Data About the Effective Use of ABCD by Cities and Non-Profits in the US

Jim Moynihan
Jim Moynihan
@jim-moynihan
3 years ago
7 posts

Hi everyone.

I know this question (about data with respect to where and how effectively ABCD is being used) has come up a couple of times in recent years from the threads I've seen. However, I'm still having trouble finding some good current numbers to share with folks asking me about this. Does anyone know how many US cities (governments and non-profits) are using ABCD and the impact they are experiencing? Thanks!


updated by @jim-moynihan: 10/24/16 04:49:29PM
John Hamerlinck
John Hamerlinck
@john-hamerlinck
3 years ago
41 posts

Hi Jim,

Quantifying this would be difficult, and might actually provide a distorted picture of the utility of the approach.

I believe that the most effective use on ABCD exists when there is collaborative leadership between people who arent necessarily getting paid to help create the change. Each day folks around the world are practicing ABCD without the permission of, or the controlling hand of an NGO or government agency.

There are certainly examples of projects that had a nonprofit or local government in some leadership role, but to try to quantify that subset alone seems a little dangerous to me. I have seen a number of projects led by institutions, that claimed to be using an ABCD framework, but were, in fact, simply engaging in exercises to map the assets of other institutions interested in a particular issue. Of course, this isnt always the case, but counting institution-driven attempts is going to overlook many, many promising strategies.

Perhaps a better approach is to compile stories of success. They are all over this site, and on the ABCD Institute site. Success stories will shine light on the role of institutions as a partner, as opposed to a program developer. We used the story approach for a book meant to inform higher educations rolein asset-based work. People seemed to respond to it.

Jim Moynihan
Jim Moynihan
@jim-moynihan
3 years ago
7 posts

Thanks for your thoughts, John. I agree with your assessment. Accurately defining the impact of ABCD is like nailing jello to the wall. The way you've responded is how I typically respond as well.

Having said that, however, it would be nice if we knew how many cities and non-profits around the country are applying ABCD in their contexts and how things are going with them. Similar to your story of institutions I've heard of cities who've adopted ABCD only to add it to their needs-based efforts never really transitioning to an asset-based paradigm. Even if these are anecdotal reports, it would be useful to me in answering those asking me for data to be able to share reports from around the country.

Thanks for the book reference. I'll check that out.

April Doner
April Doner
@april-doner
3 years ago
50 posts

This is a question I've been grappling with for quite some time, and continue to do so.

From what I have observed, two camps have emerged in the ABCD universe -- one which believes that since we have the data linking increased social capital and neighborhood engagement to pretty much every arena of community and individual well-being, this is enough -- and if anything, we with projects can work to keep track of how many connections / associations are forming as a result of asset-base work, but need not obsess over tracking other indicators.

The other camp believes that we do need harder data...

I honestly see both sides but am extremely curious about what a rigorous kind of measurement effort might yield. John, I deeply appreciate your point about not over-emphasizing the role or power of institutions in being the ones "doing" ABCD, and that demanding or prioritizing measurement can have that effect. But I still would love to see some aggregates, even something creative and nontraditional, making visible and indisputable the real results of an ABCD application.

I believe that this could greatly empower the role of ABCD in becoming a better competitor for funding dollars that are out there, but end up being directed toward programs that promise "hard results" -- even though we know that many of these results aren't making long-lasting impact, and residents are very rarely the producers or owners of the work.

For me, the major hangup in actually doing that has been that, as you said Jim, it's like nailing Jello to a wall. The outcomes and benefits of ABCD work are so multi-varied and seemingly unpredictable. My thinking currently is, What about a practice of appreciative, reflective evaluation? In which an effort simply tracks what the participants notice as signs of "Good stuff" that wasn't happening before? I know Broadway and its neighbors experimented with this and--utilizing several neighbors' gifts for counting and observing--began counting smiles over a course of time.

