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I was just reminded of this article I wrote in 2006 forMike Green and Henry Moore for their wonderful bookAsset-Based Community Development, When People Care Enough to Act. It is the story of my ABCD journey.

As a human services professional and social worker, Ive always asks the question, as a professional what is the best worker I can do to help improve the lives of children, families and seniors?

To answer this question I developed four principles to help guide my work:

  • People should always be treated as resources not just recipients or objects of service
  • Everyone has gifts
  • All truly effective strategies must include a place-based neighborhood development component
  • All good work starts by asking people to share their gifts and not by asking them what services they want or need

Since early childhood, I have always look for ways to improve things, the status quo was, and is, never good enough. In addition, coming to age in the sixties with the Vietnam War, Kent State and Watergate, I learned that the institutional world is not always right.

During my junior year of college, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a new program, University Year for Action, a VISTA program for college students. I spent my junior year of college in the inner city of Omaha working with kids as a teacher and with welfare mothers as a National Welfare Rights Organizer. Through this experience I began to see the power of neighborhood and citizen centered organizing in the lives of children, families and the amazing gifts of their mothers often labeled as lazy welfare queen. In my senior year, I experience the life of an Alinsky organizer in the public housing projects in south Omaha. There I helped the residents share their gifts and work together to develop a childcare co-op as well as other self-help activities.

While I experienced the power of citizens and neighborhoods and the negative impact of institutions and professionals, I elected to take the path to becoming a social worker to work from within to change the system. I started social work graduate school with a healthy sense of skepticism as to the promise of services and throughout my graduate education challenged many of the professors about what they were teaching. As part of my commitment to institutional change I created my own nontraditional field placement, with another questioning student. We served as interns in the Tucson City Managers office of intergovernmental affairs. At the city we worked as lobbyists for the city and helped develop a plan for inner-city neighborhood development

If it should be noted that in 1996 I returned to the School of Social Work as an adjunct professor. I taught social policy and organizational change from an ABCD perspective. Doing my part to respond to my earlier skepticism for a new generation of students

Upon receiving my Masters of Social Work I helped launch and served as the first director of a centralized food bank, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. The primary reason we started the food bank was not to hand out food, but to improve the human service delivery system that saw food as an end rather than a means to greater self-sufficiency. From there I moved on to serve as the director of another local nonprofit before beginning my United Way career. The primary reason I was interested in becoming a United Way professional was to help change the system. I felt working at a major social planning and funding agency would give me the best platform to help the system move from treating individuals as clients and objects of service to people with resources; producers of their own and their communitys well-being.

As a United Way professional one of the strategies, I am most proud of was to help three United Ways broaden our work from just giving grants to local nonprofits and counting clients served to providing small grants to formal or informal neighborhood associations or in many instances grants to small groups of residents to help them implement a good idea for their neighborhood. At the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona the vehicle for the neighborhood grant process was PRO Neighborhoods. PRO was not just another nonprofit, it was a partnership between the City of Tucson, Pima County, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and United Way. Pro was founded about 20 ago on the principles of ABCD, following a visit to Tucson by john McKnight. Since its birth, PRO provided more than $500,000 in small grants and thousands of hours of technical assistance and training to help neighborhoods unlock the gifts of their residents. As I think about small grants, I view the grants as a giant magnet over the neighborhoods of a city. The magnet attracts potential neighborhood leaders who have a good idea and want to work with their neighbors to make the idea a reality. It really is not about the money to fund a project; it is about using the money to unlock the power of the neighborhood and its residents. Again, the key to PRO Neighborhoods is that it provided the major institutions in our community an opportunities to support citizen-centered organizing and not just fund services.

About 20 years ago, I had for a professional dedicated to this work the greatest honor, the opportunity to join the ABCD institute as an adjunct faculty member. As a faculty member, I have had the privilege to work with john McKnight, Jody Kretzmann, Mike Greene, Henry Moore and all of the other faculty members. Some of the most amazing observers, thinkers and pioneers working today to improve the human condition, by focusing on what we already have, not what we dont. They have all helped guide my work as a human service professional to always ask the right question: What is the right tool for the job; citizens and neighborhoods caring or professionals and agencies providing services.

