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Relearning to be a Citizen

Posted on October 17, 2019
By Heather Keam

Street CrossingI am taking part in my first book club and we are reading John McKnight and Peter Block’s book, The Abundant Community, Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbourhoods. A few chapters in and I have gone from confusion to amazement in my thinking process. 

When we are born, we start our lives as citizens of our family and community, and slowly become consumers of products, services and systems that lead us to believe we are better off and safer. When we think like a system we tend to identify the problem by labeling a specific target - for example, the ‘youth problem’ - however, John and Peter point out that it is not the youth with the problem but the neighbourhood and community. 

As I turn on the news every night, I hear about financial deficit, cut backs to programs and services, and watch people try to figure out what do. I can’t help but think that something is wrong, we can’t keep running our towns and cities as services and systems. We as individuals, living in communities, need to relearn what it is to be a citizen and start helping ourselves and our neighbours with our gifts and assets. 

One approach that is gaining momentum in Canada is Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD looks for, and starts from, people’s gifts and strengths (assets). These assets equip people to create local opportunities and respond to needs and challenges in their neighbourhoods. ABCD goes beyond any individual’s gifts or particular group’s strengths to consider how these may come together to create broader changes for the common good within a community. This approach helps move groups, organizations and institutions from being the experts, working with the medical model, to be an animator who supports community to think and do “by us for us”. 

The ABCD approach is based on these following principles:

  • Everyone has Gifts: Each person in a community has something to contribute!
  • Relationships Build Community: People must be connected for sustainable development.
  • Citizens at the Centre: Citizens must be viewed as actors— not as passive recipients.
  • Leaders Involve Others: Strength comes from a broad base of community action.
  • People Care: Listening to people’s interests challenges myths of apathy.
  • Listen: Decisions should come from conversations where people are truly heard.
  • Ask: Generating ideas by asking questions is more sustainable than giving solutions.

Understanding what ABCD is and how it works through principles, practices and values can get confusing and frustrating to put it all together. We have been working with John McKnight, Cormac Russell and the ABCD Community of Practice to put together an ABCD at a glance document that synthesizes what ABCD is, outlines the approach and puts it together in a way that will give you an overview and see if it is the right approach for your work. This document can also help you to build the case with your champions and stakeholders.   

I ask you as a person, an association or organization to think about how to change the conversation -  How can you support people to be citizens and support citizens to deepen their community? 

Learn More:

Community Building, ABCD, Community Change

Heather Keam

By Heather Keam

Heather is happy to be part of the Vibrant Communities team as the Manager of Cities, Cities Deepening Community. Before this position she was the Manager of Learning Services where she organized Community of Practices, learning opportunities, tools and resources for community change. Heather brings over 12 years of public health knowledge to this position.

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