and function of this sense of humor.  Tactics that work best are those that make the enemy appear ridiculous so the people can laugh at him.  Since the oppressors are usually very properly serious, the people’s sense of humor can cut him down to size.  An organizer gives an example:


Anything can be used as organizing material.  But, it requires a creative imagination to see the possibilities.  When Pope Paul VI visited the Philippines, he left a sum of money in the care of the Archbishop of Manila for the squatters of Tondo.  In 1972, the Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO) tried to convince the now-deceased Archbishop to release the money and help in the ZOTO land-titling effort.  When he replied that the funds were already committed to welfare projects, several hundred squatters flocked to a local bank owned by the Manila Archdiocese and proceeded to open accounts with an initial P 1 deposit of one centavo coins.  The harried tellers called on everybody, including the manger, to help  out.  Business was disrupted for days on end.  The people did get the Archbishop to negotiate anew with their leaders.


No two situations are exactly alike.  Conditions can change in a short time.  The organizer must therefore always be on his toes, sensitive to changes in the situation so that he can adjust his plans accordingly.  This is called flexibility, and it is not to be confused with opportunism.  Flexibility means adapting to conditions to reach your basic goal.  Opportunism has no goal at all except self-interest.

How does an organizer develop this flexibility?  Partly, it is the fruit of detailed discussion and exchanges of experiences with other organizers.  He learns that there are different approaches to the solution even of the same issue under seemingly identical conditions.  The organizer also learns that according to the situation.  Sometimes one has to challenge, and even taunt, at other times a gentle and patient approach works best.  An organizer observes:

Some organizers are more naturally flexible than others, have outgoing personalities and easily make friends.  But some former campus activist tend to be more rigid.  They tend to concentrate only on a clear presentation of ideas and talk at the people.  They do not adapt their language and style to different persons and groups.  Nevertheless, if one has a  basically genuine commitment to the people, one should be looking for the most effective way to help the people organize and fight.


Tenacity has been called the most important quality of an organizer.  While organizing has its excitement and dramatic moments, it is a tedious process.  Since the organizer must keep at his task day in and ay out, many are tempted to give up.  But, if an organizer is tenacious, even if he is not very talented, he will learn and improve with the passage of time.

Tenacity is needed because organizing for people’s power is not a none-shot deal, but a process of the oppressed people’s growing up and assuming responsibility for themselves. The organizer  realize that this is a painstaking process because he and the people are up against a historical past and a mountain of negative experiences.  One organizer recalls:  “I would wake up at 5 A.M. each day and work at my issues into the night.”  Given this kind of dogged determination, one can gradually overcome even great difficulties.

Perhaps more than any other quality, tenacity can be strongly influenced by training.  The consultations with the training director include detailed reporting and analysis of the organizer’s work:  How many people did you talk to this past week?  How long did you talk to each one?  What  about?  Repeat the conversation.  What issues have come up?  How many people are affected?  Constantly he learns that no one can organize well without working hard at it.

These detailed checkups act as pressure on the trainee-organizer to keep going, despite the temptation to take things easy or give up.  A training director explains:

While the romanticist believes that the people possess the basic capacity to liberate themselves and to create a more perfect world, he overlooks one important thing”  he  fails to realize that this basic potential for greatness is smothered by bad habits learned during years of oppression.

For example, when the romantic would-be organizer starts to work at the grassroots level he is shocked when he sees the people engage in petty graft, opportunism and intrigue.  The people in whom he had so much faith, the people whom he believed could change the world, are actually no different from their oppressors!

Similarly, some organizers cringe at what they consider manipulation by other organizers.  This is especially true of tactics which did not arise from the oppressed themselves but were suggested by the organizer.  The romantic organizer will consider this manipulation.  This is absolute nonsense because, it suppose the people cannot think for themselves and follow anything that is suggested.  Once the people encounter an idea and make it their own, then it is no longer an alien suggestion but a part of themselves.

One organizer said:

The organizer should not make the mistake of leaving everything to the people’s spontaneous effort.  The people have lived all their lives inside a cage and will not immediately know how to escape. They must be helped, advised and shown how to break down the door.  Likewise, the organizer should not make the mistake of breaking the cage himself, taking over from the people

A genuine love for the people

Some organizers interpret love for the people to mean sheltering them like children.  But this is just a disguised form of paternalism where the people remain dependent and powerless.  An organizer who truly loves the people must not shield them from the hardships necessary to real growth.  An organizer remembers:

They asked me to draft a petition form them.  Of course, it would have been done faster, and since they asked me, I could tell myself it was their decision.  But, would they have learned anything if I did it? Or, again, when they were planning for delegation to a government office, they told me they had no transportation money.  Instead of giving them some, I told them.  “If you are really interested in this issue, look for the money.  Ask those who cannot go along to contribute some.”

