One of the interesting discussions that came out of the small group I was a part of at the inquiry launch was the question of power and asset-based approaches to community development. Do asset-based approaches to community development take account of power and power relationships within communities and between communities and other sectors? How can we use the existing system to change the existing system? What interventions/stances have proven helpful in relation to recognising power imbalances, but promoting parity of esteem?
I think one of the things that ABCD suffers from is the straight forward way it communicates some central principles: such as 'you can not know what you need until you know what you have'; 'everyone has gifts and talents', 'community development happens best from inside out', I think it gives the impression that it all very simple. Sometimes people assume that's all there is to ABCD. But there's alot more. To really explore the question of power we need to look at what the geometry lesson that looks at the power dynamic between Systems and Citizens, which highlights how systems after WWII have commodified our 'needs; and turned citizens into clients, and completely ignored our assets because they don't produce service jobs. We have shifted from a situation in the 30's where 90% of people worked producing goods and products, where only 10% of people were employed in the provision of services. This has effectively reversed to a situation to a situation where we now have over 90% of people working in the service industry, and they all need our needs! So often we here systems tell us we'll be better because they know better (after all their professionals), when the reality is often 'we're better together, and all we need from systems is support.
All too often the current 'power analysis' has a built in assumption that more services make for a better life, and so development has become about supporting citizens to lobby for more services, and programmes, assuming that somehow this will make us, healthier, safer, better educated. Despite that fact that there is little evidence that this is the case, infact there's growing evidence that the contrary stands. So that analysis is flawed-unless of course you analysis the economics of it. So I hope people are not suggesting we use that to critque ABCD. Since ABCD infact critques it: need I invoke Einstein's council about generating new ideas by using the thinking that got us into the problem in the first place...
People who really want to get into the question of power analysis and ABCD will benefit greatly from a peruse of the following:
Bellah,R,R. Madsen, W.Sullivan,A.Swinder, and S.M.Tipson, 1985. Habit of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life.
Ellul,J. 1965. The technological society. New York: Knopf.
Illich, I. 1976. Medical nemisis...and everything else you can get your hands on.
Foucault, M -everything you can get your hands on.
McKnight, J. Careless Society: Community and its counterfeits
Alinsky, s, Rules for Radicals
It strikes me that the NGO movement worldwide is now one of the most powerful movements on the planet with in excess of 2 million NGO's in the world today influencing everything from Government policies, to Corporate Governance of major multinationals and much else in between. ABCD challenges us to remember with that power comes the responsibility to turn our power analysis of the rest of the world on ourselves and ensure we are at least as good at being good as we insist everyone else is. One of the most surprising conclusion of ABCD's power analysis is that often the people claiming to be helping by critiquing everyone else lack of power analysis are all too often the ones doing the greates harm. Beware the helpers!!!! They tend leave behind dependancy....ABCD is about citizen led development....not more services. Lets apply power analysis to the current power analysis and the start our critique.
Thank you, Cormac, for your thought-provoking post.
It's great that this forum exists. The opportunity to learn about new approaches and witness them being discussed by a broad range of practitioners, community members, activists, and funders alike is rare, and extremely valuable. One of the things that attracted me to this site (and to Scotland in the first instance) was the fact that dialogue and intelligent debate is appreciated and fostered here.
Any time a group (be it an NGO, a Governmental Organization, or consultants) engage in monetary, educational, or ideological aid, a power dynamic is created. By "helping" people (even in aiding them in self-empowerment), the distinction is made between those with the power of knowledge and those without. This assumption is an extension of the post-expansionist/post-Imperialist paradigm, and even the best of intentions can be undermined by this dynamic, especially when a proprietary sense of a "way of doing things" is felt by practitioners. It is a mistake not to recognize and acknowledge this lens.
Although there is indeed more to it, ABCD is a simple, straightforward approach that alters the idea of aid/regeneration in a substantially progressive way.
The evidence that "helpers...tend to leave behind dependency" is all too apparent. However, although NGO's can suffer from dogmatic zeal or funder-initiated limitations that lead to an external checklist-based approach, many programmes manage to teach new skills to communities and expose people to approaches that they would not have had access to otherwise. ABCD is being discussed by certain NGO's now, because their members recognize the value of this power shift and are seeking the best way to incorporate it into their work.
