Waiting at the Intersection of ABCD and Collective Impact

Posted on April 2, 2019
By Liz Weaver

Waiting at the Intersection ABCD Collective ImpactI recently received an email question from a colleague curious about the different approaches identified in the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and collective impact frameworks.  They commented that ABCD seemed to be more grassroots driven while collective impact seemed to be more top down driven.  This question led me to consider our approach at Tamarack to understanding and incorporating different organizing frameworks into our thinking and training. I thought I would share my response with everyone. 

At Tamarack, we have been influenced by a number of sources and believe that any type of community change needs to consider as foundational (a) the context of the community, (b) its readiness to adopt a mechanism for change (Asset-Based Community Development, collaboration, community economic development, neighbourhood revitalization, Collective Impact, etc.) and (c) the complexity of the issue it is trying to move. 

Not every community or issue is appropriate or ready for a collective impact approach.  That being said, at Tamarack, we believe that Collective Impact has and does have an impact when applied with intention and inclusion of all voices.  It is ultimately about building a community movement for change which is what we advocated for in Collective Impact 3.0.  If the Collective Impact leadership table is only inwardly facing and does not include the voices of individuals with lived and living experience, it will be significantly more challenging to achieve impact.  Individuals with lived and living experience (we call them Context Experts) bring the knowledge and wisdom of how the system is working against them and how they are navigating it despite its flaws.  This is crucial information for collective impact efforts. 

Another important but complementary distinction between ABCD and Collective Impact is the recognition and incorporation of the importance of including a systems-change lens and strategy in the work.  Many successful and high-impact Collective Impact efforts engage people in considering opportunities to move beyond programmatic solutions and better alignment between them. They also consider how to work together to change unintentional barriers and limitations created by policies, and identify opportunities where shared experimentation are needed to reveal new innovations. 

ABCD, with its strengths-based focus and emphasis not solely what needs to change but on what is possible, contributes a very valuable mindset to the work of systems change, and its recognition of the power and resource that “ordinary people” contribute to community change efforts, is also helpful embedding a sense of movement-building to this work which is highly valuable in the identification and addressing of of systems-change strategies.   

More recently, we have been advocating for human-centred design approaches to become more relevant to collective impact efforts to better understand the challenges and opportunities of the issue.  Being informed by Context Experts enables the human-centred design process. 

Collective Impact is useful when it is helping to moving the needle on a community issue. In the same way, a community engagement or development approaches is the correct one when it is helping solve a complex issue. There is no one correct approach. But core to Collective Impact should be the inclusion of lived and living experience, their wisdom and perspectives need to be at the table and inform the work.  This is where Collective Impact can and should draw from other frameworks like Asset-Based Community Development. 

At Tamarack, our experience has taught us that all frameworks have efficacy, but context, complexity, and readiness must be considered prior to application.  I hope this is helpful and clarifies our approach at Tamarack. 

I would love to hear your perspectives about this important question of which approach or framework and when.  Let’s not wait at the intersection of ABCD and collective impact, let’s move forward in the journey. 

Learn More:

Collective Impact, ABCD, Blog

Liz Weaver

By Liz Weaver

Liz is passionate about the power and potential of communities getting to impact on complex issues. Liz is Tamarack’s Co-CEO and Director, Learning Centre. In this role she provides strategic direction to the organization and leads many of its key learning activities including collective impact capacity building services for the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Liz is one of Tamarack's highly regarded trainers and has developed and delivered curriculum on a variety of workshop topics including collaborative governance, leadership, collective impact, community innovation, influencing policy change and social media for impact and engagement.

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