I think the other barrier is one you touched on, John, which is that much ABCD is not spearheaded by institutions -- they may be instigators to some degree, but by its very nature, ABCD work is done by residents. So, in my experience, when we try to introduce programmatic practices like counting and measuring results, ordinary people doing work in their neighborhood in the wonderful organic, adaptive way they do, simply don't want to, don't have time for, or don't see the necessity of such practices... they know and see and feel if something is working or not, and if it is, let's keep on -- if not, switch streams. In the Broadway example, I know that counting smiles was an idea, and a neat one, but I don't believe that it continued.

Currently I'm working with the Abundant Communities Initiative which implements asset-based neighborhood organizing that blends institutional structure with on-the-ground, unpaid block connecting. I'm interested in experimenting with how measurement techniques could be used that don't burden on-the-ground connectors/organizers and citizens, but might become a joyful process that complements their work but is supported by the people being paid in the program. For instance, an appreciative inquiry type gathering where the connectors in a neighborhood reflect together on "what's changing?" and might begin to notice patterns, that begin to be something we can count. Alongside that, one could begin tracking existing indicators of community well-being -- economic, signs of engagement (one example: deed enforcement calls to the City Government), new businesses, school indicators, etc. etc. -- and follow those as the work progresses. (Here we run into whether the "ABCD" work could claim to be the source of any found changes, since other efforts will surely be underway in any given area over a period of time.)

Thanks for this conversation -- this was a good opportunity for me to get my thoughts out!

Would love to hear thoughts on this, or if anyone has tried or heard of anyone trying something similar.

-A

Jim Moynihan
Jim Moynihan
@jim-moynihan
3 years ago
7 posts

I love your thoughtful and thorough response, April. I'm looking forward to this conversation continuing.

keith kelley
keith kelley
@keith-kelley
10 months ago
11 posts

so....how has the work been going on data driven work that you were considering in ths exchange....idid you wok with a community survey?

Philip Craig
Philip Craig
@philip-craig
7 months ago
2 posts

I read with interest the thread and the challenges to quantifying impact and outcomes in ABCD. I have spent many years in M&E in the Tertiary Education Sector and have had parallel challenges in quantifying educational outcomes. In particular you might be interested in the approaches taken to quantifying 'transformational experiences' as it also has parallel challenges .. The key is to identify the outcomes sought, as formulated from the projects raison d'être - its goals. If these are not clear then any measuring of impact, efficacy and outcome will be very challenging ...   

Jamie Munday
Jamie Munday
@jamie-munday
6 months ago
4 posts

Hi, im new to the forum. This thread caught my eye as its something out organization has struggled to get our head around. Appreciate all the earlier comments which highlight the dilemma of doing M&E from an ABCD perspective. Ill share some of our experience for what its worth.

The evaluative process obviously must be community led, but as Philip mentions it needs to be connected to program goals...so that can be problematic. Since our process of activating ABCD Dev't in communities highlights local vision and ownership we cant determine which direction the local initiative might take. (in other words we cant focus evaluation on specific indicators health, education. etc...) The common denominator is a bit vague but important nonethless, and that is community change. So, after about one year individuals community members are asked : What change has occured? the interviewer is trained to ask a broad representation from the community, even those uninvolved in the initiative. When asked by local community members there is less pressure to provide a positive answer. Although this process seems a bit unimpressive from a technical M&E /western perspective it does provide some raw material that is uncoerced, less biased and often gets to the core of the issues. From this qualitative data it is then possible to glean numbers that can be aggregated into qualitative data for the purposes of evaluating success and communicating with donors. We ve got a ways to go on that part.

Just a few thoughts...its a work in progress, so very intersted to hear more from others. Thanks!  

