This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Community Paradigm Wiki Updates

The other component of New Community Paradigms or NCP, besides this blog, is the New Community Paradigms Wiki. The wiki though is updated on a more haphazard basis, often discoveries found when looking for something else but nonetheless providing markers for future explorations. NCP has a range of interests though focus is usually pretty narrow at any particular point in time. Below are a range of different additions and updates since the last time I did this. 

Healthy Cities California, along with the addition of Building Healthy Communities, Long Beach, was also provided its own wiki-page. Healthy Cities was updated with

New wiki-page Housing, and under it Homelessness - Seeking Solutions have been added as part of Livable Communities. The later includes the recent six part series on homelessness and the use of financial modeling to create viable programs. The former includes access to the Smart Growth America report Foot Traffic Ahead 2016 report which cautions that the high housing costs in communities threatens equity and must be addressed through “attainable housing programs.” Housing as a fundamental component of community, bridges to numerous other areas of concern. Community Place has added Revitalization Tools - Infill SCORE ROADMAP along with the recently added Revitalization Tools - Infill SCORE

A new addition was made to Community Arts with Hidden Voices which seeks to empower underrepresented populations to effectively tell their stories by engaging communities in dialogue and positive action. This is seen as being potentially connected to Community Place through the concept of Soul of a Community. Also included is A guide to Listening Matters | Community Organisers.

Community Governance was further broken down into Governance and Community Democracy and added Election Tools as well as the Local Government Commission which works to build livable communities and local leadership by connecting leaders via innovative programs and network opportunities, advancing policies through participation at the local and state level.

Transparency and Open Data in Governance has had a few updates, Open Government Partnership, Advancing Open and Citizen-Centered Government | and California piloting the first statewide open data portal, , with data sets and results from the GreenGov Challenge, a code-a-thon built around sustainability data sets hosted on the pilot site. GovOps is now moving the open data portal to an open source platform (DKAN) to ensure the longevity of continuous efforts to make government more open and efficient.

Under Community Change Agencies, Organizational, Online and Technology Based was further delineated  into Business Oriented Organizational, Online and Technology Based adding Bloomberg Philanthropies, which focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: public health, environment, education, government innovation, and arts & culture, along with the Unreasonable Institute, the SingularityHub, and Results for America featuring Moneyball for Government, a concept explained by the Bloomberg article, “How cities can ‘Moneyball’ government.”

The Organizational, Online and Technology Based wiki-page saw the addition of FII - Family Independence Initiative, a national nonprofit which leverages the power of information to illuminate and accelerate the initiative low-income families take to improve their lives. 

A brand new, perhaps new type, wiki-page New Economic Paradigms was created. Building for Sustainability, the Chicago Community Loan Fund was added to Community Financing. Under Participatory Budgeting was added Democratizing Tax Increment Financing Funds.pdf, PB-in-Schools-Guide.pdf  and PBinSchools - The Participatory Budgeting Project under Associated Documents, as well as a link to Public Spending, by the People.

Innovation in Governance saw the inclusion of Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation | The White House, which was actually discovered a year ago, just hadn’t gotten around to putting it into the wiki, still working to catch up.

It was decided to put Poplus, an open federation of people and organizations from many different countries with the joint mission to share knowledge and technology that can help citizens under Community Tech Tools.

Policy Creation wiki-page was updated with Public Agenda Home Page and being placed under Common Good.

New Urban Mechanics was placed under Planning the Urban Landscape but it is of a different nature than the links that were provided before. 

The Los Angeles City GeoHub was added to Policy Decisions by the Numbers with an explanatory video instead of text. 

Kumu has become a primary tool of the New Community Paradigm effort and there is now a collection of Kumu videos through Vimeo under the System Thinking Associated Programs section of the System Thinking wiki-chapter

This wiki goes through continual re-organization, especially to look for bridges across different sectors so more updates are likely to show up in the hopefully not too distant future and these updates will likely be included in this blog's future explorations of new community paradigms.