Or, on a deeper level:

Before my first conflict-confrontation, I wondered whether, it was right to go through with it.  People would get  shouted at, and maybe there would be serious consequences.  But, I decided to go on ahead because only by undergoing these experiences would they be free.

The organizer must watch himself when the people’s organization starts getting results.  Some will feel grateful and he will be strongly tempted to back in the glory.  He may feel needed forever.  But the organizer must from the very beginning look for other people to whom he can pass on what he knows, so that the people will not be dependent on him.  He is like John the Baptist, is the sense that “they must increase, I must decrease.”

Some organizers have come to feel that the two absolutely necessary qualities for good organizing are intelligence and dedication.


3) What are some of the common weaknesses of  an organizer


Not to be afraid of digging up mistakes and criticising them.  Mistakes are the foundations of real learning from experience.,  In on-the-job, action-reflection training, mistakes are unavoidable.  But, mistakes become  failures only if we do not learn from the.

Another organizer recalls:

I used to get rattled by the questions and criticisms of the training director and others.  The pressure seemed so much I started hating them.  Later I realized that I learned to think clearly under pressure and wasn’t easily rattled.  Then, I began to have a new respect for the training director and my fellow organizers.

1.      Dogmatism

In the process of learning to organize, many organizers fall into the trap of organizing strictly  “by the book”.  They become uneasy and apprehensive that they have not done the right thing just because the rules or principles say otherwise.  There is a tendency to apply these rules and principles rigidly to all situations even though no two situations are exactly the same.

General principles always have to be modified to suit particular cases.  For example, it is a maxim to “never set a meeting unless it is thoroughly prepared beforehand.  But sometimes a meeting has to be called to get feedback or to get information on a particular activity.  Such meetings do not need much preparation.

Again, we say, “Work out a tactic within the experience of the people”.  However, it may be necessary to introduce a tactic that is not yet within the people’s experience when the situation calls for it.  For example, barricades may not previously be within the people’s experience.  But, it many cases such as forcible demolitions, people formed barricades for the first time, and this tactic thus, became part of their experience.

Similarly, the trainee-organizer who has had previous political education tends to stick to his previously learned theoretical principles.  He refuses to modify his language or behavior to fit the situation for fear of being untrue to his principles or to himself.  Such an organizer usually experiences the greatest difficulties in communicating with the people and is frequently unproductive.  In one instance, an organizer with the activist background absolutely refused to go to the organizing area during the day because “the enemy might spot me”.  He stayed in the office all day playing checkers.  On the occasions he did go to the area by day, he wore a big slouchy hat to cover his features.  Needless to say,  he was not effective.

Dogmatism has no place in organizing work.  Principles serve as guides for action, but it is really people and their real life situations that determine and shape the course of organizing work.


Many organizers with an academic background possess the ability to analyze situations, power structures and ultimate causes and effects in theory.  But they are unable to think up concrete tactics appropriate to the situation or to disorganize existing power structures.  They have the strategy but not the tactics.

Why is this so?  Simply because they do not have enough raw, grassroots contact.  They let their minds work without using their legs.  They develop a distant general view of people but little person-to-person insight.  It is true their talents for analysis and assessment are necessary to relate the people’s particular problems and progress to bigger national perspectives, but as organizers they practically impotent without grassroots  contact.

Consequently, they do not have an instinctive feel of the area nor a psychological feel of the people.  They have not talked or listened enough to the ordinary people.  “What does the ordinary person know, feel and think?  How would be react to this problem, to this situation?  How far would he dare to act in this particular conflict? “They cannot tell.

An organizer comments:

The person with an intellectual background but no grassroots experience is used to discussing only the gist, the kernel, of an experience.  But these abstractions existing in the mind.  He cannot communicate in the rich, colorful language of the people.  His words sound like empty bones with no flesh on them.  Therefore, he can’t get his message across.

Experienced organizers know that in order to have good grassroots contact, the organizers must spend twelve hours a day in his area.  In fact, it helps, if the organizer lives with the people he works with.  Spending time in the area does not mean just hanging around in one place, maintaining contract with leaders.  It means actively going around, making new contacts, developing  old contacts, agitating, preparing for meetings and generally getting into the community.

In the process, the organizers becomes well acquainted with the situation. He learns to  pay attention to specific details and realized that good tactics depend on the details.  An organizer puts in this way.

To organize effectively, one must master details.  To create successful tactics, to plan every step to choose proper timing, the organizer must know the people.  How far are they ready to go?  How do they reach to conflict?  What psychological and logistical obstacles are there?  He must know the physical environment and available resources.  He must have a sure knowledge of the enemy.  No small detail can be taken for granted.

