Is asset-based community development just another name for community development?

One of the groups at the inquiry launch had a very thought-provoking question: Are we using complex labels for something which is obvious to us all? Should community development already be intrinsically asset-based?

What do you think?

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Hi Debi,
My thought on this is, yes, ABCD is another name for community development but as community development has such a myriad of meanings to different people and in different contexts, naming and developing a language for a particular set of principles or perspectives is important. In community development language matters as does ongoing clarification amongst everyone involved in the process. The power in asking different questions, paying attention to a constructing different narratives, and involving other people in the journey mean that having a common language to share with others on a similar journey is critical.

Having said that there are two things that I keep coming back to with regard to ABCD. Firslty, that ABCD is part of a broader family of perspectives and ideas that include appreciative inquiry, narrative approaches, strengths based approaches, ideas about emergence, even permaculture. And there are plenty of others. ABCD language and the way it has been framed have been a crucial part of my community development pathway over the last ten years, but I try not to forget that ABCD has alot of fellow travellers in the world of ideas as well. I sometimes worry that it might accidentally become a colonising perspective when I hear the zeal of some who take it up, which is fairly ironic.
Secondly, I reckon if the ABCD language and perspective work in conveying effectively a different approach in community development for some people (and there is ample evidence that ABCD has done this), or in expressing ideas for others that they had always used but not been able to describe, then it has an important place in the field of community development. Certainly the way I was taught to do community development was focused on needs, services and facilities and I think it is important to remember how dominant that perspective remains within the field.
I am of the view that the community development workers should not engulfed in the complex labels but they should focus on the crux of the idea.I think once the community development process is started in a particular community than the results are eye unbelievable and it all depends on the community and its dynamic apprach.I have seen the communities where the community development work started and among them some are still at the same level as they were a decade ago and others have breakthrough the nexus.
Hi Amanda and Shakeel,
Excellent posts!

It has gotten me to thinking whether we are trying to 'label' this approach too much in response to Shakeel's experiences in Pakistan. I also agree with Amanda that language matters and that having a common language with others on a similar journey is critical. Does ABCD provide this or does the way we have constructed language around asset-based approaches have a way of excluding people from the conversation?

I wanted to come back to two questions raised by Teresa:

- How should we conceptualise ‘asset’ so that is easily understood and embraced by different cultures? what about societies which may find difficult to separate the natural capital, from the human and the political capital?, is this not a Western-led vision?

- Is ABCD a unifying concept or an approach that embrace a diversity of initiatives which are not necessarily called ABCD? which are the assets of the ABCD approach?
Hi Debi

I think your questions are interesting and it could be very easy for us to construct the concept of assets in a way that limits people’s creativity or understanding and even disempowers communities by outsiders and people in authority not understanding or acknowledging the assets that a community has and its potential power.

I recently conducted a workshop with a group of Indigenous Australian leaders from a remote community and key non-Indigenous workers. The usual way we construct assets from a western prospective was very different and my translator was not able to do it. For example there are 10 different words or categories of natural assets and no overarching one. Defining terms for assets would only hinder the process of discovering what they had. Instead I used some Appreciative Inquiry questions (which in the same way as mapping is a tool for creating power and agency). Questions such as what is deadly (good) about your community, tell a story of when something good happened in your community, who did it, what did they use. We walked through the community and asked people to tell about the community, its stories and what they had. We then talked about what we can build on.This led to talking about protecting their language, elders teaching culture in school and plans for developing bush (natural medicines) and selling them.

One of the non-indigenous participants, the school principal, after listening to the importance of culture and ceremony sat straight up wide-eyed, like he had been hit by a lightning rod. It was as if for the first time he really understood the importance of culture and its potential for building a strong healthy community.

Over time I was able to pass over the facilitation to the elders and for the first time anyone could remember the women were asked by the male elders to sit with the men and all talk together "as this was too important for the men not to hear what they could all do together".

These leaders wanted control over their lives and starting with what they have, not what they don’t have, seemed to help them to know where to start.

Strength based approaches are not a panacea but are very different to the needs based, expert driven planning and program driven approaches they were use to, that came from the capital city.

I think that strong community development approaches need to create space for community members to define their own assets and vision. I believe that every community has its own unique set of assets in which to create a vision for change. I guess I am suggesting we don’t need to get hung up in defining assets, communities can do that themselves.
There is always a question about whether a community dvelopment worker is a 'worker' of a facilitator of 'work'. My view is there is a time a place for both but it takes wisdom to know which is appropriate. Michael


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