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What Makes Your Neighbourhood Work an Asset-Based Community Development Process?

Posted on December 20, 2018
By Heather Keam

two neighbourhood doorsAsset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is not a new concept. About 40 years ago, John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, took a four-year learning journey, visiting twenty cities and talking to 2,000 people in neighbourhoods which culminated in the book Building Communities From the Inside Out: A Path Towards Finding and Mobilizing a Neighborhood’s Assets. They wanted to discover if people knew who lived on their block and if they do things together. From this journey, 125,000 books have been sold and a movement was created.

In the Spring of 2018, Tamarack hosted an ABCD workshop where we heard questions from participants about what makes ABCD different from other community development models. We found the answer in a recent article by John McKnight and Cormac Russell called Four Essential Elements of an Asset-Based Community Development Process. In this article, McKnight and Russell highlight four key elements to an asset-based community development process that other community development models do not require.

The four elements are:

Resources – There are six assets or resources which are used to enhance local wellbeing in every sense of the term:

  • Contribution of Residents
  • Associations
  • Local Institutions
  • Local Places
  • Exchange
  • Stories

Methods – this involves identifying and productively connecting unconnected local resources:

  • Starting with what residents can do themselves as an association of citizens, without any outside help
  • Next, looking at what they can do with a little outside help
  • Finally, once these local assets have been fully connected and mobilized, citizens decide collectively on what they want outside agents to do for them

Functions – involves seven functions that are critical features of all home-based natural communities.

  • Enabling Health
  • Assuring Security
  • Stewarding Ecology
  • Shaping Local Economies
  • Contributing to Local Food Production
  • Raising our Children
  • Co-Creating Care

Evaluations – Evaluating the extent to which citizens are engaged with the first three essential elements. This process of engagement is not about auditing, but about learning, and making midcourse corrections that allow us to stay committed to our cultural calling. The four evaluation principles are:

  • It identifies the maximization of gift exchange
  • It identifies the maximization and deepening of associational life
  • It attends to the maximization in the number of participating and co-producing residents and the increase in their citizen power.
  • It places a particular emphasis on the inclusion of those who have been marginalized.

Sponsors of ABCD processes ensure that associated evaluations actively conform to the preceding three principles.

The article concludes that for a community development process to be called Asset-Based Community Development it requires all four of the above elements at some point in the development process.  You can read the full article and learn more about the four elements to ABCD here.

ABCD was launched in Canada three years ago and Tamarack is working on building and supporting a movement for those who are working in community development and want an asset-based focus.  To continue this conversation about ABCD join our ABCD Community of Practice.

Learn more

ABCD, Blog, Community Change, Cities Deepening Community

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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