Dee Brooks

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Inventing Organisations: an emergent response to growth

Power and Participation
As community development workers, we invite community members in to discover ways of working together where they will openly share their skills, transparently speak their mind, be vulnerable and address conflict or differences mindfully and we even expect this to be warmly welcomed and appreciated.

Yet, as community consultancy businesses, many people still operate a traditional top down business model.

This means that there are community development workers who are working in a bottom up way in community projects and initiatives and are expecting a certain set of collaborative outcomes and results whilst they are paradoxically working in a top down way in the management of their professional businesses and expecting a different set of outcomes and results.

Although, we often hear the same words used in both sets of desired outcomes and results. See Edgar Cahn’s Parable of the Blobs and Squares, for a great example of this paradox in action.

Lessons of purpose and intent from Jeder Institute


Walking our Talk
The power of the practices and processes we apply in our community work offers a robust way of engaging within an organisational framework and can be a game changing experiment.

Try reading through your staff policies and procedures and replace the word “staff” with the word “community” and see if it still aligns with your bottom up community intent and purpose. Take your principles of community engagement and development and see if they align to your organisation’s policies and procedures.

Lesson from ABCD Learning Conversations


Community is Messy
Not unlike the message from the Blobs and Squares, we can view our community work through the lens of vertical and horizontal systems of leadership and together, discover the opportunities in the space between the two. After all, the people operating in the top down space are also our neighbours in our day to day community life.

Lessons from Conn et al.


What Can We Do?
Some ideas from our Conscious Co-Design practice might be:

  • Build, nurture, maintain relationships – it takes time to build trust
  • Be authentic and transparent – let community members know the framework you’re thinking might suit them, have the discussion
  • Identify community leaders – they have existing, strong networks and are not always the usual suspects
  • Listen deeply and ask wisely – whenever and wherever possible
  • Whenever possible, practice the art of reframing – shift the language from needs to strengths
  • Host conversations – experiment with asset mapping, learning conversations, story, World Café, Open Space or any other participatory method which aligns to your purpose


As our mate Mike Green says, “Starting anywhere, leads everywhere!

Originally posted on The Jeder Institute:

The paradox of bottom up community development and top down consultancy

Author: Dee Brooks

The Jeder Institute is a strengths-focused, not-for-profit, messy, imperfect, next-stage organisation, based on decades of asset-based community development and person-centred practices, blended participatory leadership approaches and is uniquely based on our own member-led horizontal governance platform.

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An Overview of Conscious Co-Design by Dee Brooks

Based on reflections of the concept of The Natural and the Open from The Apparatus, by Giorgio Agamben

The overview of Conscious Co-Design (CCD) offers a space for inquiry and conscious decision making when practically applying a number of community engagement and development frameworks, including their practices, processes, patterns and guiding principles. It is loosely based on the work of Giorgio Agamben’s “What is an Apparatus?” and other essays, 2009, who states,

“I will call an apparatus, literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.”

ABCD, Appreciative Inquiry, Place Making, Art of Hosting, Collective Impact, Timebanking, IAP2, Person-Centred Thinking and many more, all have elements in common. They are all one language of a larger movement and the practitioners who apply them are all striving to make the world a better place yet, they are often pitted against each other in unhealthy and unnecessary competition!

By intentionally inviting key stakeholders and those directly affected by the challenge, issue or concern into conversation, we create a core team, who are committed to the work, and who will respond because they care enough to act. This also responds to the principle of not working alone and inviting a diverse group of voices into the conversations. A very broad example of CCD might be:

  • Patterns such as DEC Thinking (the Breath Pattern) or Theory U, both found in the Art of Hosting practices, offer the organic nature of a pattern to explore
  • Methodologies like Narrative Therapy and Appreciative Inquiry offer the evidence-based dialogical framework to support purposeful divergence
  • Movements like ABCD, Placemaking, Timebanking or Collective Impact provide the vehicle for engagement and development for convergence

Conscious Co-design in Action

Consciously co-creating participatory design processes “with” community not “for” community.

An Overview of Conscious Co-design

Collective Purpose: What does intention look like in practice?

Purpose and intent is central to this thinking. What are you aiming to achieve? Who wants this? Who cares? Who are the key stakeholders? What are your principles of working together? How will you sense in to what is being longed for?

