The starting place for any asset-based community development effort is always community listening.   In my “Nuts and Bolts” series I shared several posts specifically for those who are new to ABCD.  Post #3 “Finding the Person of Peace” is specifically about community listening and I recommend everyone start there.

As an organization, Embrace Richmond has engaged in the listening process using this 5 Question Survey  in several ways over the years.  This survey is one of the many tools that we have learned from Communities First Association and it is used by ABCD practitioners across the country.

  1. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?  (This tells you how vested the person is and their level of knowledge about the neighborhood.)
  2. What do you like best about the neighborhood?  (This will help you discern their overall opinion of the neighborhood and what they value as well as help you identify community strengths.)
  3. If you could change anything about your neighborhood, what would you change?  (This will help you discern what they care about.)
  4. If others care about the same things you care about, can we count on you to join in?  (This will help you discern their willingness to get involved.)
  5. Who else do you know who cares about what you care about?  (This will help you identify other potential persons of peace.)

In this post, I want to elaborate a bit more on best practices in utilizing this tool.

In the early years of our community development efforts we had AmeriCorps members who were not from the neighborhood conducting the 5 Question Survey.  This was the least effective method.  There was too much emphasis placed on getting the “data” and not enough focus placed on building relationships with those being interviewed.  When you have people conducting the survey who do not have a long-term vested interest in the development effort, this is a serious risk.  If you do not follow up with those who are interviewed, you can do more damage than good.  Those interviewed can see the lack of follow-up as you not being interested in their input.

To improve upon our listening efforts, we recognized that we needed to build listening teams made up of at least one resident who had a vested interest in the long-term development effort.  This was much more successful.

However, the most effective community listening approach has been our Dream Catcher project.  Through this project we are teaching our congregational partners how to engage local youth in the community development efforts.  Youth bring such wonderful gifts to the project.  They are enthusiastic, optimistic and they have a lot of energy.  These gifts are contagious and inspire adults to get involved. To learn about the project here. 

Here is a sample of what the profiles looked like.  They were printed on a full sheet of paper in full color and mounted on colored paper making a very image rich display which we placed at the local library during the project and which is now on permanent display in our community meeting room.


By having two “neighbors” doing the interviews, one young and one wise, we have found we have a much higher percentage of residents ultimately getting involved.  We also found people were far more willing to participate in the survey when it was a local youth who was conducting the survey. The most beautiful part of this approach is watching the young people begin to see what a rich neighborhood they have as they discover the gifts of their neighbors.

In some cases the “jr. interns” earned a small stipend based on the number of profiles they completed and in other neighborhoods, the funds earned were applied to the projects that ultimately emerged from the listening.  While it did take a small financial investment, through this process we identified key neighborhood assets who are now in leadership positions across the city.  So we got way more out of this modest investment than we put into it.  The other wonderful thing about this process is that all the money stayed in the neighborhood which ultimately supports the community. I  highly recommend this approach to all our community partners.

No matter who does the listening, it is critical that it not be turned into a data collection process.  Instead, it is important that we remember that community listening is a holy practice.  It is the practice of discerning where God is at work in the neighborhood and we should treat it with the reverence we give all spiritual practices.  (For more see “You Are Not the Answer, the Practice of Holy Listening” and “Too much mapping, not enough mobilizing” )

How are you discovering and celebrating the gifts,  hopes and dreams of your neighbors?

What advice can you share with others who are just getting started in their ABCD efforts?