The current system is in place and well-entrenched: Most of the products and goods produced by past generations have been industrialized and modes of production appropriated by corporations. As such, how can we alter the current paradigm within the existing system (since community development is change from within)?
Everyone on this site is here because they "care enough to act" (to borrow from Mike Green). As diverse groups trying to induce positive change and build vibrant and resilient communities, how do we engage the issues of power without stumbling over power dynamics ourselves?
Thanks for your post David. I think at best we walk beside the communities we serve supporting them to drive their own change from within and sometimes as Peter Block reminds, that calls on us to confront citizens with their own freedom, and to as Henry Moore once suggested, simultaneously challenge agencies to lead by stepping back. I like the idea that we are 'gappers' existing in the space between circles and triangles, the dreamtime where we can hold the emergent possibility that we are moving away from a Liberal democracy where the self is all at once most power and most powerless, to a civic republicanism where we are growing in power together.
Hi Debi and Cormac,
I agree with you both about the central, but maybe overlooked in some circles, part played by our understanding of power and its operation in ABCD perspectives in whatever context. To me the analysis of power is an essential element in ABCD's critique of the service system as you were saying Cormac and I reckon that's pretty clear when you have a read of the material you recommended above. In The Careless Society, power is the central theme and the heritage of ABCD using Alinsky's ideas and those of Illich is embedded in a comprehensive analysis of the operation of power on communities and individuals. I wonder, though, whether many people either read summarised versions of ABCD, or experience ABCD ideas delivered in a cook book style that is focused on what to do without reflecting seriously on why it is important.
I just put in my PhD thesis that looks at the emergence of ABCD practice on the Central Coast of NSW and part of the research involved forming a co-operative inquiry group of people working from an ABCD perspective. Over the nine months during which the group met, power and ABCD were ongoing themes. What the people in the group said in relation to this was that they used and ABCD as a key frame in conjunction with their ethical and values base of social justice. An ABCD perspective had assisted them in clarifying and finding a way to express their thoughts about the operation of power and their role as powerful people in the system and to work more intentionally on addressing power inbalance in their day to day lives and work. One of the most important aspects of ABCD's analysis of power from the research was it's role in creating meaningful conversations and practical action in the everyday on issues of power. People in the co-operative inquiry group (and it's been my experience as well) said that using an ABCD perspective (which they reported as a complex learning curve about a simply described set of principles) enabled them to better understand how they participated in and could change the operation of power in their roles as both community members and paid community workers.
That's my thoughts on power for this morning. Hope they add to the conversation
I am posting a comment from Aidan Lloyd on this topic--unfortunately, he has been having problems accessing the Fiery Spirits system. I think his comment is a really good discussion starter:
"This asset based community development is nothing new, just old wine in new bottles. It is a repackaged version of the old Alinsky ‘community organising’ concept, which had its uses as a tactic to move actions along – i.e. direct action, personalising the issue etc. I think this was a useful organising methodology because it offered some possibilities in terms of creating a local social movement. Obama gives a very good description of its use in ‘Dreams From My Father’ – classic US Community Organising. However, even he recognised that it was extremely limited in terms of trying to achieve the type of social change required to deliver on the agendas he wished to advance – an end to racism and other forms of discrimination and inequality. He very clearly identifies the reality that these things are structurally determined and need to be tackled at that level. In his case he chose a political route.
The new McKnight version doesn’t even have the Alinsky bite. It’s basically saying that the solutions are within neighbourhoods, that these solutions are related to the assets within a community, and if this is recognised and communities organised to focus on these assets it will result in improvements. Unfortunately, it is a flawed analysis. Obama is right. The problems are structural in the sense that they are determined by the division of power and resources that result in institutional inequality and oppression. Community work in the UK and Ireland is defined as the pursuit of social change related to the achievement of social justice and equality. It recognises the need for institutional and structural change and acknowledged the tension this creates. This ABCD will deflect away from that purpose.