Focusing attention on the community-led aspect of this work is paramount here, as the answer does not lie in what a group of practitioners and/or community workers think or decide to do. Community conversations, offering deep dialogue, are a key component of discovering purpose and there is a multitude of ways to discover this through learning conversations, as can be found in the Art of Participatory Community Building Guidebook. Once the collective purpose is identified, a pattern will start to emerge and it’s important to remember that meaningful work takes time!


The Common Elements

It’s important here that you enter with a curious mind and stay open to the possibilities of blending practices and processes. This takes time and is a practice within itself.

An Overview of Conscious Co-design

Patterns – locating Self and others:

A pattern is a recurring characteristic, which helps identify past, present, future movement of rhythms.

  • What underlying pattern might support your next wise steps? Is there a broader picture or systems view of the issue, challenge or project to explore?

Practices – living more consciously each day:

A foundational form undertaken with the aim to improve.

  • What practices will best serve your purpose? Are there daily or regular patterns that will keep you on track or support your movement through the patterns?

Processes – shifting from A to B:

The steps taken to achieve an outcome or activity.

  • Which process will best serve the action required? What are the most relevant and appropriate processes that will shift your work, community, organisation or system into generative action?

Principles – the values that hold us in place:

Identifiers and the foundational building blocks of good practice.

  • What are the principles that encompass your purpose? What are your values and the values of the organisation, family and community? What drives your choices, passion and ways forward?

A step through example:

Let’s imagine that a local government authority is developing their ageing strategy and would like to map the needs of older people in their community and look for solutions to include in their 2025 visioning strategy.

First, let’s break that down and see what they’re looking for:

  • Older people
  • Their needs
  • Solutions

Nothing about us, without us!

If we look back to the first suggested steps of CCD, we want to discover the purpose for doing this and develop a statement like, “how do we discover older people’s needs?”

The organisational purpose is that the local authority requires the outcomes to respond to legislation but what is underneath that? Have we spoken to older people? What do we want to ask them? Who else cares about this? Why is this important? What might happen if we ask older people about their needs? How would they feel? Can we do anything with a need?

Positive Core and The Power of Questions

Using Appreciative Inquiry, let’s take the statement, “how do we discover older people’s needs?” and look at reframing the statement into an invitation. We want to create a positive core. How do we reframe this? What’s a positive core process? What makes questions inspiring, motivating and energising?

By putting community members, their skills and abilities at the centre of the statement and inquiring with the key stakeholders with an open and curious mind, we will discover how they feel about the situation, what they have to offer and how they might approach the topic themselves.

By choosing the positive as the focus of inquiry, we can discover a stronger calling question or invitation and decide, with the community, which framework would best suit what we now know.

By asking the right questions, we could now have a stronger invitation or calling like, “how do we discover the strengths of older people to contribute to a thriving future?” where we could now apply ABCD and asset mapping as the community-led strategy to diverge and discover individual, community and organisational assets and Art of Hosting processes for the divergent conversations in a Collective Impact framework for multi stakeholder action!

A real life example:

In 2019, a local government authority invited the Jeder Institute to deliver some community-based training and host a community conversation to develop the future story of the town. Over many months, we offered the community-based training opportunities, which created the conditions to turn tools into conversations for action by putting community at the centre.

Starting with a strengths-based lens, we first invited local community members to 3 immersive training sessions. For the first sessions, we started with the Breath Pattern, as we discovered the strengths and assets already in the community and explored both the challenges and opportunities for the region. The pattern needed to remain flexible as the community members starting working together between each training session and returning to the next session with concrete outcomes, new neighbours and more questions.

An Overview of Conscious Co-design

For the culminating community visioning day, the Core Team explored the patterns and we decided on the 5D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry, (a circular, flexible pattern) to guide us but we were also prepared to change to a number of other practices and processes if required as can be seen in the smaller circles on the slides. Note: there are 2 Dream slides as we used 2 Appreciative Inquiry style questions for 2 rounds of World Café.




By the end of the visioning day, and in addition to the work which had been undertaken by community during the training sessions, the community co-developed 6 strong community-led projects for action!

As our good friend, Mike Green, from ABCD for Inclusion in Denver, USA says, “ABCD is just one language of a larger movement” so, even though CCD is underpinned by ABCD as Jeder’s choice of framework, the Conscious Co-Design patterns, principles, practices and processes thinking still apply in our everyday grassroots work.

