ABCD Europe

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

Asset Based Community Development Pathfinder- A Primer

So imagine this: we have Community Builders doing a fine job, supporting citizens at neighbourhood level to identify, connect and mobilise assets; creating a shared vision for the future. Now what?


Now we run into red tape, power plays, the neighbourhood plans meet resistance, people become deflated, morale saps and we're back to square one. Well it doesn't need to pan out that way, though it very well might if we're not strategic.


So how can Agents of Change outside communities support community builders and the communities they serve?


This primer


is an attempt to articulate some useful stepping stones for organisations who want to do more than simply 'do no harm', albeit that that is of course the crtical starting point.


Let me know how we can enhance this, it's very much a work in progress.



Jan2012ABCD Pathfinder-A Primer



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Comment by Cormac Russell on February 6, 2012 at 20:58

By the way Lorna, I thought you might like to check out the Dudley Street project in Boston:


One of the few projects where the citizens won Immense of domain from the in this case the city of Boston, it's one of the great ABCD stories and is referred in John and Jody's video on the home page. They are one of the reasons Boston is one of my favourite cities. C  

Comment by Cormac Russell on February 6, 2012 at 20:52

Wow Lorna, that is a terrific piece of work you've done on the guide. The work you're doing in Dudley seems quite ground breaking to me! I really agree with you about the neccessary distinctions between organisations and the people working in them-I dream of having strengths based organisations where our humanity is celebrated and our need for community and conviviality nurtured-they're the organisations where CD will flourish, I'm of the view that if CD values do not hold true within the organisation it will be hard for them to hold true outside.


Anyway, enough of that, It is so fanstastic to see how you are taking the core principles and deepening them in such a creative way. Please post how you get on, and let me know if there's anything I can do to be helpful.


The very best for the event:) this really is terrific exciting stuff ! Cormac  

Comment by Lorna Prescott on February 6, 2012 at 19:43

Hi Cormac

Thanks for your prompt response.

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the harm that needs analysis does and am doing my best to challenge this with the new (to me) language of asset approaches. It's helpful to have the umbrella term of asset approaches to bundle up the sorts of tools and techniques which I have learned about and used over the years, such as participatory appraisal tools. And I hope that in doing this I can challenge some of the terribly negative, misleading and discriminatory language which abounds (service users, 'dis'abled people, deprived communities ....).

I am excited to have come across your work, Jim Diers and others, and to see a growing number of publications and resources about and referring to asset approaches and tools. I'm in the process of writing something which suggests a way forward in Dudley (where I work) that looks at community assets, networks and systems and how we need to develop new skills and roles to work in different ways. I have made some attempt to make this a collaborative work (learning as I go) - with contributions here:

I'm running a session this week on asset approaches ( to start sharing and discussing this with practitioners in Dudley. I'm drawing on questions in the Appreciating Assets paper, and will also be showing a clip of you recoded by David Wilcox at an event last year, as you convey what this is all about so well and it's great to see the results of the processes being used in the room that day.

Your point about agreeing what citizens can do, what they can do with help, and what institutions should  do is a helpful reminder. I used a slightly adapted version of the Social Spaces cards to have this discussion with senior decision makers in Dudley (our Local Strategic Partnership) and it was interesting that they didn't put as many cards in the 'citizens can do this' pile as some local community activists did in previously run workshops. But it did prompt a good conversation and highlighted that there was a common desire across agencies for communities to feel able to do more and agencies to stop holding on to things.

So in summary, I think we pretty much agree on everything! You have a view about CD based on two major themes you see, I get frustrated when people say they are CD workers and they have never even heard of CD values, don't reflect on their own practice and are clearly dancing to the tune of an employing organisation (which is no doubt taking a deficit approach). Is your analysis based on observations of what organisations do, and/or also individuals? I think you can have asset based CD workers in organisations which use a deficit model  - and therein lies one of the many tensions of being part of this thing we call community development!

Comment by Cormac Russell on February 6, 2012 at 17:54

Hi Lorna, thanks for this feedback this is a really good challenge. You are probably right as I read the primer again- the comment around community development is over simplified. Though I do wonder how better to communicate what across Europe I honestly see as two dominant approaches in the space, I believe within those two dominant approaches are a myriad of practices (methods), principles and beliefs, but when I've, and members of the Institute have examined them including the ones you've listed I always find they fit into the two main approaches I mentioned. That said I am just one voice, and I am always wary of my own observer bias which is a massive issue. I am also chastened by what you've shared to insert a comment about the important role that community development plays in it's own right. The primer is not an attempt to suggest that community building replace CD, but to point to an area of community work which appears to me to be insufficiently tended to, that is 'relationship building' at neighbourhood level. As difficult as it might be I do think we need to ask why we have come to a situation where we often treat communities like tangerines, splitting them into wedges of 'need', and 'target groups', and sometime speaking on their behalf, as well as often assuming communities of place are innately hostile to marginalised groups. Are they innately hostile or in need of more community building, organisating, community development? To raise these issues in a clear-hopefully not a simplitic way-I feel compeled to speak about the harm that needs analysis does. Across Europe if you examine the first point of entery by many Community Development Organisations it starts with 'needs analysis' a defecit approach, which carries with it a bias of its own, that being that a good life is predicated on more services, better legislation, or systems reform. While that is true, it has the unintended effect of obscuring the reality the good life also is about mutuality, care and community. It also leads to an outward focus, with the assumption that if anything is going to get better it's because someone/or agency is going to make it better, I think that is harmful to social captial, it demoralises people and leads to a view of power that assumes a zero sum game. The perfect combination for inaction at local level-the inverse of community building and development. I think that praxis, anti-discrinimation, and critical analysis are hugely important in that they challenge people to do something about those issues locally, and to collectivise beyond the local context, as well as at the systems level-when they are done effectively. I did not include them simply because so much is already written about them. Also the primer I believe is pointing to what needs to happen to create the conditions within which these issues can be addressed in a citizen-led way, not in a way that's lead by voices of professional community development or other paid practitioners, mine included but by people organised behind a shared visoin that has been developed inclusively and democratically. That vision needs to be clear about what:

a. people can do with people power

b. what people need institutional help with, Government, NGOS, Private Sector

c. what people need institutions to do unilaterally.


In the final analysis I believe community work (including community organising, community building, community animation, community development, timebanking, social enterprise, social innovation, local economic development, anti-discrimation, etc etc) will best be judged on the extent to which they are citizen led. I believe approaches that start with a belief in peoples capacities to grow more inclusive, hospitable, prosperous and healthy environments are more like to mobilise citizen led action, and it is my observation that not all community development does.....there are however very good examples of ones that do. in the UK fo

Comment by Lorna Prescott on February 6, 2012 at 16:00

Thanks for sharing this Cormac. I found the primer clear and easy to read, and the steps are very practically useful and make a lot of sense. I hope to use them in relation to a few activities I am involved in and would welcome opportunities to learn with others.

I do struggle however with your assertion in the primer that there are two approaches to community development (deficiency model and capacity focused). Community development is a contested concept - to reduce it to two approaches is (in my view) an inadequate (deficient!) description. Where do the following come in to your simplified view: praxis, anti-discrimination, critical analysis, critical consciousness, hegemony and other such concepts that I could add from the glossary of pretty much any decent community development publication? (I did indeed grab these from a glossary, I'm no-where near academic enough to have such language tripping off my tongue. I don't mean to use language which isn't accessible, but these terms have specific meanings and are crucial to an understanding of community development.)

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