One incident illustrates this:

The invasion of the NAWASA (now the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System) compound by Anak Pawis (Children of Sweat) was foiled because it started late.  The people failed to arrive at the gate before the mass media did.  The  newsmen arrive and alerted the guards by their questions.  Now, why were the people late?  Because the leader was late.  Why was the leader late? Because the organizer failed to perceived that the leader was reluctant to go through with the action and never really intended to lead the invitation.  To make matters worse, no alternative planning was prepared.  Weeks of agitation, planning, discussion, role playing went to waste


4) What are the Principles of CO


1)   Start  where the people are; don’t end where they are – let the people decide

2)   Begin with small and simple issue and work towards bigger and complex issues

3)   Popular education and intensive leaders training

4)   Participation in political activities-major part of the work of empowerment is the ability to influence the political life of the community you work in

5)   A vision is to guide the social change process – it will be difficult for the organizing process to have a meaningful change in the community if there is no clear vision.  The difficulty is that sometimes, those who have a vision try to impose their vision without taking into consideration the people’s vision.  It is important to say that the vision is there to guide and what is important is to listen to the people and let them decide.

6)    People’s organization must have a system and structure so they can work in an organized way.

7)   Works with alliances and coalition, not one organization or coalition can make the necessary change in a community so there is a need to work together.

The principle of conflict confrontation and conflict resolution processes- Conflict exist in all countries – conflict does not only mean people fighting – it also means there is an oppressor or injustice.


5) What is a conflict situation

So it means in a conflict situation, we have to understand where the power is, and in most countries, power is in the hands of the few, since this is the case, many have no power.  So to equalize the situation, we have to confront and as you confront, you also must be thinking of how the conflict must be resolved.

In a situation where the injustice exists, conflict situation also exists – there is injustice and there is someone oppressing someone else.  For many people conflict exists not only because of actual fights but also because of injustice.  In the process, the people act because there are issues and process that you have to explain.  When people act they can do it in two ways :

1) Mobilize their own resources and the problem is resolved – e.g. the people continue to suffer the problem of having to walk in wet soil because they have drainage problem, the conflict lies in the fact the government does not provide them with wooden bridges.  So what can the people do: mobilize their own resource and put up the foot bridge themselves   or…

2) Negotiate with the government -  if they take the option of going to the government to ------- holds the resource (government, two things can happen – the government can agree to provide them with what they need or it can refuse to act on their request and pressure them to leave the area.  In this situation conflict heightens and  --- therefore have to apply conflict-confrontation-pressure tactic, which usually happens when we are doing with land issues.  In our experience, it does not stop there, in most cases the resources holders,---- we continue negotiations and principled negotiations based on mutually acceptable solutions.  The result of this process can either be a mutually acceptable solution based on fairness and principle or the continuing search solutions.

6) What have been the lessons of CO in the last 25 years

1)     Integration of gender in CO – when we say, the women’s perspective and their rights is part of the organizing process not just the mere formation of a women’s group.  Thin of action’s impact on women and their situation.

2)     Sustainability of PO especially sharpening analytical skills and negotiating skills – understanding the global impact

3)     Integration of ecological sustainability in CO work – look at waste and industrialization in the light of sustainability

4)     Need for people-directed economic activities.

5)     People-based culture-drawing from positive traditional values

6)     Link with technology sector/people to strengthen people’s solutions i.e. housing models, waste management, etc.

(This is a collective reflection of people doing work in communities.  Sustainable cities is anchored on empowered sustainable communities)


7) What are the 10 CO Steps 



      Social investigation

      Tentative program

      Ground work


      Role play







      This refers to the process wherein the community organizer tries to establish rapport and communication with the members of the community by learning and participating in their everyday life. Thus, living in the community is a basic requirement for organizers, particularly at the start of the training ,to ensure that he or she imbibes the culture, expressions, nuances of community life.


      Social investigation is the process of systematically learning and analyzing the various structures and forces in the community-economic, political and socio-cultural. It results in a community portrait which is  a scientific collation and synthesis of data gathered. It provides a clear picture of the community.


      Planning is the process of identifying goals and translating them into specific activities to meet community needs or solve community problems. The final plans and decisions have to be done by the people in the community, but the organizer can begin the process.


      This  process provides the rigor to organizing,as a transformative and dialogical process . This refers to the one on one or at times in small groups dialogue where the organizer engages the people in  evoking their views, analysis, attitudes, beliefs around the issues . This process is aimed at securing the people’s participation from the analysis, planning of solutions and actions.


      Getting to know  the culture, history, economy, leaders, history and lifestyle of people in the community

      Establishing rapport with the people to imbibe community life by living with them

      Participation in the social and economic, formal and informal activities of the community


      The community meeting is the step in organizing where as many people as possible in the community are gathered to formally discuss the issues raised during the groundwork to plan their actions to address the issues. 