Over my 30 plus years as a human service professional I have tried to never forget the lessons learned and the results we can achieve when we focus on what people can do and not on what they cant do, the power of neighborhoods as the backbone of effective work, and the power of asking people to get involved and share their gifts.

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ABCD Rules of Three


By Dan Duncan, 2014-09-24

As I talk more and more about the power of Asset-Based Community Development. I have found it is helpful to describe theABCD Rules of Three.

The three characteristics of ABCD:Asset Based (everyone has gifts and cares about something) Locally
Focused(placed-based to drive engagement)Relationship Driven (relationships unlock gifts)

The three steps in Asset Mapping:Discovering(everyones gifts and passions) Asking(everyone to share their gifts based on their passions) Connecting(to build neighborhood power connectingpeople with the same passions to act collectively)

The three roles residents can play in their life and community and we need them playing all three roles:Clients Advisers Producers (of their own and their communitys well-being)

The three strategic questions to drive action and helpinstitutionslead bystepping back.
1. What can residents do by themselves for themselves?
2. What can residents do with a little help frominstitutions?
3. What do residents need done that they cant do?

Focusing on theABCD Rules of Three can serve as the basis for effective action and engagement.

For more of my blogs please visit my website. My Website Bolg

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People Do Not Need Programs


By Dan Duncan, 2014-09-17

People do not need programs to improve their lives. Programs are an artificial construct developed in the dance between grantors and grantees to help nonprofits re-package themselves to ensure continued funding. What people need are an increasing number of positive relationships and activities to help them become producers of their own and their communitys well-being. The best work nonprofits can do is to help the people they serve build relationships, especially in the neighborhood or community were they live and work to remove barriers so the people they serve have a real opportunity to become producers and not just program recipients. We need everyones gifts to build strong communities not more programs.

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As I do ABCD consulting and training I have been seeking a metaphor to explain why we need the gifts of the people we serve as co-producers of their own and their community's well-being to truly make a difference. I think I have that metaphor in the idea of a marathon vs. a relay race. I would love to hear peoples comments and suggestions.

If we view institutions and professionals as the ones responsible for improving the lives of the people they serve as a Marathon race (26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers) and the finish line as where they actually achieve that outcome of improving the lives of those they touch, it becomes clear that institutions and professionals do not have enough energy, stamina,and resources to cross thefinish line. They just cannot go the 26 miles alone. To be successful we must turn the individual Marathon into a relay race. Institutionsand professionals must pass the baton to the people they serve and their associations, neighborhoods, ad communities. In a relay race everyone has a role to play and by working together we can cross the finish line.

As a relay race, theinstitutionsand professionals can save their energy for only those things they must do, and not try anddo those things that people/residents can do for themselves. They can also save energy by working together with people on those things that require joint efforts. But most importantly, they can stop using their energy to do those things that people can do for themselves. Conversely, as a relay race, the people they serve must be supported asco-producersto do those things that only they can do to ensure their own and their community's well-being. We must pass the baton back and forth. Collectivelywe can can cross the finish line asequal partners and finish the race to buildstronger, healthier and safer neighborhoods, communitiesand their residents.

The challenge forinstitutionsand professionals is how toviewthe people andcommunitiesthey serve aspartners in arelay race and not just people at the finish linewaiting for the runners that never come.

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Michelle Obama's Speech Last Night


By Dan Duncan, 2012-09-05

Wasn't Michelle's speech last night amazing? As a fellow faculty member of the ABCD Institute her speech clearing embodied the principles of ABCD. I was so proud of her and our country last night.

For members outside of the US, please take the time to find her speech on the internet. It is worth watching.

Let's all stand with Michelle.

Dan Duncan

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Dan Duncan
About Dan Duncan

ABCD Institute faculty member and President of the Board of Directors. 

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