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Guest post: ABCD vs. Needs

I am quite drawn to the idea of asset-based community driven development (ABCD). ABCD identifies the strengths in a community and leverages those strengths to create sustainable change. This means valuing the informal networks, individual talents, and existing infrastructure and resources in a community to mobilize sustainable growth (Kretzmann & Mcknight, 1996; Mathie & Cunningham, 2003). Most often, ABCD is looked at as an alternative to “needs based” development which creates a baseline of needs in a community and constructs solutions in order to “solve” these needs.

When I first lived in Moshi, I was working at an

organization, close to the Boys & Girls Club, with a

group of elderly people trying to implement ABCD to

create more access to healthcare. The ABCD work I

was doing was technical, intentional and community

driven. Throughout my experience, I was continually

intrigued by the work of PTBGC as it was inherently

ABCD but not “technically” ABCD. PTBGC uses what

is existing in the community to create more effective, efficient and impactful services to street connected youth. Using sport as a method of connecting youth is ABCD. Sports equalizes power structures and provides an opportunity for skill development. Art, another medium of programming at PTBGC does similar things. In contrast to a traditional needs-based approach, PTBGC hones in on the skills that street connected youth have and the power of peer leaders in the community to support this development.

Technically speaking there is a distinct set of ABCD tools that ABCD practitioners use in communities to identify assets and create sustainable change. For example, the process of ABCD uses appreciate interviewing to establish a culture of positive thinking by asking about experiences in the community when they felt something was successful or worked well (Gordon Institute of Business Science & Coady International Institute, 2012). Alongside appreciative interviews, ABCD uses a series of mapping (i.e. mapping community natural resources, community associations, networks, informal assets etc.) to identify existing community strengths and structures that could be the baseline for development.

The distinct tools involved in the ABCD technically formalize the process but the work of many organizations, like PTBGC, is inherently ABCD despite taking more of a blended approach. I often resist creating binaries between approaches such as asset based versus needs based as it defines an arbitrary limitation of what can and cannot be a starting point or process for growth. As the work of PTBGC and the group of elderly people showed, there are many different starting points of ABCD. Whether it is natural progression, technical implementation of tools, and/or a bit of both approaches, I have learned that no matter the starting point, a genuine desire to build community partnerships and value the community voice, will be what creates effective change in a community.

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Gordon Institute of Business Science & Coady International Institute. (2012). Compendium of ABCD Tools for ABCD Facilitation.

Kretzmann, J., & McKnight, J. P. (1996). Assets-based community development. National Civic Review, 85(4), 23-29.

Mathie, A., & Cunningham, G. (2003). From clients to citizens: Asset-based Community Development as a strategy for community-driven development. Development in Practice, 13(5), 474–486.

Hanna Chidwick is a current MSc Global Health

student at McMaster University. She studied Global

Development during her undergraduate degree

before spending the past two years working in

Tanzania with community led initiatives. Hanna is

passionate about re-framing the construction of

“Africa” and creating respectful, informed, practical

ways to engage in community development.