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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ABCD Conflict Consensus Debate and Systems Thinking 2 of 2

The last post suggested that two community development approaches, what is being called a Scottish conflict model (SCM) and Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) (we will avoid the term model) are not in truth in direct conflict but out of sync and potentially constrained in their individual methodologies.

Both are dealing with the reality, as noted by the authors of the Scottish conflict model, that the UK is experiencing the most significant transformation of its welfare state since its founding after the Second World War with key social welfare services being eliminated, means-tested, dramatically curtailed or privatized to save money. As the state withdraws from different aspects of public life, governments are unilaterally arguing that individuals, families and community groups will be able to fill this vacuum through their local knowledge, assets and energy to rebuild local services, ostensibly or not on their own terms and in ways that meet their interests and needs but without the expenditure of resources by the government while still under the regulation of government.

It is also recognized, as stated by Prof. Jody Kretzmann, Co-founder of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute that, ‘ABCD is essential, but it is not sufficient’ in addressing this.

I think it is very important that we make this amendment, especially in the current climate where some institutions are now turning to communities to ‘step up’, and fill the space of services that are being cut.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                              Cormac Russell

Supporters of both SCM and ABCD recognize ‘systems’ can be used to both harm and protect liberty and rights. It is SCM though that asserts that the purpose of community development is to pursue an agenda that makes the local and national state work better for the most marginalized, focusing more on the structural level of the system.

As was said before, the SCM authors seemingly define community, more as a amorphous whole, basically in its relation to the state and the state to the community. They recognize that the [welfare] state can be a cumbersome, bureaucratic and self-serving institution that undermines individual liberty and innovation. Nevertheless, they still see it as the key guarantor and protector of equality and rights which makes individual liberty possible and meaningful, at least no other guarantor besides what is supposedly influenced or replaced by SCM is provided. 

Reforming the state then by transferring various state responsibilities to  communities and especially individuals is not seen by SCM as the best or even the most effective means of doing so, raising concern of an assets agenda possibly marginalizing needed discussions of significant structural and economic inequalities. All of which could be a fair point but if the welfare state system does not fulfill the needs of the marginalized, failing as a guarantor and SCM steps in attempting to appropriate the locus of control without establishing deep relationships with the individuals of the community is it then truly democratic or even have a chance at being successful? It could be argued, if it ever succeeded, to be a change in a form of  structural democracy but not a transformation to deep democracy.

Asset Based Community Development has a set of common features described by John McKnight. It is an approach that is relationship focused between the fundamental agents of the system or community members, capacity oriented /asset based and internally driven/place based. In terms of assets, five are the core of the work with the focus on relationships being largely internally networked.

1. Individual resident capacities
2. Local associations
3. Neighborhood institutions – business, not-for-profit and government
4. Physical assets – the land and everything on it and beneath it
5. Exchange between neighbors – giving, sharing, trading, bartering, exchanging, buying and selling

These assets have three critical aspects, simplicity, usability and universality. As with all complex systems, these can then be combined dynamically in a number of different ways. Things that only residents/citizens can do independently in response to an issue.  Things that residents/citizens can lead on and achieve in cooperation with the support of institutions (governmental, nongovernmental, for profit) in response to an issue. Both of these are premised on a substantial locus of control laying within the community and the individuals making it up

Next comes things that only institutions can do. The locus of control is now closer to the institution or entity that attempts to influence or appropriate the role of the institution. It can then be asked what is it that institutions can be made to stop doing which would create greater space for resident action, but perhaps more importantly what can be done to induce institutions to not only do so but also start offering services beyond that they might currently offer to support resident/citizen action? 

These questions are being asked in a Kettering Foundation oriented framework centering:

“..on understanding what are the irreplaceable functions of community, and only then to move on to reflecting on the functions of an enabling state, and how those unique and irreplaceable functions can become mutually reinforcing of the democratic experiment. This is classic Asset-Based Community Development applied to the wider political landscape.”
                                                                                                                 Cormac Russell 

Asset-Based Community Development practice seeks to save people from the system not to save the system money. Ethical ABCD practice is about having a life, growing free space and deepening democracy, it is not about service reform or redesign, it doesn't seek to create citizen-led alternatives to mainstream services.

Part of this discourse concerns the relative placements of the Scottish conflict approach and an ABCD approach in attempting to achieve this. ABCD emphasizes a proclivity to move away from individualistic consumer based definitions of a good life and any dependency on the nonexistent beneficence of institutions themselves (as opposed, I would say, to the humans working within them). ABCD also recognizes the importance of being honest about the issue of power. However, it is not as readily discernible what steps would be taken in unequal power negotiations.

“Actual work in and with neighborhood people has not been very common even though the “green book” was written primarily for them. In part this has been because institutions and policymakers have organizations that can find us and solicit relationships. On the other hand, local neighbors and their groups are not often organized to reach beyond their boundaries.”

                                                                                                         John McNight

ABCD seeks to attain maximum individual and associational freedom and total institutional neutrality in defining democracy while recognizing that community needs good government and a fair market willing and capable of providing a safety net when needed. Again, associational seems to focus on the internal relationships comprising the association and not the capacity of the association to negotiate effectively with agencies outside of the community. The issue for ABCD then is how to determine the proper proportionality and correct relations. It is desired that government form a dome of protection and do what the community cannot do for itself, as an extension of but not a replacement for community. 

ABCD even though it is not anti-state, still does not focus on the systemic structures of state.  ABCD approaches may be seen then to generate real dilemmas in the ability for some practitioners and community groups to articulate their views about structural problems and build solidarity at the grassroots. As a result, ABCD intervention, resulting in the shifting of state responsibilities for social problems onto individuals and communities without the requisite power to negotiate effectively with institutions of power can be seen as troublesome by some. The ability of ABCD to transform communities though can be emergent in nature if such a state can be attained but the path do to so is not evident, set or guaranteed.

We will finish by examining a potential limitation of systems thinking concerning this discourse. Agreement that ABCD while a system is not a model, has already been implied.

Asset-Based Community Development is not a model, it is a description of how people join together – at hyper local level – to use what they have, to get what they all agree they want. 
                                                                                                             Cormac Russell

Systems thinking is best suited to discerning relationships in aggregate and over time between elements or events and the systemic structures arising out of those relationships. For this, it depends primarily on data. It can also be useful in understanding how emerging mental models impact that system.

The connection though between mental models of a system and the fundamental individual elements, members of a community, who generate those mental models though is best discerned not by data but by stories. 

System thinking uses maps, a type of modeling which must be recognized regardless of how useful, and they are useful, wrong. Stories can bring understanding closer to the “territory” of those individuals who serve as guides even if only for their own individual  perspectives in addition to the broader perspectives discussed here, all of which can be brought together for a deeper, more complete understanding. 

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