Monday, October 17, 2016

ABCD and Scottish Questions - Determining the Direction a Community Faces

The last blog post argued against the idea that Asset Based Community Development or ABCD is ‘neoliberalism with a community face’ as argued for by the study’s authors, Mary Anne MacLeod of the University of Glasgow and Akwugo Emejulu of the University of Edinburgh. 

ABCD is not established upon the logic of free market relations nor hostile to state-sponsored social welfare, it is just not wholly dependent upon it. An authentic ABCD model, doesn’t have a built-in distrust of the state but rather a wariness of what the state can do and is open to but does not necessarily support free market ideas, especially those brought from outside of the community. It is not based on theories and practices that seek to individualize and privatize social problems. 

The reason why  ABCD is being successfully implemented in the US and the UK, since the 1980s, is not then the neoliberal consensus dominating economic, political and policy debates in these two countries. Views expressed in ABCD literature by such as Kretzmann and McKnight may look to reduce dependency and increase individual responsibility but neither skepticism nor mistrust of the state are key themes. They don’t concur with either David Cameron’s position on ‘a culture of entitlement’ among the poor or with Wiggan's argument that poverty and unemployment originate in the poor choices and behavior of individuals rendering an  expensive, albeit well-meaning system of state support ineffective, while reinforcing social problems. 

This does not mean, however, that neoliberal politicians cannot use asset based jargon for their own purposes and it is only fair to ask who should be keeping an eye out for this. Further, discussions of dependency and responsibility suggests to the authors that an assets agenda in Scotland, placed within a wider debate regarding the role of the state in austere times, could potentially be used to justify a reduction in the state’s role in tackling social problems such as Glasgow’s persistent health inequalities.

This post will attempt to consider more carefully the other components of the study’s authors’ perspective. An important concern of the authors of the study is whose interests are being ultimately served and whose voices are being marginalized when the power held by different parties is unequal between different individuals and across groups in different sectors, seeking, perhaps only ostensibly, to work collaboratively and build partnerships.

In Scotland, the authors tell us, a tradition of strong social democracy champions a primary role for the state in the lives of its citizens bringing tension to this question. The authors assert that although ABCD has been championed in Scotland, there is some skepticism about it and how it might be used to enhance or transform contemporary community development work.

While policy makers and commentators in Scotland may recognize the opportunities, challenges and tensions that a discourse of assets creates, they are also aware that, as McLean asserts, ‘...a clear political position and direction to the debate remains absent’. The problem is that ABCD, though it may have political impact, is not a political question, especially not one to be asked by political institutions. 

ABCD is seen then as creating both challenges and possibilities in relation to austerity and welfare reform in the UK. The concern that there is a significant potential for the asset based approach to not only sideline the issue of inequalities, but to also increase them cannot be dismissed out of hand. The extent this concern is absent from the key literature in this area is unknown but a lack of literature has already been recognized.

The debate is more directly then between different competing analyses and means concerning causes and especially solutions to social problems in the context of the United Kingdom. If work is needed to avoid asset based approaches perpetuating inequalities and ensuring that resources and support are available to those most in need then arguably ABCD has a primary responsibility and, I believe, capacity for this.

It has to be understood that there is a difference between an asset based approach and Asset Based Community Development.  A determining factor and perhaps a fundamental difference between a general asset based approach and Asset Based Community Development, as I understand it, is the determination of the locus of control for a community.  Anything that takes the locus of control away from the community itself placing it in the hands of an outside agency, no matter how well meaning or benign is not ABCD. It is this sidestepping of this fundamental principle that is behind most attempts to usurp ABCD for political purposes and a common means of doing so is through specialized language.

The authors cite both McLean and IACD in the identification of a range of methodologies involving an asset based approach, including asset mapping, appreciative inquiry, participatory appraisal and co-production. McLean goes on to point out correctly that, “…many examples of asset based work may not use the 'asset' terminology".

