The goal of Asset-Based Community Development is best summed up in these words:

“To Strengthen Communities from the Inside Out.”

While this is a clear concise goal, it begs the question;

“What is a strong community and how do you know you are achieving that goal?”

My answer:

A strong community is a community where the residents are connected, investing, and in control of their own destiny. 

While the naming of these three indicators of community health is my own, the essence of what these words represent is backed up by research from multitude of sectors.

Communities are stronger when residents are CONNECTED.

I think the best evidence for this argument is found in the work of Robert Putnum, both in his book Bowling Alone as well as his work in Better Together.  Putnam calls the benefits that occur as a result of human connections, “Social Capital.”

Putnam builds a strong case, based on evidence-based research, that by connecting residents in a way that builds relationships, we can increase the social capital of a community which in the long-run strengthens the community at large.

There are two forms of social capital identified by Putnam – bonding and bridging.  Bonding social capital results from connecting people with similarities together.  In our case, connecting neighborhood residents together into block clubs, action teams or other local associations.

Bridging social capital develops when you connect people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds together.  In our case, connecting volunteers from outside the community with residents either through one on one relationships, action teams or area collectives.

  1. Research has shown that “bonding” forms of social capital lead to better health, higher educational achievement and lower crime rates in the community at large.
  1. Research has shown that “bridging” social capital increases upward mobility particularly for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Putnam, for his book Better Together, traveled across the country studying community initiatives. He found that effective development efforts, “Understood and emphasized the centrality of relationships in interpersonal connections. Society as a whole benefits enormously from the social ties forged by those who choose connective strategies in pursuit of their particular goals.”

Communities are stronger when residents are INVESTING in their own neighborhood.

Another foundational assumption of our work is that solutions to neighborhood concerns proposed by and led by those in the community are more effective and sustainable than those imposed on the neighborhood by outside groups and led by those outside the neighborhood. This basic premise is called “the principal of subsidiarity.”

This assumption that local assets, when connected, lead to stronger community-based initiatives is backed up by the research of Professors John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, founders of the ABCD movement.

Professors McKnight and Kretzmann traveled across the nation and conducted over 3000 case studies of community based initiatives.  They found that local initiatives that were built by connecting local assets (the capacities of its residents, associations and institutions) were the most effective.

McKnight suggests that, “The development strategy should concentrate first of all upon the agenda building and problem-solving capacities of local residents, local associations, and local institutions. The primary information for evaluation of ABCD is the number and types of connections that result in new relationships between these neighborhood assets.”

I have written extensively on the findings of McKight and Kretzmann including this blog series on John McKnight and Peter Block’s book The Abundant Community and this series of insights I gained from the ABCD Festival held 2015 as well as in many of the posts found on this page.

Communities are stronger when residents are IN CONTROL of their own destiny.

At the individual level the belief that one is able to achieve one’s goals is called “self-efficacy.”  There is an extensive level of evidence based research supporting the importance of self-efficacy as it relates to personal health and well-being.  (See this article or google self-efficacy)

Some are now taking the idea of “self-efficacy” and extrapolating the findings to the level of the community calling this larger perspective “social or collective efficacy.”  While there is no “official” definition, I found this one helpful.

“Social (or collective) efficacy might be defined as collaborative competency; the belief that we can succeed; that we can take on a challenge and find solutions together.”

While there is much less research currently available on the role social/collective efficacy plays in the life of a community, I think we have all experienced it. When you are working in communities that are facing significant challenges such as high levels of poverty, crime and low employment, you can feel the sense of hopelessness in those that lack collective efficacy.

However, I have also worked in equally challenged communities where residents have banded together with a clear goal of changing their community for the better and you can feel this sense of collective efficacy, though I only recently learned there was a name for it.  I think the more common term would be faith in a groups ability to effect change.

For this belief in the groups power to form, people must have an opportunity to be in-control of their destiny.  If we never allow people to have positions of power and control, it is impossible for them to form this kind of efficacy.

So, if you are seeking to strengthen your community, you need to be intentional about building connections, promoting resident investment, and transferring control into the hands of the neighborhood residents.

The obvious question is, “But how?”

After spending more than a decade as an ABCD practitioner in more than a dozen neighborhoods, I have observed patterns, developed processes, and created a few programmatic elements that can help concerned citizens, civic associations, congregations, non-profits and governmental agencies build stronger communities.

Our six phase “Inside Out Community Strengthening Process” will help you build stronger communities that are CONNECTED, INVESTING and IN-CONTROL of their own future.

There are two ways you can access this training: Live or via Webinar.

If you are in the Richmond area and would like to discuss hosting an ABCD training, please contact us here.

If you are outside the Richmond area and would like to explore having us come to your city to do an ABCD training, contact us here.

If you are outside Richmond and would like to learn more about on-line training options, you can learn more here.