This ABCD ideology has been and is being promoted in Ireland and has a particular appeal to local authorities. It is not being promoted by those from the community sector but by those with a variety of backgrounds - ranging from early childhood education to community education - with only a rudimentary understanding of community work as a vehicle of social change. Local authorities love it because the problems can be located within the communities that they work with and there is no need to engage at a wider level (it needs to be said that local government in Ireland is very underdeveloped and does not compare with other European systems).
It also has a fit with the general ambition of the state for community development in Ireland, which is steering it towards a non-advocacy, service delivery role and which has undermined the community sector and dispirited those involved in local projects and actions.
I am all for a debate on the matter but due cognisance needs to be taken of the ideology behind this resurrection of an approach that did not and could not deliver social change in the US – hence the emergence of the civil rights and subsequent Black movements in America in parallel to Alinsky’s model which were capable of achieving significant social change for the most oppressed and disadvantaged social entity in America."
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I really enjoyed reading your idea which as I understand it put forward two foundational points, 1) that ABCD is no more than rebranded Alinsky community organising-which ultimately failed, 2) that Obama turned his back on the approach due to its narrow impacts on structural inequities and in areas of social justice. On these two foundation points you build your conclusion that ABCD is fundamentally flawed in it analysis and as an approach. I would respectful say based on your contribution you have misjudged the heritage and core thesis of ABCD.
1) ABCD offers a power analysis which infact contradicts Ailinsky's assumption that if the disenfranchised get more services they will have better lives, infact ABCD parts with AIlinsky in this regard, and bring a new analysis to the table, an analysis which is drawn from Ivan Illich's work in the main. Yes John was an Ailinsky organiser, and yes much of Saul's work remains current in terms of certain ABCD approaches, but they are two very different school, since he like Obama recognised the limits of the approach and therefore developed ABCD. It is accepted in the ABCD world that ABCD is not sufficent to address structural inequality as you rightly point out, but it is nevertheless an essential part of real community development, if we are to avoid the professionalisation of community development which has become rife, for reason I explain in my contributions under power and other postings in this inquiry.
2) Again with respect, the fact is that both Michelle and Barack are active supporters of ABCD and are on record in this regard (in fact Michelle remains a faculty member of the ABCD Institute) see below:
REMARKS BY MICHELLE OBAMA AT A GREATER DC CARES EVENT
Renaissance Hotel, Washington, D.C. 17 June 2009
"As has been the case throughout our history, communities are built and rebuilt by regular people: folks working in businesses, philanthropists, foundations, and volunteers, all of them coming together to find solutions to these types of challenges. And during this time we are going to need everyone, and that -- everyone to rededicate themselves to this type of community-building, and we're going to need people to basically take hold of this kind of ethic of service and make a personal commitment to helping get this country back on the right direction.
And I believe that we're in a unique moment in history. Maybe you're seeing the same thing. I'm feeling it as I'm traveling not just around D.C. but around the country. But people really want to get involved. They really want to. They're looking for a way to turn their frustration, excitement, anxiety into action. And the recent passage of the Serve America Act -- the federal government is tripling its contribution to volunteerism, and people are responding to that investment. Applications, as we're seeing for service opportunities, are up by record numbers, and that's a very good thing.
And with the knowledge that, as Barack said throughout his campaign and throughout his presidency, that ordinary people can do some extraordinary things if they're given the proper tools and support, my husband is asking us to come together to help lay a new foundation for growth.
And that's really where all of you come in, where you've been coming in for years and years and years through your work. In order to make service a part of every citizen's life, we need to ensure that we have the capacity to welcome those volunteers in. And that's easier said than done. We want to be able to put folks' goodwill into good use. We need to make sure that every hour of time that they commit is spent doing something that's
actually going to make a difference, that every dollar contributed is actually going to go to moving some real solutions forward.
And I realize that that's easier said than done. Having built an organization myself from the ground up -- as you heard from my background, I've kind of floated through my career, building stuff and then moving on and building something else -- I know what non-profits, foundations and social entrepreneurs face. I understand it. I know how hard it is to get the money to pay for fundraising, and accountants, and volunteer coordinators, to get all the technology that you really need to make the work happen; that this just doesn't happen out of goodwill, that it takes real resources to move things forward.
