Working With Resource People
Department of Community Development
Resource people can and should play a vital role in changing communities. City governments, community institutions, organizations and groups are often confronted with issues that make special knowledge and assistance a must in forming intelligent decisions.
Printed materials assist in exploring information that adds meaning to community decision making. But, many community issues cannot be resolved by canned or packaged programs. It is impossible to design a program to fit every local community situation. Complex or technical problems can best be explored with the help of experts or consultants.
Many community issues require people with special training or competencies. When their knowledge or experience is consulted and weighted by local working groups, many pitfalls can be avoided.
There are many recognized authorities available to communities concerned about specific issues. Communities searching for an authority may be confronted with difficulties if the community problem is only identified in general terms. A generalist may be needed to assist local people in specifically identifying the issue in question. This type of resource person should be competent in community development principles and techniques — the problem solving process, group dynamics and other related skills.
A generalist can often be found in the community. Local institutions and agencies often have trained people who can assist. The University system has area community development specialists who can be contacted through your local MU Extension center. Many other local institutions, organizations and agencies may be points of contact for general community concerns.
There are many public and private organizations with specialists that may be consulted on community issues. In specific situations authorities (because of training, experience and special focus of their agencies' programs) may disagree on principles or procedures. Such disagreements may be frustrating to local groups who consult a number of experts. However, different points of view and various approaches allow the study committee to choose the best solution or to develop a new solution from the several features.
There are six criteria in considering the selection of a technical expert or resource person:
- Successful experience
- Education and training
- Ability to communicate with the group
- An open mind
It is difficult to find a person with these six factors to assist a group in decision making. Experience working as a resource person with similar groups, issues and situations is invaluable. Firsthand knowledge of experience of other groups with the expert may also be helpful.
Other important considerations in choosing resource persons are:
- Do they know the current facts — have they kept up to date in their fields of expertise?
- Are they relatively free from bias or do they have a package to sell or a profit to make from their recommendations?
- Are reports concerning them current?
MU Extension community development specialist are a good source of information on trained and experienced experts.
Role of the resource person
The resource person's training and experience will greatly affect what he or she thinks he or she is expected to do. Many experts believe their role is to tell, advise, inform or give answers. Others believe their role is to consult, to assist in consideration of the possible solutions, to give information and facts, but to leave the decision to the group.
Local groups with little experience in working with resource people may expect absolute answers. Because of lack of competency regarding the complexities of the issue, local people may fear to display ignorance by asking the expert questions.
Community decisions involve more than the technical aspects of the issue. The expert may not know about local customs, local needs and local ability to implement proposals. Non-tangible and often unobservable feelings, beliefs, values and attitudes are important to continuing, ever-changing community development programs.
Technical assistance in a cooperative effort with local people is often the most fruitful approach to community development. Both the expert and the local people have a vital role to play.
- Fessler, Donald R., Citizen Participation in Resource Development, Workshop Manual Bulletin 277, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia.
- Smith, Herbert H., The Citizen's Guide to Planning, Chandler-Davis Publishing Co., West Trenton, N.J., 1964.
- Spilegel, Hans B., Citizen Participation in Urban Development, National Training Laboratory, Institute of Applied Science, Washington, D.C., 1968.
- For additional information, contact your Area Extension Community Development Specialist through your local MU Extension center, or the Department of Regional and Community Affairs, MU, Clark Hall, Columbia.
DM490, reviewed October 1993