      This refers to the process wherein the people act out the forthcoming dialogue, negotiation (or confrontation, as the case maybe) that will take place between the leaders of the people and the authority (target) mandated to act on the community problem.

      Various scenarios are played out to develop strategies /tactics to manage the possible ways in which the event will unfold. Thus, the formulation of Plans A, B, C, etc.


      Mobilization refers to the community action undertaken to address and resolve the identified community issues and concerns. For the issue based  organizers , this can be in the form of negotiation or dialogue coupled with pressure tactics. For the socio-economic based organizers, this refers to the mobilization of people to start  and run a socio-economic project.


      Based on the 1985 “Tagisan” reflection of community organizers, evaluation is the process of  discovering what the people accomplished, what was not achieved, the strengths and weaknesses of the action, its causes, and how these weaknesses can be prevented or minimized, while looking into how gains can be maximized. 


      Based on the dialogical character of the community organizing process, aimed at consciousness raising  and transformative action, the reflection process evokes from the participants of the community action the following: what they felt, thought, learned as individuals or as a groups from the process.

      In this dialogue, the Socratic question and answer method is still applied to  establish the insight, analysis of each participant , based on his/her own naming of the experience. 


The aim of community organization is to develop independent people’s organization who will serve  as representatives to the outside community in securing  solutions towards improving the quality of life in the community.  After some victories in issues addressed by the community members,  formal election of leaders, approval of by laws and constitutions, formation of committees constitute the consolidation of the initial organizing process.  

8) What are the Basic Values in Community Organizing

A:  Basic Values in Community Organizing

1. Human Rights are universally held principles anchored mainly on the belief in the worth and dignity of people; it includes the right to life, self-determination, and development as persons and as a people.

 2. Social Justice means equal access to opportunities for sa-tisfying basic needs and dignity; it requires an equitable distribution of resources and power through people’s participation in their own development.

3. Social Responsibility is premised on the belief that people as social beings must not limit themselves to their own concerns but should reach out to and move jointly with others in meeting common needs and problems; society has the responsibility to ensure an environment for the fullest development of its members.

9) What is Issue Based Community Organizing (IBCO)    Approach

A:  issue Based Community Organizing (IBCO) Approach

This refers to an organizing approach which revolves around issues or problems that:

a) Are felt by a significant number of people in the community;

b) Can be resolved if the people use their numbers in negotiating with a target

group, usually outside the community, and

c) Have a high probability of being resolved if collectively acted upon.

The problem can be any issue present in the community — i.e. poor water supply, lack of access to health services, low prices of farm produce, unjust tenancy relations, or the existence of a land monopoly — that can be identified and prioritized by the people themselves. This approach is considered to be effective for the following reasons:

a) Conscientizes the people, as it exposes them to the reality of oppression and its forms in a locality;

b) Crystallizes the meaning of power for the people, since it requires the

participation of as many people in the community as possible to succeed.

c) Involves the people in national transformation efforts through their advocacy

on national issues;

d) Breaks the inferiority complex of the poor, since the process forces them to face people in authority;

e) Organizes the people with less externally and internally generated funds.


This organizing approach is also known as the Alinsky-Freire approach, taken from the principles introduced by Saul Alinsky and Paulo Freire.

In the beginning, rural community organizers of different streams were antagonistic to each other. Organizers using the issue-based approach, for instance, called the organizers using the socio-economic approach "advocates of palliatives," and deemed them ineffectual in bringing about true change in the community and society in general. Organizers utilizing the socio-economic project approach, on the other hand, called the issue-based organizers "arrogant," "idealist," and "manipulative." Both claimed to work for the people. In that conflict, the people in the communities were the most affected.

Fortunately, the nineties have seen an end to this battle. The experiences of the past have pointed out the value of the integration of all methods and resulted in the evolution of a new perspective. Participant-organizers at the Rural CO Forum realized that for as long as the organizing process addresses the varied areas of concern of a community, any approach that responds to these concerns will do.

10) But what is CO ?

A: Community Organizing (CO) is also defined as:

1. A process of bringing about and maintaining adjustment between social welfare needs and resources in a geographical area or special field of service (Dunham, 1958).

2. The mobilization of force around real or created conflict in order to force communication and movement. Controversy is used as a tool for organizing strong citizen-based groups which can affect the decision-making process. Through such means, citizens are helped to become articulate, informed and politically active and to exercise their collective influence at the point where decisions are made (Ronnow, 1965).

3. A process by which a community identifies its  needs and objectives, develops the confidence to take action in respect to them, and in so doing, extends and develops cooperative and collaborative attitudes and practices in the community (Ross, 1967).








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