John Hamerlinck
I am passionate about helping people create social change. My website is

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training, research, writing, leadership development, strategic thinking/planning, workforce development, higher ed.

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Are people interested in exploring the use of ABCD principles to change institutional practice?

Capacities and Capacity

user image 2023-05-22
By: John Hamerlinck
Posted in: Reflections and Ideas

ABCD is rooted in the belief that the capacities of community residents, leveraged with their collective relationships, can be organized to improve the quality of life of the community. Most people get the relationships part of this formula. They enjoy working with like-minded people, and understand the concept of "strength in numbers." They also understand the idea of capacities, or assets, as meaning the gifts, skills, and talents of all residents. The uncovering of the gifts of the hands, head, and heart is part of the appeal of asset mapping.

Capacity, however, seems to be more difficult for some folks to wrap their heads around. Community capacity, as it relates to community-building, is about producing desired results. Capacity is the ability to do something, to make something happen. 

We can get stuck thinking that we need some mysterious "critical mass" in order to achieve our goals. Sure, if you're looking at something that will be voted on, then you will need one more than 50% of the votes. For many small, but important projects, however, you can get positive results by connecting the capacities of small numbers of people. Achieving an ultimate goal often happens as a result of many tiny successes. If you are at 0, and your goal is 10, you don't necessarily need a plan to go from 1 to 10 in one giant step. Maybe the path to ten will be 2+8, or 4+6. 

Capacity has no magic number. Sometimes the assets two people is enough capacity. Other times you might need six people, or 41, or 13. Getting as many people as possible on board is nice, but getting just enough people to achieve a desired outcome is pretty good too.

Capacity also refers to the ability to understand something. The idea of community capacity suggests that there are multiple strategies to create community change, because different members of the community see issues from different perspectives. This is where capacity meets relationship. This is where ABCD is useful. ABCD reminds us to talk to the people on the margins. If your issue is homelessness, talk to homeless people to gain insight into possible solutions. If your challenges are in schools, ask students for ideas.

Don't get caught up in the numbers. You will find the capacity you require in the capacities you discover.