The resulting ambiguity of the concept stemming from the "plethora of concepts" as used by government and decision makers comes through then, 'with some degree of abandon without taking on the real and challenging demands which each of them involves if they are to be effective’

A need to clarify the meaning of an asset based approach and an expressed concern that it is ‘all jargon’ was also raised by community development workers and activists attending a ‘Shaking our Assets’ conference. Yet participants also described what they considered the best aspects of an asset based approach in terms of: ‘co-production’, ‘community involvement’, ‘influence’, ‘shifting the power balance’ and ‘participation’.

The authors recognized what they saw as some potential benefits of a general asset based approach. ABCD, seen as a more consensus-based approach to community development work, could increase individual and collective responsibility for social problems and social welfare. Consensus within ABCD, it should be kept in mind, is foremost within the community itself.

An asset based approach offers a potential means for increasing democratization, both in terms of  community projects planning and delivery, as well as the designing and delivery of public services by engaging people in defining both the problem and the solution, using a more co-productive way of working, through what was  called a “we’ll-do-it-with-you mode”. This still though leaves questions as to exactly where the locus of control is situated.

A focus on assets could allow for a more direct involvement in setting the priorities for service planning and delivery, recognizing that asset based approaches might offer the potential for changing attitudes of health and other public sector professionals in terms of listening to and valuing the interests, skills and knowledge of individuals and community groups. This, however, suggests a shifting of the locus of control.

An asset based approach then is asserted to reflect a consensus building model, that is consistent with the views of Kretzmann and McKnight, as suggested by study participant Mary, a community development worker:

“It’s very much about recognising the skills that everybody has when we put them together both individually, both within partnerships or projects which we form, between a group of people working together, or much wider than that the public sector working with the private sector...It’s very much that collective when everybody works together and its greater than the sum of the parts when you pull all of those resources together.”

Another study participant Rachel, also a community development worker, conversely provides a different perspective: "I think our systems and bureaucracy are stifling it [the asset based approach]. We are just so full of systems that are so hierarchical [that] kind of stop people from contributing in the way that they could."

This raised issues of power relating then to the challenges of taking a genuinely democratic approach with certain themes in the literature, as cited by the authors, highlighting the ways in which a supposedly ABCD model frames social welfare services as disempowering. More precisely, several study participants spoke of asset based work in terms of its potential and dilemmas in relation to oppositional community activism for social justice with some participants being confronted with a real dilemma about using what was identified as an ABCD approach because of the contradictions they experience when considering neighborhood-level solidarity work. 

This analysis is still tentative and open to revision based on feedback.  An endeavor to look for resolution will be sought within the next blog post. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Second Look at Neoliberalism with a Community Face and Asset Based Community Development.

The last post took a look at Cormac Russell’s blog post Neoliberalism with a Community Face? A Critical Analysis of Asset-Based Community Development in Scotland?, which took a look at the original article Neoliberalism with a Community Face. While I agreed with his assessment, it was from knowledge through a secondary source available to me a year or more ago. Thanks to Cormac and others, the initial article is easier to find, so it is possible now to start taking a closer look.  This is my perspective and not an attempt at an objective analysis. A second look did not change my overall position but it did demonstrate that the issues were more complicated than first appreciated. 

The authors of the initial article, Mary Anne MacLeod, University of Glasgow and Akwugo Emejulu, University of Edinburgh, took a feminist research approach with an interest in critically examining the implications of Asset Based Community Development or ABCD,  “…for the least powerful in society and whose interests might be served—and whose silenced—by this focus on, ‘strengths’ .”  No objections with this or with their decision to use snowball sampling but doing both I believe could be problematic. If you start with a specific perspective in choosing study participants who then recruit future subjects from among their own acquaintances, the chance for a skewed outcome seems increasingly probable. 

One can find a range of perspectives within the ABCD Institute, at Northwestern University,  on various approaches such as Collective Impact. Depending upon ten practitioners to get an in depth understanding of ABCD seems limited, especially when half of those participants interviewed occupied what were termed strategic policy positions. To what degree did those positions truly incorporate ABCD into their daily routines?

