For some time now, I’ve been running a parallel track with colleagues working on asset based approaches to strategic planning and community development (known as “Asset Based Community Development” or “ABCD”). The two tracks have recently begun to merge as I’ve worked more closely with my good friend and colleague Trevor Hopkins from the Local Government Improvement and Development agency (LGID). Trevor is the co-author of “A Glass Half Full” which outlines how an asset based approach can help in reducing health inequalities. This approach is wholly consistent with the conclusions drawn by the Marmot Review published in 2010 (“Fair Society, Healthy Lives”) which emphasises the importance of effective participatory decision making and community empowerment in addressing health inequalities. Nothing new here; the importance of community empowerment has been understood for many years. But are we getting any better at moving this from empty rhetoric to meaningful action that actually makes a difference?
The Asset Based approach takes community empowerment to a new level. Rather than seeing communities as being populated by people with needs and problems, and starting the development process there, it recognises that even our most deprived and marginalised communities contain significant assets that are not always realised. These assets will include individual and collective skills and experiences which together with knowledge and passion for change can be harnessed and applied towards solutions which are far more sustainable than conventional service planning. By ‘conventional service planning’ I mean processes that start with problems or needs, and then look to service providers to fix them (sometimes referred to as a “deficit model”). In this model, people are passive ‘service users’ and will have little or nothing to do with planning or delivering the service. The asset based approach builds on the assets already in place and facilitates the engagement of local people, partner agencies and other stakeholders to jointly design and deliver interventions. This “co-production” model puts service providing agencies in the role of enabling bodies, helping to facilitate the appropriate level of engagement in the planning and design of appropriate interventions. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that by starting with assets as opposed to problems, the ability of communities to take an active part in the solutions to their own problems and maximise the impact of partners is significantly enhanced. This is known as a salutogenic model and builds on the understanding that focusing on the factors which enhance health and well-being are more effective than focusing on those that cause disease. This theory is at the heart of modern thinking in public health.
Trevor and I recognised that the ABCD approach is wholly consistent with the Outcome Based Accountability™ framework I use in my training and development work. OBA™ also starts with the positive. Rather than starting a planning process with a needs assessment or a list of problems, it starts by defining the desired conditions of well-being; the outcomes. OBA™ also emphasises that progress towards outcomes can only be made by effective partnership which includes the active engagement of communities. The common language and common sense values that OBA™ enshrines are key tools in facilitating this effective engagement.
But just as you think you’ve invented the wheel, one comes rolling down the road and you realise that someone else has been making them for years! In this case, the wheels were being made in the United States through The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. Their Senior Vice President, H. Daniels Duncan, is also a senior consultant with the Results Leadership Group that specialises in applying OBA™ thinking to producing measurable outcomes for communities in the USA. He recognised the complementary nature of the two approaches some time ago and has published his conclusions in a pamphlet which I’ve included in the Resources Pages (Publications) of this website (CLICK HERE TO ACCESS). H. Daniels talks about how to start an improvement process with the OBA™ “Turning the Curve” process by defining outcomes and indicators and indentifying the partners with a role to play in turning the curve on the most pressing indicators. In looking for actions to make a difference, he recommends the Asset Based approach as an alternative to the conventional service provision model, engaging residents as co-producers/co-creators of their own and their community’s well being.
The ABCD approach adds values to an already powerful tool for improving outcomes in communities. I’d be very happy to explore with you what this could mean in practice in your service or community.