Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a place-based framework pioneered by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann of the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University. It starts with a few simple truths: 1) everyone has gifts; 2) everyone has something to contribute, and 3) everyone cares about something and their passion is their motivation to act. Strong, safe and healthy neighborhoods and communities are built on the strengths and capacities of their residents and associations that call the community home. We cannot build strong caring neighborhoods without unlocking the potential of the residents.
The traditional approach to community development is focused on providing services to address the community’s and its residents’ needs and deficits. The ABCD approach starts with discovering the assets and gifts already present in the community. This is followed by asking residents to share their gifts and connecting people with the same passions to act collectively.
The most successful community efforts are built upon resident engagement and action (low cost/no cost solutions) working together with existing institutions and programs. We cannot achieve the results required without the strong engagement of the resources and efforts of residents as well as the work of institutions. To be truly effective, residents must join the effort as co-producers/co-creators of their own and their community’s well-being.
To unlock the power of resident engagement, institutions and government must lead by stepping back, creating space for residents to be involved as producers. Initially, it is imperative to determine 1) what are the things that residents can contribute and accomplish alone, 2) what are the things that residents and institutions or government can accomplish together, as co-producers, and 3) what are the things that only institutions can do.
Another framework to explain the concept of citizen engagement is the difference between care and service. Care is what residents offer. Care is provided when residents become engaged and share their assets and/or resources and work collectively for the common good in their neighborhood or community. Service is what institutions and professionals offer, as a method to address the problems of an individual or community.
The effective framework to “turn the curve” on community well-being must include citizen action, neighborhood action and institutions doing only those things they can uniquely do and stepping back to create space for citizen and community action.
We suggest the following strategies to support effective resident engagement:
- We must believe that everyone has gifts that can be shared to build a stronger neighborhood or community.
- Relationships build a community; we need to take the time to build relationships as the first step in engaging residents.
- Place-based citizen-centered organizations are the key to community engagement. To effectively engage residents they need to be involved from the beginning to provide input and direction to the effort; not merely to provide input after the plan has been developed.
- Leaders involve others as active members of the community. Effective leaders are connectors encouraging people with the same passions to work collectively for the common good.
- Everyone cares about something and what he or she cares about is his or her motivation to act.
- Listening conversations discover passions and gifts. The simple process of asking questions rather than giving answers invites stronger participation and engagement.
- Discover, Ask and Connect. The key to engagement is: 1) identifying the gifts (skills and abilities) and passions (the issues they care about) of the residents; 2) asking the residents to share their gifts to address the issue(s) they care about; and 3) encouraging residents to connect with other individuals who have the same passion(s) to work collectively for greater impact.
- Institutional leaders must recognize that they have reached their limits in problem-solving. To be effective in today’s world they need the resources of the community and residents to achieve the results the community needs. The role of institutions becomes one of helping to remove barriers so that the people they serve can become producers of their own and their community’s well-being.
For more information on how to effectively engage in ABCD to get results, visit our ABCD page here.
About the author:
Dan Duncan is a Senior Consultant with Clear Impact. He has also been a faculty member of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute for more than 20 years. Dan has extensive professional management experience in the non-profit, educational, and for-profit professional service sectors. He has used this experience to provide training and consultation both nationally and internationally. Dan previously served as a Senior Vice President for the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, where he was responsible for the organization’s community building, public policy, grant-making, marketing, information technology, and constituent relationship management activities. Dan has been recognized by Former Arizona Governor Napolitano as a statewide leader in early childhood education.