Category: Reflections and Ideas

The goal of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is to leverage a group’s collective strengths to engage in action that leads to change. ABCD reflects an inclusion-embracing worldview, and a type of strategic thinking that is rooted in uncovering capacities. It hints at process, but does not dictate procedure. It is, however, ultimately about outcomes much more than it is about process. For that reason, I am not a big fan of trying to create exhaustive (and exhausting) wide-scale, comprehensive databases attempting to inventory all the assets of a community, so that those assets might be called into service up at some future date.

As much as I love the passion and the ambition of the folks who want to go big right away, I would ask them to consider another strategy. In terms of getting things done, large-scale asset mapping efforts seem inefficient. By the time you finish, the inventory is already outdated. New assets are created every day; others atrophy. Larger projects also seem less likely it is to develop collaborative leadership. They are less about community ownership than they are about being a ‘project’ of one organization or agency. Grassroots community development doesn’t need org charts, it needs to-do lists. While you’re waiting for weeks or months for the database to get filled, the situation on the ground has not changed.

I prefer a different strategy to jump-start mobilizing the assets in your community. It looks something like this:

  1. Define what you want to change, or create in your community.
  2. Find a group of people who share your concerns. That might be five people; it might be 25 people. The number is not important. Bring as many of them as possible together in one spot. Have conversations that help you identify viable first steps, particularly those that will increase the number of personal relationships in your community.
  3. Map the assets of that initial group of people. Based on those assets, plan an achievable, short-term action with a discrete outcome.
  4. Implement your action.
  5. Encourage as many allies as possible who have good ideas to repeat 1-4.

This strategy promotes collaborative leadership, and entrepreneurial thinking. It fosters relationship-building. There’s no waiting around for some lead organization or a charismatic leader to come up with a plan to mobilize people. This difference in scale often means the difference between a more passive community outreach, and the more active community engagement (see more about the difference between the two here).

Perhaps most importantly, the ‘smaller’ approach serves as a demonstration project for people who may not be convinced that creating change is possible. Movements are rarely orchestrated. Small successes with tangible results will boost confidence, and create trust within the community. Suddenly, people who had never before seen themselves as advocates or leaders will be coming to you and asking, “How did you do that?” Then you might see things go big in a hurry.

Thinking Beyond the Pandemic

By John Hamerlinck, 2020-04-06

I work at a university. Students, faculty, staff and administrators are all waist deep in trying to navigate the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are not alone. This is a shared experience. There is no life that is not being touched by current events.

Public health scares are in many ways even more frightening that the thought of devastating natural disasters.The unknown is scary, but the thought of an unrevealed future has always presented its share of anxiety. I am doing what I can to stay safe and to keep those around me  safe. Beyond that, however, I have decided to think about what we will all do when there is no longer a need for social distancing.

How will we hit the ground running in an effort to adjust to unforeseen conditions? We will listen to, and acknowledge the realities of EVERYONE in our community. Then we will invite them to think like entrepreneurs rather than administrators. We will not dismiss ideas to strengthen the community just because "nobody has ever done that before." We will need dreamers, creative people, and people with diverse experiences and worldviews. When the worst of this crisis has passed we will need all of our capacities more than ever.

Stay safe everybody. Be well. We'll need you when this has passed.

I do a considerable amount of ABCD training. I always end an introductory training with an exercise that has people identify actions they could take, based on connecting the assets they have identified, and written down on index cards, to those shared by other people in their small group. Randomly placed 3 X 5 cards scattered on a table have not surprisingly, yielded tremendous amounts of energy, as well as some fascinating ideas.

We always take time to reflect at the end of the training. Here are just three of the things I have learned from those reflections.

First, people in their teens and early twenties seem to have the least trouble with the concept that everyone’s contributions have value. It seems like whenever groups of young people are connecting assets, they are more likely to work to ensure that all of the identified assets are somehow included. If your group is struggling you might consider welcoming some young people to join you.

Secondly, there are always surprises. One of my favorite reflection questions is, “Did anything about the process, or about your group’s assets surprise you? “ The following revelations have come from this question:

  • The quietest, most reserved person in the room turned out to be the bass player in a punk band.
  • Someone didn’t know that a person they worked with every day, spoke three languages.
  • Three people in one small group had actually made wedding cakes for friends.

Finally, people quickly recognize that ABCD promotes collaborative leadership. I ask folks about the process in their group. It almost never involves one person taking charge, and prescribing a direction for the group. The mere act of seeing the connections between assets encourages shared responsibility and collaborative leadership.

I’d be interested to hear about experiences that you’ve have had with people experiencing the connecting of assets for the first time.

A quick post-election reminder

By John Hamerlinck, 2016-11-10

In the aftermath of the catastrophic U.S. election, I find it necessary to remind myself of an important reality. Institutions cannot stop social change from occurring. Culture creates change. People locking arms with others who share their values, creates change.

If you want your community to be welcoming, safe, free of misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression, the culture within your community can create that change. We do not need the permission of a government official, to do what is expected of respectful, compassionate human beings.

By all means, keep the necessary pressure on institutions that seek to be barriers to a more egalitarian society. But at the same time, do not forget that politics and policy are but a sliver of life in a free and democratic society.

(Reprinted from my website,

John Hamerlinck