Behind the scenes in new MAGL program

Jean Macgregor

Does the concept of community development conjure images of humanitarian aid delivery in a low-income country or neighbours mapping resources in a Canadian urban centre?

A new course offered by the School of Leadership Studies invites students to explore a spectrum of community development models from structured, external models to grassroots initiatives.

An elective in the school’s new Master of Arts in Global Leadership degree program, Global Leadership 521: Community Development Models takes a life-world approach to community development.

Dr. Sabine Lehr, School of Leadership Studies associate faculty member, instructor and course developer, describes what students will encounter in the course.

What is community development?

The concept of community means many different things to many different people. The word community – the way in which it is often understood – can be a geographical location, or a space that people commonly inhabit. However, the word community can also be seen as more of a subjective experience than anything that can be clearly defined, and around which no clear boundaries can be put.

The concept of development is equally contested, especially when we talk about development in a global environment, where it is often understood as change that is happening or is supposed to happen in the lesser industrialized part of the world, also sometimes referred to as the developing world, or the Global South, or other labels we are putting on those parts of the world.

For me, in the broadest sense, community development means some kind of positive change toward the well-being of a community. The purpose of the course is to understand the complexity of that concept.

Community development as a constructed concept

The first dimension of construction of the concept is one in which the students make sense of what we learn in terms of their own life-world, their own experiences. It is important for me to introduce students to multiple lenses and multiple angles through which to look at what we call community development and to allow students to construct their own understandings of that concept.

The second dimension of community development as a constructed concept involves critically investigating a commonality of thought that has emerged in western academic thinking and in the practices of the development agencies that has, for the most part, been understood or accepted as being the only valid dimension of community development and the only valid way in which communities should develop.

What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner in community development?

The core question for me is, how can I as a practitioner, improve my practice? This is closely linked to the idea of lifelong learning and to the idea that learning and practice do not proceed in a sequential mode.

Twenty or 30 years ago, we thought that we would go to school, go through the primary and secondary school system, then proceed on to post-secondary education. We’d get a degree and maybe another degree, and then we’d be in the life-world, and we’d be practicing what we learned.

This is just not the case. Rather than a sequential process, learning and practice is a constant, cyclical process. Engaging in a continuous cycle of practicing and reflecting on the practice and learning from reflection, maybe going back to school and learning something else, or learning in a different environment and then inserting that learning back into practice - that’s what being a reflective practitioner means to me.

As an academic and as someone who is working in the community as the Immigrant Services Manager with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), I don’t see these activities as separate, but entirely integrated with each other. My community work nurtures and sustains my academic teaching and my teaching and my academic work nurtures my work in the community.

When ICA was invited to be the client for the Leadership Challenge at Royal Roads last year, we were going through a change process in the agency, so it was a timely invitation, which I accepted very gratefully.

Over 40 highly talented students, with their instructors, helped me reflect on a real-life, practical change process that was going on in my agency. I took this learning back into ICA and implanted that reflection we did together in the agency. After the change process at ICA was completed, I took some of the things that happened in the agency and my learning from these processes back into the academy and co-presented with the instructors from Royal Roads at the community-university conference at UVic earlier this year.

That’s how I see my own life as a reflective practitioner on an ongoing basis. And that is what I am hoping will also be one of the higher-level learning outcomes that will manifest for the students over time – that they see and use and experience and work with the kinds of things that we are doing in the course, and take them back into their real life-world to nurture and sustain their practice.

The Master of Arts in Global Leadership program is designed for professionals from the social purpose or public sector who work in leadership roles in an international or other global context. Offered as a two-year blended program comprised of online learning and on-campus residencies designed to build and enhance globally minded leadership capabilities, the MAGL program commences Feb. 2, 2015. Applications are open until Jan. 2015. If you have questions, feel free to contact Dr. Wendy Rowe, MAGL program head at or Lisa Corak, MAGL program associate.