Billy Connolly used to say if you haven’t heard a rumour by 11am you should start one. Some people seem to revel in doing the same with acronyms. Our world is awash with them, understandable to those in the know and often irritating to those who aren’t.
So because I’m writing this at 10 am, here’s another that Community First uses – ABCD. No, I don’t mean the Jackson 5 song but Asset-Based Community Development.
In practice, ABCD is a bottom-up way of strengthening communities through recognising, identifying and harnessing existing assets (i.e. things like skills, knowledge, capacity, resources, experience or enthusiasm) that individuals and communities have which can help to strengthen and improve things locally. Instead of looking at what a community needs or lacks, the approach focuses on utilising the assets that are already there.
Essentially, ABCD begins with what’s there already rather than what’s perceived to be missing. It’s the difference between a top-down way of supporting social and community action (doing something to people) and a bottom-up approach (people doing it for themselves). It is that sense of grassroots do-ability and leadership that make community initiatives and projects more likely to succeed in the longer term, rather than falling apart when external organisations parachuted in to a community to undertake a project run out of funding and pull out.
In short, it makes development much more likely to be sustainable (at this point I’ll body-swerve the whole sustainable development argument that has maintained – by my last count – 26404 academic careers since 1975).
Not that ABCD is a concept without its critics. Some have called it ‘neoliberalism with a community face,’ emphasising free market relations and a hostility to state-sponsored social welfare by individualising and privatising social problems which require a collective response. These criticisms, in some contexts, likely have some validity.
Perhaps the truth, as so often, lies in the dynamic interaction between theory and practice – reflecting on criticism can improve practice and improved practice refines the theory (and vice versa). Outside the ivory tower, what’s clear from CFO’s experience is that community development that is led by local people and supported by us is the type that generates the most enthusiasm and buy-in.