And I know what it's like to worry about making payroll, which I know many of you are going through in these tough times. I know that you're laying off consultants and staff members because you're seeing dollars dwindle. I know what it's like to write need statements and come up with measurable outcomes and -- yes, we all know that -- segregating funds, completing AmeriCorps progress reports. I've done all that. And it's necessary, but at times it can drive you nuts. So I know that service doesn't just happen. And I know how hard you work behind the scenes to make it happen, and a lot of times people take it for granted because if the work is getting done, then nobody really cares how. And when it stops happening, they wonder why, but often don't have the resources to step in.
So I want to congratulate you all on doing what it takes to make these programs work, and just knowing what it takes to keep the operations going that you don't even get a chance sometimes to celebrate what you've done, to realize, to step back and look at the impact that you're having. So I honor all of you for the effort, and hope that you can, if not today but tomorrow and in the coming weeks, pat yourselves on the back for the work that you've been doing, because we're going to need you to do even more.
When I look over this room, I think about my days when I worked at Public Allies. I headed that program in Chicago before I moved into the university, and that organization allowed me to work with more than 30 Chicago organizations every single year, placing AmeriCorps members with them so that they could expand their services. We placed young people with organizations working on education and youth development groups, environmental groups, neighborhood, economic development groups, all types of groups all throughout the city of Chicago. And I saw first-hand through that work the variety of neighborhood and community needs that exist out there, and how hard it is for these groups to meet that need with the resources that they have. So they were excited to get these young people. However naïve and untrained they were, they ate these Allies up.
And we recruited some of the best kids across the city of Chicago. For every young person that we recruited at a great institution like Northwestern, DePaul or the University of Chicago -- we even recruited kids from Harvard Law School -- we also recruited someone from Cabrini Green or from Little Village or North Lawndale. And through my work with Public Allies I realized that the next generation of leaders was just as likely to come from poor and working-class neighborhoods as they were to come from some of the top colleges around the country.
My time at Public Allies also gave me the opportunity to work with John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, who developed the Asset-Based Community Development approach to
neighborhood development, and that really influenced how we worked with communities. Some of you may be familiar with this approach, but the approach acknowledges that all of us, every single one of us breathing in this community, in this planet, those of us serving and those of us who are being served, that we're all both half-full and half-empty.
We all have skills and talents that make us good friends, family members, workers, and leaders, and we also have needs and shortcomings that come along with those strengths. We can't do well serving these communities, I learned with Public Allies, if we believe that we, the givers, are the only ones that are half-full, and that everybody we're serving is half-empty.
That has been the theme of my work in community for my entire life -- that there are assets and gifts out there in communities, and that our job as good servants and as good leaders is not only just being humble, but it's having the ability to recognize those gifts in others, and help them put those gifts into action. Communities are filled with assets that we need to better recognize and mobilize if we're really going to make a difference, and Public Allies helped me see that.
At Public Allies, we endeavored to do this also by bringing these young people together from diverse backgrounds. We worked with African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, white, gay, straight, you name it, college graduates, ex-felons, we brought them all together every week to work in a group.
And truly, that's where the magic happened, when you saw those kids from all those different backgrounds really tussling it out and trying to figure out their philosophies in the world in relationship to their beliefs and stereotypes."
So I would put it to you that claiming that ABCD is flawed because it's based on a watered down version of a failed Ailinsky strategy which Obama has turned his back on is a 'strw man' arguement, which doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I think it would be well worth taking up Debi invitation to read careless society, particularly the chapter on Post Ailinsky Community Organising and I really hope you join us, you offer a really important voice to the debate...
I should say for those reading who do not have direct experience of ABCD in the ROI, it might be important on balance to also note that quite a number of LEADER, Partnership, Family Resource Centres, and Community Development Programmes, not to mention the University of Limerick, the Tipperary Insitute, and Atlantic Philantrophies are to varying degrees exploring and using ABCD and well as Local Authorities..and while they are not changing the world..they are doing some very fine development work which can more than hold a torch to other CD approaches I've seen in operation of the last 15 years in the ROI.
I have been following this thread with interest and while I don’t know the Irish experience, I can relate to what Adrian says the Irish government may want to do. Governments in Australia have for a long time contracted NGOs t o provide strictly controlled services right across the country. Just the other day a small consortium of large NGOs bought 250 childcare centres and will provide childcare in communities they have never been in, with government funding, standards and policy and uniform approaches designed to be efficient and minimise risk.
