I came late to Community Development. By the time I started working as a Community Development worker I had already been a teacher, musician, pensions assessor and disability worker. I had qualifications in Education, Creative Arts and Social Science. I’d toyed around with becoming a Social Worker but kept my degree general to expand my employment prospects. In many ways, I was unprepared for what I would find in the field of Community Development. The one community development university unit completed gave me a general understanding. Fortunately, my experience in disability work gave me a strengths and people-based approach to working with the community. This helped in transitioning from working with individuals to working with communities.
I started my first role in Community Development as an Ageing and Disability Community Development Officer. At the time the focus was largely on events and networking with other services. There was some contact with community organisations and groups but this was limited largely to the Access Advisory Committee that had been set up by my employer, the local council, to address issues for people with disabilities.
I was very lucky that one of my colleagues had experience with Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and worked from that framework. This was my first introduction to ABCD.
A year or two in the job I went to hear Jim Diers speak at a neighbouring Council and had a Eureka moment that eventually led down the path to working from a strong ABCD perspective.
Like many others, I learned about its practice along the way through trial and error, professional reading in the subject matter, successful projects, discussions with colleagues and the occasional workshop from a visiting speaker. One thing we did have in our resource library was a copy of “Building Communities From the Inside Out” by John Kretzmann and John McKnight. This volume is one of the founding documents in the practice of ABCD. Referring to it when needed helped in the work I was doing and aided in moving my team to concentrate on ABCD as the prime lens we viewed our work from.
It is now many years later that I’ve had the opportunity to re-read the book. It is designed, not to be read from cover to cover, but to only read the sections needed at the time. I’ve opted to read the entire volume from start to finish. I must admit I’ve found it to be a great read and certainly reinforced my approach to working with the community.
A few quick takeaways from returning tot he book:
1/. A needs-based analysis to address the state of communities creates a situation where people only see the deficits around them and in themselves. This leads them to see themselves as deficient and can only be aided by help from “professionals” outside of their community. And we wonder why it is so hard to motivate people to take action to solve their own problems.
2/. Alternatively, an asset-based approach that looks at the strengths, gifts, skills and capacity of the community creates a view that community has the ability and resources to commence solving many of their own problems. This a glass half full approach, not the glass half empty deficit needs-based approach. The glass half full is much better to work with than the glass half empty.
3/. The Asset-Based Community Development approach is not a cookie-cutter method where every project or activity is the same. It is a set of principles based on recognising and maximising the assets of a community. This can look different depending on the assets available and the nature of the community.
4/. Creating partnerships with each other, community organisations and institutions is incredibly important in building community
5/. Every person has some skill, ability or experience that can add to the whole community.
6/. Start with what is present in the community and build on that
7/. ABCD is relationship-based. Relationships between community members, relationships between community members and community organisations, relationships between organisations etc.
8/. It is place-based work. Each place will be different.
9/. Organisations and institutions have great assets that can be used in a myriad of ways to build community. For example, a meeting room can become a gallery.
There is so much to this book. Seek out a copy and use it to build your practice