ABCD Europe

Asset-based community development in action, all over Europe.

ABCD Europe Workshop - notes from the July 2014 meeting

ABCD Europe Workshop July 22 - 24 July 2014 sponsored by The Barnwood Trust



Attended by:

Cormac, Martin Simon, David, Steve, Sally, Maureen, Sam, Martin Johnstone, Al ,Philip ,Tom ,Ellie ,Marc and Tom Dewar


These notes are an attempt to capture a sense of the scope of our ideas, thoughts, discussions and conclusions.

We had no mandate to make any decisions on behalf of the main ABCDE group.


We began with a session in which each of us talked about what we wanted to see happen within ABCD Europe and of our own peak experiences to date with ABCD.


The key words that peppered the content of these stories were:


Re-connecting – Unlocking – Kinship – Credibility - Speaking to power – Navigators - Collective wisdom – Autonomy – Intentionality - Standing back – Participation – Consensus – Work in the world as it is – Stories - Disruptive innovations - Acceptance at street level – Use of Social Media - Neighbourliness - Revolution – Conversations – Solidarity - Restore a culture of community – Learning – Rigour - Form follows function



These are some of the points arising from the presentations and training sessions facilitated by Cormac and Tom  


ABCD is not a model it is a perspective.


How do we maintain a democratic approach when operating at both the hyper local level and in an international arena.

“How do we get from the bees to the trees?”


We are on to something big and important, but it is also frail - and open to people misusing it and abusing it. How do we protect it?


ABCD Europe is to be a nest for enterprise and innovation and all about facilitating and supporting those who are doing the doing...

Creating little pockets of a different type of world and moving away from projects and programmes.



Here are some ‘sound bites’ from our discussions :


  • Small things can make a massive difference.


  • We need a process which has the fingerprints of citizens all over it


  • We have to organise abundance as well as those people who organise tyranny go about their business


  • Power to the people will become power IS the people.


  • Storming the suburbs! The ABCD Way.


  • Unearthing the hidden treasures


  • Re - membering community


  • Keeping a welcome at the edge, for the gifts of the stranger


  • You can be so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good


  • It's all too serious to take it seriously!


  • Hearts beating to a different drum





Professionalism is about competence – someone can be the most competent but non-qualified person in the world and vice versa.








Common characteristics of ABCD:


  • The authority is with the people, who are pulled together freely by common consent based on mutual concern and enlightened self interest...not by command or mandate.


  • The capacity to respond in times of crisis and the ability to mobilise many more people than any of the paid systems can.


  • It is individuals responding to individual dilemmas - it's personal. Systems can't achieve that, they are generalised and standardised.


  • People defining what is to be done and then taking action together to do it.


  • The Heineken factor, reaching the parts others can't reach.


  • ABCD is proliferating among people of all conditions, capacities and interests. Their focus is neither on perfection nor need.


  • ABCD is as much about receiving gifts as it is about giving them.


  • Community is a 4th leg for the currently unstable 3 legged stool of 1) Commerce, 2) Government and 3) Voluntary Agencies.


  • Our place of work is our neighbourhoods.


  • If you're not politically savvy you are doomed to be governed by your superiors.




"Civilisations flourish when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit."








Another 5 community assets

(alongside the 5 ABCD "classics")


  1. Power of stories
  2. The gifts of the ‘outliers’
  3. The connections and influence of ‘gappers’
  4. The capacity to receive as well as give.
  5. The leap of faith that ABCD can equip people to become active citizens, as opposed to passive consumers.



What was alive in the group?


How visible or invisible are we seeking to be? If invisible, we can be much more light touch. Who do we want to be visible to? Where do we want to place ourselves?


Our focus is not on institutional reform but on making them aware of where they have stolen power from communities in the name of help.


How deep is the link between ABCD and social justice?

We are aware that ABCD could become a tool of an oppressor – e.g. if the rationale for ABCD is budget savings in strident times or deflecting the responsibility for failure in any society onto communities.


Gathering ABCD stories and thereby letting people speak for themselves. Maybe a European “Green Book”. (The original Green Book was by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight and called “Building Communities From the Inside Out” ACTA, Chicago. 1993.)


We have a sense of what ABCD is for us in Europe in the here and now. Stories of times when neighbours got together and made a difference will be at the heart of any new book, (or audio or video format).



Finally we asked ourselves:-


Are we representative of our own communities?

What would the community member sitting on our shoulder make of our conversations and would what we are talking about help their lives to flourish?


The last morning was spent looking at ABCD Europe itself:


At the Sitges meeting, ( January 2014), we said we wanted to:


  • Meet together annually
  • Think Europe
  • Have a set of clear values
  • Find out ‘what's there’ and ‘so what’
  • Do an asset map of our skills and connections
  • Bring together thinkers and doers
  • We will not become an institution
  • Form and disband action groups


After beginning to report back on the Action Groups that were set up in Sitges the group wanted to focus on further relationship building between those present and to look for core values that we thought we could all agree with?


Suggestions for a set of core values:-


  • We are committed to more equal and just societies and  will focus much of our energy on communities and neighbourhoods which are frequently marginalised.
  • We believe that everyone has strengths and potential.
  • Really getting to know each other and deepening our relationships are imperatives.
  • Be slow, set the roots before growing the plant. (But also recognise that some need to move at a quicker pace.)
  • Make sure that we are present as people, not only in role.
  • Always accept each other's offers, gifts and limits.
  • Noticing who's missing.
  • Recognising that what drives each of us may be different.
  • Do what we say we are going to do.
  • Exchange resources.
  • Use language that everyone can understand - and all national languages.
  • Organise abundance in an inclusive and accessible way.
  • Dipping in and dipping out is okay and not a negative.
  • The asset map is not the map but a compass to help us find OUR way

The plan is to.......


  • Gather stories from across Europe.
  • Activate our networks to find more stories.
  • Formulate a template for collating the stories.
  • Find a community of interest who will give us a platform - a website that's fit for purpose.


So, between now and the next gathering we collect stories.

The sharing and the analysis of those stories becomes the main task of the next gathering and we come with at least one story each.

As a group of “curators” we will enjoy the stories, deconstruct them and uncover their meaning.

We will have a collection of short stories which - in essence - become the substance of our business case and our offer.


We have the invitation to hold the next gathering in Portugal.


Final thoughts: 


Let's free ourselves so we can make it up as we go along, but remember that improvisation is built on strong foundations.


And, from Tom (Dewar)

“We are not interested in institutional reform..” We ARE interested in finding and expanding spaces for citizen action and in the kinds of disruptive innovations that make citizen action possible and effective.  

Work of the kind we seek is already widespread, often in forms and places “right under our noses.” Our ABCD language and logic simply tries to name and describe what effective people and groups already know and do – often by another name, or using different language.   

ABCD tries to lift up and promote values and practices that turn people into stronger and more self-aware producers and citizens and away from being mere consumers and clients. "

At the end of the workshop we renamed ourselves the humble curators!


Marc, Martin and Tom - October 2014.



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