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Key Note Address to National Hui of Community Houses, Aotearoa New Zealand: Are Community Houses in Aotearoa New Zealand Poor Houses?
Dr. Jens J. Hansen

Dr. Jens J. Hansen has worked in education for more than four decades and his interests span research methods, adult learning, philosophy and rural education.
He has survived a suite of experiences including parenthood, building, badminton and red wine. 
By Dr. Jens J. Hansen
Published on 10/16/2008

In early October, I enjoyed the privilege and honour of being the inaugural key-note speaker at the inaugural National Hui of the Community Houses of Aotearoa New Zealand.  One of the most interesting things I discovered during my surfing of materials prior to preparing the presentation was that the concept of community houses appears to be firmly nested in Western culture.  In other words, houses which are used by members of communities and neighbourhoods do seem to be a mainly Eurocentric construct although I have no doubt that marae and fale are Maori and Pasifika equivalents.  And doubtless there are others…

Interestingly, some of the essence of just what a community house might be was traversed at a panel discussion during the morning session.  At the time I summarised the threads of the very wide ranging discussion by seeking to extract the very kernel of what the panellists were saying and after having shared it with the conference attendees, I promised I’d put it onto this website.  Accordingly, I've reproduced that summary here and I have to say that despite revision, I'm not yet sure that I've done justice to what the contributors had to say.  However, I think that what the panel said has substantial value so all I've tried to do is to capture, condense and concentrate their collective messages - with integrity!  Fundamentally, it seemed to me the people on the panel proposed that...

Community Houses are diversely responsive not-for-profit agencies which variously deliver three key dimensions of service to their communities of interest:

  1. They provide space for community resources and services.  This means they serve as a meeting hub for the communities of interest and communities of practice which operate within them.  The size of the operational footprint that each house serves seems to determine the extent to which space is needed.  For large pockets of population such as in cities, larger shared buildings, often comprising a multitude of small spaces, appear to operate for a kaleidoscope of stand-alone agencies.  However, for smaller population pockets such as neighbourhoods, small cottages with many fewer spaces seem to be the norm.  And within cities where community houses are located in neighbourhoods, the size of buildings varies from medium to small depending upon the size of neighbourhood and population being served.  Irrespective of size, a reasonably useful indicator of the effectiveness of all such spaces seems to be not so much the numbers of people coming in and out of a building, but rather, the percentage of time each of the discrete spaces within those buildings are used.
  2. They offer learning and development activities.  These programmes can be structured (non-formal programmes of learning) or unstructured (informal and incidental learning episodes).  They may involve facilitated learning exchanges, information giving and receiving, problem solving and/or conflict resolution, social development and knowledge creation and/or distribution. They are offered to people of all ages - young children (as per Plunket) through to the aged.  Moreover, the learning and development activities offered by community houses are open to all, irrespective of culture, ablility, disability and status.  Community Houses are, therefore, educationally egalitarian in outlook and seek to be so in practice - they are agencies which are led by practitioners and facilitators of lifelong learning and development.
  3. They provide servant leadership.  This involves the facilitation of development so that individuals and groups may grow; it also involves the provision of remedial services which can ameliorate community inequalities and address injustices.  The provision of servant leadership is the means by which resources become marshalled and programmes of development delivered.  It is the flux which binds together the successful operations of community houses. 

Importantly, Community Houses seek to ensure that the developmental futures of the numerous communities of practice with which they are connected are assured. Community houses seek to enable individuals and groups to flourish with independence and integrity.  These groups and individuals must be allowed to do so at their pace and in their own time.  They must be able to prosper not only in places and spaces governed by community house members, but equally, they must be helped to operate within spaces which are more familiar to client settings.  This means that the remit of those working from community houses ideally extends beyond the walls of the house into all of the community.


I especially enjoyed what the panel had to say because, in many ways, it blends well with the ideas about Etienne Wenger's communities of practice I introduced during my presentation.  So if you have a closer look at the final slides of the powerpoint show that follows, you'll see some congruences between the two sessions.

When I prepared the key-note, I created a power-point show within which were displayed a number of hyperlinks.  These hyperlinks were internal links to WebPages which I'd saved to the hard drive on my laptop.  (I'd done that in case there'd been no capacity to hook up to the Internet.)  In the spirit of enabling, which is another hallmark of community houses, I've uploaded the slideshow onto this site.  But because the hyperlinks which were embedded within the slides have been removed, the slides don't link to anything external.  If you want to have a look at what was produced, though, click here.  And as always, feedback is very welcome.