The authors go on to assert that they organized, coded and analyzed their data in relation to the patterns or  "stable regularities" emerging from the interview transcripts until reaching saturation point which could again suggest at least a potential toward biasing the outcome. 

I cannot say that this approach was wrong but if one's premise is that they ended with the wrong conclusions then this may be because of the path they took. From my perspective, they should have at least taken an extra effort to interview someone such as Cormac, or someone else they cited, who had a clear ABCD outlook. 

The authors also start with a problematic philosophical premise in identifying Asset Based Community Development with neoliberalism, which they see as a:

(T)heory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.

Their data analysis process focused on the changing nature of the Scottish welfare system through what they saw as a rise of neoliberalism and a decline in a historical tradition of social democracy. 

"In this ideological context, we argue that ABCD represents a capitulation and compliance with the prevailing neoliberal reforms of the American welfare state under the Reagan Administration."

The perspective of the authors is that the embedding of free market principles into community development organizations, which then seeps into the logic of local people may, in the long run, be counter-productive to social and economic interests of marginalized groups.

Besides contrasting different theories of economics, the authors also contrast conflict models of social action, in the tradition of Saul Alinsky, with what they see as consensus models of social action. 

It is, according to the authors, because organizations supporting conflict models of social action were actively targeted and de-funded that allowed consensus-based initiatives like ABCD grew in influence. 

Because ABCD does not seek to organize against the elimination, reduction and/or privatization of public services, it is accused of accommodating neoliberalism in both theory and practice. From this point on whatever is wrong with neoliberalism is wrong with ABCD and any arguments by the New Right against the welfare state, as breeding a culture of dependency best remedied by free market principles are also by association shared by ABCD. 

Neoliberalism, though, is primarily an economic framework which has been used both by Reagan, as a Republican and Clinton, as a democrat in terms of governance. A Tweddle-Dee, Tweddle-Dum difference for some perhaps with a political tradition far more diverse than what we have in the USA but it makes an important difference in understanding the roots of ABCD.

The authors seemingly define community only in its relation to the state and the state to the community. According to them, ABCD supporters seem not to recognize that, ‘systems’ can both harm and protect liberty and rights. That it is not the role of community development to simply disavow the state. Instead it should make the local and national state work better for the most marginalized. Transferring various state responsibilities to individuals and communities is not the way to reform the state.

The [welfare] state can be a cumbersome, bureaucratic and self-serving institution that undermines individual liberty and innovation. But it can also be a key guarantor and protector of equality and rights which makes individual liberty possible and meaningful.

As a result, ABCD intervention, resulting in the shifting of state responsibilities for social problems onto individuals and communities is seen as troublesome.

The author’s argument for a deep skepticism and distrust of the state’s ability to function for the benefit of society by ABCD is though wrong. ABCD is not, in my estimation, anti-state. It is closer to being anti-institutional but in truth it is pro-community. 

I can agree to a certain extent then, that as the authors state, for ABCD, ”...the idea of citizenship is explicitly separated from discussions of the state and the rights and responsibilities of citizens in relation to the state.”

That which ‘makes citizenship possible’ at least if I am interpreting McKnight interpretation of de Tocqueville’s community of associations correctly, is not a connection to or as a derivation of the state or its institutions but arises from what ‘today we call civil society’. A perspective held by this blog for some time.

Neoliberalism is a more modern continuation of the more classical liberalism arising from the Enlightenment, a bridge too far it could be argued but ABCD, itself, has far more in common with the late 19th and 20th century when, “…liberalism morphed from an individualistic philosophy to one that is more communal in nature.” There still continues to be a tension between the individual and the community.   

It does not follow then, as the authors argue, that ABCD, by framing notions of civil society and citizenship, as separate and independent of any notion of state responsibility (not removed from as the authors state), that it promotes privatization of public life.

