Back in late August I posted ‘As easy as ABCD‘ and used the blog to promote discussion on LinkedIn. Inadvertently I entitled the discussion Activity Based Community Development rather than Asset Based Community Development which was the intended acronym. Read on to find out why my mistake turned out to be a stroke of genius.
First it generated discussion. Some participants were confused over ‘Activity’ rather than ‘Asset’ whereas some found the word ‘Activity’ helpful because of the links to ‘action research’ and ‘action learning’. Others came up with ‘Achieving Better Community Development’. I am not advocating carelessness and I should have checked what I had written, but sometimes mistakes can be useful. This one got people talking.
Second, and most important, the discussion led to an important conclusion that it really doesn’t matter what you call it provided it makes a real difference in building local communities. A strengths based approach is important since it recognises and empowers local communities. But as a number of contributors to the discussion pointed out, it is not a matter of either using existing strengths or bringing in experts and using institutional and professional solutions. A healthy balance needs to be maintained. As Cormac Russell pointed out ‘the ABCD message isn’t about attacking professionals/experts so much as inviting people to shift from service based mindsets to support community led development, I think this is very new ground and we have a lot of learning to do.’
I hope if nothing else that the mis-naming of ABCD will have helped practitioners to learn from each other – there was a lot of sharing of experience and relevant papers in the discussion. We all want to see the local community become stronger and how we build that capacity is less important than getting on and doing it. But I have to say that, to me, the mind shift of building on what is there rather than trying to fix a problem is an important one. It will be interesting to see what the results of this approach are – a number of participants pointed to a dearth of evidence. I note that the Barnwood Trust (a charitable foundation dedicated to creating the potential in Gloucestershire for people with disabilities and mental health challenges to make the most of their lives) last year launched a ten-year community-based plan, Unlocking Opportunities. A key part of this is what they call ‘Communities of Practice‘, a concept that brings together individuals from the voluntary, community and public sectors in Gloucestershire and looks at the strengths that already exist within the county and how they can be utilised and mobilised effectively. This initiative, as well as making a positive impact on the community in Gloucestershire, should develop a wealth of evidence to support a strengths based approach, whatever it is called, to community development.