ABCD = Asset Based Community Development
I work as a Community Builder, using ABCD methods to build strong, welcoming and inclusive communities from the bottom up, but what is ABCD?
In a nutshell, ABCD is about residents looking at the strengths, passions and gifts within their own communities, from which they can grow and develop strong and sustainable networks of support based on the positive, rather than harbouring a needs-based culture in which they look to services to provide answers, and become disempowered and disengaged.
It is based on certain principles which include:
· Everyone in the community has a gift, either of the heart, the head or the hands, and so has something they can contribute
· A community is built on relationships so community building is about making, encouraging and strengthening those relationships
· Residents are at the centre of their community. They should be active in its development, not merely recipients of services
· People care about what matters to them
However, there are some things which people might associate with ABCD, and which, while having their place in society, are not always based on those key ABCD principles. I recently got to reflecting on this, and a couple of thoughts stood out for me.
ABCD isn't really about consultation. The principles invite us to have deeper conversations with people in communities. As professionals we might reflect on how often we get caught in the consultation processes, which are based on finding out things in the community that our organisations feel they need to address, but in doing so we often miss the things residents really care about.
So we need to ask ourselves how can we listen more deeply to the interests of communities and support them to take action.Maybe a good way to reframe the process with regard to ABCD would be to consider whether it’s about conversation rather than consultation.
Perhaps we should re-consider how we go into a community to meet residents on their own ground, how we have face to face conversations, and how they can show us what’s great about where they live, and what they would do to make it better with the right support? We’re coming in from the outside so how do we show regard for the fact that there is no-one more expert on this than those who live in that community?
Is it as simple as putting on a hat, coat and comfy shoes and getting out there? Spend some time walking and talking alongside residents and discovering what is important to them for a good life – we should also be prepared for the answers to be unexpected! Perhaps we'll discover that we’ve been asking the wrong questions, or maybe they are the right questions but in the wrong way?
There is another aspect of community life which can often get painted with the ABCD brush, but again, may not sit completely within the core principles. How many of us ‘volunteer’ in our community and why? If asked, people will often cite ‘wanting to put something back’, ‘I've got time on my hands’ or ‘I want to make a difference’. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations defines volunteering as ‘someone spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or supporting individuals who they're not closely related to’
Volunteers have a vital role to play in our society, and without them, many services would be sadly lacking. Undoubtedly many people find volunteering a fulfilling and rewarding experience, and and many lives are enriched because of it. Volunteering is a beneficial and supportive process valued by many. A communities greatest assets are its people and the individual gifts they can bring
I recently heard an executive of a large statutory organisation address an audience with pride on their ABCD strategies and as a result doubling the number of volunteers in their area. I pondered at the time as to whether this sat within ABCD principles?
Volunteering is certainly asset based given that the greatest assets in any community are the people, but is Asset Based Community Development about volunteering?
As a Community Builder, I have helped facilitate many groups around people’s interests and passions. I would estimate the number of people currently involved in these groups are in their hundreds. There are people who plan, promote or organise their group, people who turn up early to set up a room, people who make numerous cups of tea and coffee, people who assist others to attend, people who give up their Saturday or Sunday mornings to run a group, people who bake cakes for their group, people who run their group over the Christmas period so that some members are not on their own over the extended holiday.
These individuals have varied interests and passions, from knitting to harmonica playing, football to poetry, photography to gardening, but they all have one thing in common. They don't see themselves as volunteers. They are not doing this to help out, fill their time in a useful way, to give something back or provide a service to their community.
They are just passionate about their ‘thing’ - whatever that may be, and they enjoy sharing it with others. In doing that, they are building relationships, making friends, facilitating connections, supporting others and making their community a stronger, more welcoming and inclusive place to live. And by doing it around their own passions, they are having the most fun!
And that’s ABCD!