The authors themselves admit that their, "... approach places significant limitations on the claims which can be made regarding representativeness and therefore on the generalisability of our data." Yet, generalize against an entire community empowerment discipline is what they did.

I believe it is still important to recognize that the authors, "...sought to examine the perspectives of our participants in their own words and attempted to understand the meaning of their views in relation to the socio-cultural context in Scotland ". 

It does seem that what precisely constitutes ABCD in Scotland arguably remains open to interpretation. While I disagree with their portrayal of ABCD, the argument as to which is better for Scotland is less settled. I won’t try to insert myself directly into that discussion but I will take a look generally at some of the issues raised concerning this question.

Friday, October 7, 2016

My Critique of a Critique of a Critique of Asset Based Community Development

Recently, Cormac Russell asked for my public comments of his blog post 
Neoliberalism with a Community Face? A Critical Analysis of Asset-Based Community Development in Scotland?, and the debate with the article with the same name, sans the last question mark, more generally. 

Now there is a bit of, "Wow, Cormac Russell asked me to write something, that is so cool,” to this but I have more reason for putting this upfront. I have to admit that I don't really know that much about Asset Based Community Development or ABCD.

I have done a couple of blog posts on ABCD, one of which received praise from Cormac. I created an ABCD page on my wiki which makes clear that good deal of what I have learned so far has come from Cormac. I have been adding to my own growing ABCD list on Twitter, in large part due to connecting with Cormac. Also raised ABCD as an alternative or at least a supplemental approach in an online collaboration with an effort to establish a food truck for the unsheltered homeless in Portland, Oregon, the series "Modeling the Last Mile to Feed the Homeless

Still I am a fledgling convert and, to a large extent, an outsider. So any critique I do is susceptible to criticism for both being not knowledgable enough and too naively fanboy.  As Cormac said in his own post, one needs an "ability to understand their subject and on whether they have read everything under their purview in order to do so."

So, now upfront, if I get something wrong, I can honestly say, "It's not you, it's me."

Another issue is that I am one of those, one of those “systems guys”. I am an advocate of ABCD not an absolute adherent. I have hopeful faith in ABCD which I am building upon. I have confident conviction in systems thinking. Cormac has been kind enough to engage in what I call “above the comments section conversations” The comments section being where many of the stature of Cormac online would relegate followers. In these conversations I have sometimes tweaked Cormac’s twitters with a systems thinking perspective. Also have to add that my post, Asset Based Community Development Lessons for Systems Thinking despite being fairly recent, received the fourth most page views in this blog's little over five year history.

Also have to mention that I seem to remember coming across the original article, “Neoliberalism with a community face?: A critical analysis of asset-based community development in Scotland (MacLeod, MA & Emejulu, A) 2014” over the last year or so, or perhaps it was a review or synopsis but couldn't find an open publicly available copy when I went back to refresh my memory. So I requested a copy through ResearchGate which, if I can, I will link here. The article can be downloaded from the Edinburgh Research Explorer, the link has been provided courtesy of Cormac.

My first question then for Cormac is why did this take so long and why now?

According to Cormac, the original “Neoliberalism with a community face?” article is “one of the few critiques of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) out there. We need more. Critiques are critical to ensuring a deepening of practice and philosophical rigour.”

This brings up my second question arising directly from Cormac's article. Why aren't there more critiques of ABCD but even more generally, how do you critique ABCD? I am really not clear about how ABCDers would go about doing that themselves. 

From what I remember of the Macleod and Emejulu article, I agreed with Cormac that it was a Straw Man argument. Their three points on individualization, marketization and privatization also fell flat with me even with my then particularly limited knowledge of ABCD. My initial reaction was to discount the Macleod and Emejulu article as at best an outlier in the general ABCD literature. 

At the time, I could not or perhaps did not particularly try to ascertain where they were coming from? Were they coming from an establishment perspective attempting to usurp certain portions of ABCD and omit the parts inconvenient to authority or a particularly radical antiestablishment perspective that felt ABCD did not go far enough in being disruptive? 