It is well documented that very large amounts of funding that had gone to the non government sector to provide services in Australia has led to many of these large NGO institutions not speaking out about social justice particularly for the unemployed.
In my view this trend supports the need for ABCD based approaches. McKnight is a supporter of citizen driven efforts where citizens define the opertunity and the vision. ABCD principles advocate community action not services systems. Many ABCD efforts start by collecting stories of what works and when communities have grown strong. This helps people who see themselves as powerless to see that they can effect some change and in partnership may be able to do more. Community members discover what assets they have and a hopeful vision for their community. In my experience it creates solidarity and access to resources including economic opportunities to build wealth.
ABCD can be seen as subversive as ABCD, as I understand it, advocates for people who have been marginalised to firstly define their own vision, the need,the opertunity and articulate the strategy.
The question for me is who defines the vision, who defines the need? Having spent a long time in advocacy organisations, the power was often with a few paid advocates (who are now in government or large city law firms) that decided vision, need and strategies . A recent example is the proliferation of programs by community workers to decrease the carbon footprint of people living in economic poverty. This group of people have the lowest carbon footprint of any group in the country!
The key steps to collecting stories of what works, mapping and defining assets, creating strong internal relationships to access the internal assets, creating a hopeful vision, taking action and then finding resources outside to make things happen, is one important way of making change. As Frances Coady said “you use what you have to get what you don’t have.” In my experience the relationships built between organisations, associations and networks can be harnessed at the ballot box/street march and can create safe, healthy communities in ways that even the most enlightened governments cannot do. As my friend and colleague Mike Green said "When people discover what they have they find power; When people join together in new connections and relationships they build power; When people become more productive together, they exercise their power to address problems and realise dreams."
Thanks Cormac, Aiden, Ted and Debi for creating such an interesting and diverse dialogue on ABCD and I totally take on board that ABCD means different things to different people. I know what it means to me coming, as I do from a non-academic,
‘coal-face’ viewpoint. Quite simply…it works!
Although all the debate resonated, I thought maybe I could add a somewhat different perspective as a community nurse who has used an ABCD approach to bring about health improvement and transformational change, all resident led, in deeply unwell, disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the UK (some would say ‘sink’ estates …but not me!)Of course I didn’t do it alone. The emphasis was on multi-agency support of residents to lead change for themselves.
And I didn’t know I was using ABCD till a couple of years ago when Tony Kendle from Eden and Tara O’Leary at IACD first introduced me to the concept. I’d worked intuitively for years and all I knew was that my methods were working, with zero funding whilst multi- million pound Govt. initiatives weren’t. So it was a ‘eureka ’moment to know that there was a tried and tested global framework which matched my approach, because it offered credibility and validation at long last. And guess what? Nationally Local Government and the NHS are beginning to listen. Early days but the growing momentum can be evidenced by the fact that I recently reconnected with Cormac at a Health Inequalities conference in Warwick Uni.on ABCD, hosted by IDeA (LGA) in partnership with NHS.
So I have no hesitation in nailing my colours firmly to the ABCD mast and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I hope the highly respected and great duo, John McKnight and Cormac Russell will forgive the fact that I recently plagiarised (with a few tweaks!) their words in a document which has led to a Dept. Health Commission to demonstrate the business case for the application of community development in Health.
What follows is a short extract based on my experience as a nurse and tho I don’t cite ABCD I hope it is implicit.
