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what are your gifts and talents?:training, research, writing, leadership development, strategic thinking/planning, workforce development, higher ed.
why do you want to join abcd in action?:Are people interested in exploring the use of ABCD principles to change institutional practice?
Addressing Common Misunderstandings About ABCD
Over the years, I have had numerous occasions on which I have found myself responding to peoples negative reactions to the idea of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). I want to talk briefly about three common arguments:
- first, that ABCD plays into a conservative, victim-blaming, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, worldview;
- secondly, that it ignores the value of needs assessment;
- and finally, that is somehow in conflict with confrontational organizing methods.
One of the biggest myths about the ABCD approach is that it somehow relieves oppressors and other bad actors from responsibility, and is subtly victim-blaming by telling people to count their blessings, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I contend that the opposite is true. At the root of successful ABCD is the idea that people are in fact, seizing power and finding solutions that turn them into producers as opposed to simply being consumers of programs and policies that are designed to oppress them. Demonstrating your assets encourages investment. Demonstrating needs will generally encourage little more than charity.
Speaking of needs, needs assessment is not necessarily the opposite of a capacity inventory. They both identify gaps. However, a lot of needs assessment seeks an unnecessary level of specificity. Needs assessment can actually become a barrier to action. For example, when climate change deniers say something like, We really need to study this global warming thing more thoroughly before we disrupt market forces , they are using the myth that too little needs assessment is a valid reason to do nothing.
What changes in our actions if we have 93 as opposed to 127 homeless families in the community? It might be impressive to develop an elaborate model incorporating a 15-category continuum of homelessness, but it is not necessary in order for us to act. If only 16.7% of our community survey respondents identified homelessness, or domestic violence, or hunger, as important issues do we just blow these things off? This is the anti-organizing, anti-community building trap of needs assessment. Do we only determine priorities by quantifying need, or do we create a way for everyone who is passionate about working on a particular issue, to connect with others who share their passion, to find creative solutions to the challenges that they face?
Negative responses to ABCD have often been the result of belief in the mistaken notion that it is somehow the opposite of achieving community change through a confrontational, Alinsky-esque organizing approach. It is true that there are many roads to creating change. However, painting this as some sort of dualistic, ideological smack down might be interesting to a handful of academic types, but it is simply seems counterproductive at best.
A confrontational approach works well in cases where the antagonist is easily identified. Increasingly, however, the enemy is an obscure corporate entity, hiding like a needle in the haystack of the vertical integration of a massive corporate entity. The more complex the issue is, the more important it is to know all of the tools (assets) at your disposal. ABCD doesnt need to know who a specific bad guy is. It can be used without permission, and can actually provide leverage in confrontational arguments, as it can demonstrate a proof of concept for might replace the status quo.
The two approaches can be, and are in fact frequently, complementary. It is easier to organize people in opposition to something, than it is to organize them in an effort to create the replacement for that thing. The best replacement for repressive, top-down, convoluted approaches is something rooted in the inclusive, community-building, and democratic culture of ABCD.
Some issues necessarily require direct confrontation. Others require identifying, connecting and mobilizing hidden strengths in an effort to strengthen community response. Some issues in our 21st century networked world demand strategies never imagined by either Alinsky or McKnight &Kretzmann. If proponents of various strategies have the same goals related, for example, to ending oppression, and the exploitation of people in the name of profits, then those people are on the SAME SIDE. Dividing and conquering a progressive majority over things like creating an argument over whose approach is better, plays right into the hands of those who want to maintain the status quo.
Capacity-focused or asset-based work is sometimes misunderstood because people have fallen into the trap of thinking that the strategy is only about mapping the assets, rather than being about mobilizing those assets. This is not the fault of the theoretical framework, but rather, it is the result of communities not having skilled community organizers who know how to leverage those assets strategically. As organizers, it is our duty to help people discover their power, set their own agendas, and make use of the many strategies that they have at their disposal.