 I found a followup to the article, What’s the Matter with Asset-Based Community Development? 22 April 2015, on the What Works Scotland website, so I now know it was the later. The article features guest blogger Dr. Akwugo Emejulu, (my link works), at the University of Edinburgh, moving soon to the University of Warwick.  What Works Scotland is, an initiative to improve the way local areas in Scotland use evidence to make decisions about public service development and reform. While I disagree with Dr. Emejulu’s perspective on ABCD, there is a good deal on the What Works Scotland that I do find appealing. 

Returning to Dr. Emejulu’s perspective on ABCD, both Russell (Cormac) and Emejulu start with a hypothesis of ABCD being a theory and practice of empowerment and social change but in Emejulu’s view ABCD not only fails at achieving this but is a hindrance. 

"Thus, it is important to understand that ABCD emerges, not as an alternative to deficit approaches to community development, but as a movement to displace and neutralise radical community organising and development." (MacLeod and Emejulu 2014)

This seems to me to be not so much an, “If you're not for me then your against me” as an, “if you’re not against them then your against me” outlook. I suspect that in attempting to define ABCD Dr. Emejulu has taken what I learned to be of American origin based on a tradition of local community participatory democracy, independent of individual economic perspectives and placed it within the larger economic movements of Europe which defined the myriad of political parties by focusing on the larger political movements in America rather than those smaller local sources of community participatory democracy. 

Now Dr. Emejulu is apparently anti-capitalist.

“ABCD is not necessarily a bold stand against the disempowering practice of well meaning but ultimately misguided social welfare professionals. Instead, it is an attempt to re-purpose community development to make it more acceptable to the emerging neoliberal order under Reagan.” 

Reagan is the ultimate example of the political embodiment of capitalism.

She goes on to say, “Capitalism, fundamentally, is about maximising profit for the owners of capital. It is not designed to address issues of fairness, equality and justice. Indeed, as the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures have shown us, capitalism is the source of inequality—it is not a remedy to it.” ABCD is presumed guilty by assumed association.

Now, I agree with Prof. John McKnight that ABCD is of no interest to, either one of our limited to two party system because, “Republicans are about empowering corporate interest and Democrats are about growing government interests.” There is a tradition in America of organizations like Heartland Democracy, that have been featured in this blog, working within communities focusing on the importance of civic empowerment as a means to reach disengaged populations. ABCD is another approach to doing this. 

Though I sense Cormac as not being a capitalist and as being anti-corporatist, I also do not see any economic perspective as being an essential part of either the tradition above or necessarily of ABCD. I can readily see an entrepreneurial, free enterprise perspective being able to be included into ABCD. If I am wrong about this somebody needs to tell me. 

Now let me be clear about this. I am not saying that ABCD is particularly pro-capitalist or pro-free enterprise. It would be constrained if it were. Dr. Emejulu sees ABCD a being anti-statist and using capitalism as a counterweight, which I do not believe to be true. It is not anti-anything as far as I can tell. ABCD is pro-community. The effort to empower communities, particularly focusing on what is strong rather than what is wrong defaults to helping disengaged populations, which is why it is not of interest to those in political power. 

Dr. Emejulu's view, I would say, leans more to expansive and complicated social movements, gathering disciples fueled by dissatisfaction, for large scale social upheaval, while ABCD focuses on the smaller, refined, nuanced, complex relationships found in communities and neighborhoods and seeks to bring out the emergent and creative qualities of those communities and neighborhoods.

So why would a systems thinking guy seek out a truth to be found in ABCD? I have to confess that I sometimes find systems thinking lacking, not fundamentally but it misses something which ABCD seems it might provide. Now this is not really quite right because I still find it easier for systems thinking being able to realize its limitations, not that they, systems thinkers, necessarily do but it is there more than I see it for ABCD. I have more to learn.

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