Eddy Ameen
Eddy Ameen
@eddy-ameen
4 months ago
3 posts

This may be a tangent, since I cannot really contribute to the data debate... but I am looking to determine whether ABCD could work in a large national association of members. I have loved ABCD since a class on it at Northwestern. Now, 18 years later, I have the opportunity to align a large part of the disciplinary association where I work around something like ABCD. Instead of offering 'member benefits' resources and unidirectional products and communications, I'd like to nurture a real sense community, have people mentor and support one another through career struggles and stages, and so on. In particular, our challenges are that we are national in scope, very large in numbers, and only often connected to one another in this association digitally, not face to face. That said, would any of you recommend any books, articles, or case examples of ABCD applied in the nonprofit sector? Thank you!

John Hamerlinck
John Hamerlinck
@john-hamerlinck
4 months ago
41 posts

Hi, Eddy. Large organizations struggle with ABCD because they are often centralized (as opposed to distributed) networks. Information moves primarily from a hub, out to members, or if the organization has a large staff, it is org chart driven. Relationship building among members is secondary to a member's relationship with the organization. 

ABCD is about getting things done. Your entire membership may probably never be directly involved in achieving a specific outcome. I would suggest finding an affinity group from within your larger membership, that wants to create or change some small, but tangible aspect of your work. That small group of people who are passionately interested in the same goal can map, connect, and leverage their assets, and then implement something that can serve as a 'proof of concept' to other members who might do the same. Folks who have tried to do large scale ABCD often focus too much on the asset mapping process, and not enough on implementing a desirable action, that they end up creating data bases that are obsolete before they are even 'completed.'

Eddy Ameen
Eddy Ameen
@eddy-ameen
3 months ago
3 posts

John, thank you very much for your helpful reply. Your entire first paragraph resonates with my experience. I was approaching ABCD from the perspective that there'd not be a specific action except the mapping and connecting of individual members as their needs arise. I see your point that putting significant effort into building a database before having the chance to put it into use would be a major waste of resources. Are there examples you may know of around how orgs (especially those that are centralized like mine) may have identified a desirable action. I work in particular with students and early career members, so these are natural affinity groups. Thank you again for your insights.

John Hamerlinck
John Hamerlinck
@john-hamerlinck
3 months ago
41 posts

Eddy, It is difficult for me to offer a whole lot without more details about what you're actually trying to accomplish, or the nature of your organization. If your organization is deeply rooted in an "expert" model of problem solving, you might identify an issue or challenge that your members frequently face, and try to identify ways to avoid that reoccurring phenomenon by engaging in some appreciative inquiry around that issue, as opposed to looking for a "best practice" that will work for most people. For me, ABCD is an approach that recognizes the critical context, and insight of non-experts who need solutions not available to them via current programs or policies. These folks often have great ideas for multivariant solutions that emerge once they stop focusing primarily of their deficits. 

Eddy Ameen
Eddy Ameen
@eddy-ameen
3 months ago
3 posts

Thank you, John. Very thoughtful ideas to think through. I work at the American Psychological Association and we want to address a common refrain from student and early career members (again, thousands, distributed across a wide swath of the world) that want to (a) network with other members; and (b) receive mentorship from mid/late-career members. I am not sure how I would move forward - maybe I was looking for the tool to connect folks and help display the gifts and resources people can offer one another. Not a member directory, but an opt-in space for connections.  I need and plan to refresh my ABCD exposure, but I have a feeling that what I read will largely be about geographically bounded real-time communities. As mentioned, our membership exists in a somewhat disconnected (from one another) and almost entirely virtual/digital space. (My email is eameen@apa.org if easier for anyone to connect directly with me.)

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
2 months ago
134 posts

I’m going to jump into this conversation because it’s just so interesting! Eddy, it seems to me that what you’re describing is something like this community... ABCD in Action.... but for the members you work with. As one of the leads on ABCD in Action, I’m always thinking about how do we build community in a virtual space. If you’d like to have a conversation about this, feel free to contact me at abcdinaction@gmail.com and we’ll see if we can find a time to talk.

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