Some strategies to start with might be:

  • Build, nurture, maintain relationships – it takes time to build trust
  • Be authentic and transparent – let community members know the framework you’re thinking might suit them, have the discussion
  • Identify community leaders – they have existing, strong networks and are not always the usual suspects
  • Listen deeply and ask wisely – whenever and wherever possible
  • Whenever possible, practice the art of reframing – shift the language from needs to strengths
  • Host conversations – experiment with asset mapping, learning conversations, story, World Café, Open Space or any other participatory method which aligns to your purpose

There is no correct way of doing this; each community is unique and will be guided by the individual capacities, community strengths and organisational resources and networks that are present. Be open and honest about your own intention. Be authentic and ethical and walk your talk. Above all, be present and invite community to the centre from the very beginning.

Originally posted on the Jeder Institute's website blog

I’m regularly asked about how we blend ABCD with AoH. I wrote a brief overview of our broad approach to blending ABCD and AoH a while ago and as we continue to roll out Art of Participatory Community Building workshops, I have been thinking more about how to explain what we do. This is a start!

Each practitioner has a unique, personal response to how they view communities, and they also have a professional one, depending on their particular educational bent, personal stance or lived experience!

Some people naturally view communities through the lens of the “glass half full” and other practitioner’s view is “half empty”.

This is a look at the potential outcomes of each view and aims to respond to critiques of strengths focused approaches that assume, and even suggest, that we ignore the needs of a community!

We don’t!

We view both although, we focus our intention on the strengths! After all, as John McKnight, an ABCD co-founder says, “you can do something with an asset, (strength) what can you do with a need?”


The three-sided example:
The Art of Hosting’s purpose, need, powerful question triangle

Note: the identifying purpose questions below, for both the triangle and the square, could be interchange-able and are usually aligned to the practitioner’s lens

Identifying the purpose:
Why are we doing this? Who needs help? Why do they need it?

Discovering the needs:
A needs or gap analysis does exactly that; focuses on what’s broken or needs fixing and discovers gaps and issues or problems for government or organisations to solve

Crafting a powerful question:
The powerful question is probably now deficit based & resources & networks are sourced to respond to what needs fixing!


Squaring it off:
Adding the strength of ABCD; purpose, need, strengths, powerful question

Identifying the purpose:
What do we already know? What has worked in the past? Who cares?

Sensing the need:
Learning conversations such as ABCD’s framework; concerns, dreams, skills and abilities offer a platform to hear the challenges / issues and for community members to be heard before reframing

Discovering the strengths:
Applying a strengths-focused or appreciative inquiry lens offers us the reframing needed to shift our focus to what works, instead of a problem solving focus which asks us to do less of something we don’t do well anyway

Crafting a powerful question:
The powerful question is now re-framed due to acknowledging the needs & discovering the individual, community & organisational strengths, (resources & networks) that are already available, probably included local knowledge and community member’s voices and is focused on generative action

In conclusion, but by no means the end, the more strength we apply, the more powerful the question and therefore, the outcome can be. This is one example of how we reframe around one tool/framework and there are plenty of others to explore, which I will endeavour to write more about.

As one of our good mates, Liz from LinkWest in Perth, WA says, “the Art of Hosting is how you achieve effective ABCD!” They can go hand in hand, when intentionally applied, and can create a productive and powerful space for individuals, organisations and the broader communities we work and live within.

To discover a broad range of potentials tools and strategies, see our website for more information on Participatory Community Building workshops and download the FREE handbook:

Originally posted on the Jeder Institute's website blogs

Six Levels of Asset Mapping

By , 2019-04-04

Originally posted on the Jeder Institute

For more than 10 years now I have been blending over 20 years of Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) experience with Art of Hosting (AoH) practices. Between the borders and boundaries of effective mapping, there are multiple spaces where AoH practices either underpin (4 Fold Practice) or can overlay (Designing for Wiser Action) the practice of ABCD in a multitude of ways!

Some people think asset mapping can create a dependence on tools and strategies and others who intentionally apply asset mapping for capacity building and peer learning know the power of mapping; it's all about intention!

Over the years, we at the Jeder Institute, have adapted (from others) and developed (our own) practical and emergent ways of discovering assets, both active and latent, in community to support community-led mobilisation for change. This is based on 20 years of practical application of ABCD and a vast array of other blended methodologies (including their tools and strategies) and has resulted in a robust set of resources, strategies and tools to build the individual capacity of change makers in community.