‘The reversal of a community suffering decline demands action to initiate connectivity. Ideally this would come spontaneously from residents but this rarely happens due to the intimidating power of a destructive minority of their peers. Someone has to act and initiate new relationships and create the spaces for reconnection of residents to each other and between them and the agencies who serve them. The starting point is having an unshakeable belief in a community’s capacity to heal itself. My experience has been that this capacity is always there even in the bleakest of scenarios. It is always only around 1% of the population who create the mayhem and dysfunction which characterizes our so called ’sink’ estates or communities. The vast majority of residents are dignified, resilient and strong citizens. They have to be. Living below the breadline with all the challenges of a poor economy, probable poor health, housing, unemployment and a crime-blighted neighbourhood makes for some strong individuals and families. It is harnessing this strength and creating an enabling environment for them to lead change for themselves which is key to beginning the transformation process. Nurses, GPs and frontline health workers have a huge advantage in being the catalysts of such change, a massive ‘given’ and this is trust. For many residents with negative early life experiences, an innate mistrust of all authority is deeply embedded but this rarely applies to health personnel. Other agencies also tend to trust the health sector. Given that we believe in the capacity of residents, what is the message we wish to convey? Too often in community renewal initiatives emanating from large organizations it can be interpreted as ‘You’re incompetent, unhealthy ,deprived and broken…we.re going to fix you.’It needs to be ‘We believe you have the strength and shared sense of history of your neighbourhood to make this a community to be proud of, a good place to live and work.’
Forgive me if I am saying things that have been said already, (I have only recently been introduced to the delights of Fiery Spirits), but there are two problems that I sometimes encounter in particular in trying to push an asset-based approach.
(1) People (to my mind) mis-identifying assets - especially not paying enough attention to such assets as people, experience, ideas and skills, and instead saying 'we've got this building, - so of course that is an asset' . They soon find themselves trapped, with the building (or whatever it might be) becoming the tail that wags the dog, the thing that sets the agenda. We need to be good at identifying and questioning 'of course' statements of this kind.
(2) related to this, there is the challenge - not always easy - of making a clear distinction between an approach that is asset-based, and an approach that is resource-led. It seems to me that a key part of this distinction is that an asset-based approach has an underlying sense of vision and of intended outcomes, whereas a resource-led approach does not.
Thank you Debbie for introducing me to this conversation - truely thought provoking. As a police officer I find myself in one of the most empowered positions in local communities. Yet, paradoxically the police's illegitimacy in the estates to which Hazel refers is extraordinarily disempowering but an extraordinary opportunity to practice ABCD (whatever ABCD actually means). Please let me try and share my reflections on this with you.
In my work as a police officer with the local authorities in Cornwall I often meet people who describe themselves as "qualified community development workers" and (mischievously) challenge them as to how soon they expect to be sucessful and therefore redundant. Their responses to this mischief consistently depend on the assumption that whatever they do for the good of the community will continue to maintain the deprivation /disadvantage status quo to some extent or another.
Asset audits determine what is missing - nearly always a building - and the community development workers move in and invite the local people to join them them in the inevitable new building. Communities are measured, audited and analysed using sophisticated statistical models and then comes the great fallacy. The "qualified community development workers" assume that the statistical models that help them understand a community (in which they hardly ever live) are also suitable to be used to develop the community. I think that to base community development work on this assumption is morally negligent because it is not the statistical analysis that is imorral; it is the desire to change the statistics for the benifit of the community workers' organizatiuons that is.
So back to legitimacy and ABCD. This thread shows us that even people in the ABCD conversation hold slightly differing views on what ABCD means. This is healthy because the difference in opinion means that we have not yet decended into the stagnancy of a rigididly defined ABCD model - "qulaified community development workers" have plenty of community development models to play with.
It seems to me, that we are all in the conversation about the morality of "action through caring". That is not to say that "qualified community development workers" and police officers do not care about people because (in my experience) they do. However, because they are nearly always under the direction of the GOs or NGOs they have to respond to what they discover in their audits, assessments and analysis in a technical and (dare I say it) rational way. Local people insinctively recognise these interventions are not devised from moral/ethical perspective and consequently see the community workers (including police officers) as illegitimate (there is another word for this!).
Lave and Wenger's work on legitimate peripheral learning suggests that in order to develop communities, people from outside who care must legitimately locate themselves in the position of apprentice to local people's mastery. In order to achieve this they have to disempower themselves and empower the local people to tell them what to do using their assets which (in my experience) always includes beautiful elequency.
This then is the resolution to the power paradox. Community workers (and their organisations) should not feel like disempowerment in the community about which they care is a loss to be recovered or grieved: but instead it is a route to discover people's assets and proceed to practice ABCD, whatever that means to us. If we are really fortunate we will already be in a disempowered position within the community we care about and hence enjoy a good head start!