The following example is from work undertaken in Jakarta, Indonesia, based on the topic of childcare reform and provides an update on our previous blog Connect! Don’t Collect! : The Art of Community Mapping

The agenda/flow that was co-created by the Design Team was based on an Asset Mapping framework which spiralled inwards and has the ability to spiral back outwards, as required. Firstly, participants would be invited to create a visual map of the elements within the childcare system in Jakarta to highlight the enormity of the challenge. Following this, we would start to break down the system and look at what was “do-able”. The participants would then map their partners/stakeholders to explore who was already in their known system and who was not.

Next would be to map the resources, networks, assets and strengths of the organisation they were representing, considering how these could strengthen what was already happening, or emerging, in community and in addition, they would map what was known and unknown in the community, relating to childcare.

The final mapping step, as participants moved inwards in the mapping framework spiral, was to map individual gifts, strengths and assets. This linked back to the previous October 2018 Learning Conversations and also highlighted that each person has skills, talents, abilities and passions to respond back outwards within the mapping framework spiral.

Here, we asked the question, “What skills, abilities, resources, networks and partners do you have to respond to the challenges of child care in Indonesia?” and in the final large scale mapping process, participants took all their responses from the first day and created action maps on the second day.

The 6 levels of mapping within this process were as follows and each level has a range of tools to suit the context, individuals and community vision:

  • Individual; skills and abilities
  • Community; resources and connections
  • Organisational; opportunities and resources
  • Partners / Stakeholders; know / don’t know
  • Systems; elemental, agents, components
  • Ecological; land / humans / other creatures


These levels of mapping link strongly to the 6 assets, as identified by ABCD:

  • Individual assets (e.g. the skills, talents, abilities and passions of community members)
  • Local community groups and networks (e.g. social services clubs, mums & bubs groups, sporting clubs etc)
  • Local government and non-government agencies (e.g. churches, schools, departments, neighbourhood centres etc)
  • Physical assets (natural and built environment)
  • Economic assets (productive work of individuals, consumer spending power, local businesses)
  • Cultural assets (local stories, heritage, identity, values)

 In the case of the above-mentioned Indonesian work, this created seven (7) active and actionable maps for change.  This provides a process for “leading by stepping back” that is easily replicable, teachable and shareable across communities, particularly due to inviting a local core team. In this way, the process becomes uniquely place-based, community-led and can be a great way to connect, share and have fun!

To discover more about the range of potentials tools and strategies within the levels of mapping, see our website for more information on Participatory Community Building workshops:

There's a couple of great stories happening on the Facebook group:

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Hi All, 

A new Facebook Group is up and running to encourage the cross-pollination of the member's group discussions here and the sharing of resources, tools and networks on Facebook - please feel free to join in the sharing and come join us on FB:



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The Nature of ABCD in Australia; an influential overview

On the suggestion and request of John McKnight, Judi and Dee pulled together some of the highlights, influences and challenges around ABCD in Australia! We had a lot of fun writing this and apologise for any omissions of people, places or practices! We know there's much more going on than this! The following is the intro and you can find the full paper here

"The following paper has been written from the perspective of two former staff members from the Family Action Centre (FAC), University of Newcastle; a strengths-based centre that was an early adopter and pioneer of ABCD work in Australia. The authors have both since left the employment of the FAC, yet, continue to support the work of ABCD in their current roles. They would also like to note the influential work undertaken by other Australian ABCD practitioners and supporters, particularly Ric Thompson, Chris Dureau, Peter Kenyon, Amanda Howard and Ted Smeaton (vale), who have all been major influencers in the development and application of ABCD in Australia."

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Jeder Co-Labs; the internal mechanics of effective collective impact

I wrote a blog some months ago titled “Through the Looking Glass; a Blended Herstory” which was an attempt to synthesise almost 2 decades of work. This cathartic experience compelled me to create something flexible and adaptable to support community members in decision-making and to design something simple and easy to apply that could be sustained by the community itself.

I started experimenting with the ideas in Indonesia with great success and after sharing my initial learnings with Michelle, a Jeder Collective member, and she helped me tweak it further. What we have ended up with is a participatory, community-led, collective impact, leadership social lab on steroids, which we have named the Co-Lab initiative.

You can find out more about the ABCD Co-Labs and read the full blog here - we would love your feedback, thoughts or reflections!

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