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.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ABCD Beyond The Neighbourhood for the Neighbourhood

Continuing from the last post on hydraulics and community, in which Mick Ward, Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, Adults and Health, Leeds City Council was introduced, in his second article on proliferating Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) throughout Leeds, England, Ward related a significant learning moment for him in a quote from the Time Banks founder Edgar Cahn:

“No society has the money to buy, at market prices, what it takes to raise children, make a neighborhood safe, care for the elderly, make democracy work or address systemic injustices….. The only way the world is going to address social problems is by enlisting the very people now classified as ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ converting them into co-workers, partners and rebuilders of the core economy”. 

Ward could be seen as alluding to the purpose of moving towards an ABCD oriented community governance system. As Cormac Russell and John McKnight have discussed, an ABCD approach seeks to enlist so-called ‘clients’ and ‘consumer as co-workers, partners and builders of their own community. ABCD emphasizes relationships as the primary means of exchange and of change in community rather than data and money.  The ABCD learning process then is one that values what goes on between the people making up the community emerging as Jane Jacobs’ organized complexity. Government institutions and many Third Sector based institutions work to accomplish stated goals and objectives and see the community as disaggregated individuals or closer to the concept of disorganized complexity. Community governance seems the best term here as it implies direct involvement of the community (as opposed to community building or community development which could be imposed) but, at least in my view, which may or may not include the existing political authority. 

Following a Systems Thinking perspective from previous posts, ABCD is a system, community is a system, and (a form of) governance is a system. Anything comprised of elements, factors, things, people that are in relationship to each other through some type of connections for a purpose or function is a system.  My hypothesis is that a systemic pathway to ABCD oriented community governance would involve Chris ArgyrisDouble Loop Learning, looked at before but at a public institutional level (Kumu Project revised July 2019) not community or ABCD, and Small World Networking.

This community transitioning can be opposed or subverted, intentionally or unintentionally. ABCD may be seen, or actually be based on past institutional practices, as yet another way for a jurisdiction to negate its responsibilities or as a threat to existing services and roles delivering cuts. Even those politicians or existing service providers (Third Sector) doing good work in other forms of community development or a community-based service might argue, that there is no need to make changes toward an ABCD approach but despite any good intentions, it is still not at the level of true ABCD.

As Ward says, it is essential not to underestimate the degree of change that would be required for any political jurisdiction, such as a Local Authority, or any health and wellbeing system operating within that political jurisdiction, transitioning towards ABCD based community governance. This would be hard enough with an institutional leadership that was accommodating. One established by an entrenched system would be far harder to change. 

Moving a community as a whole toward ABCD with an existing political or community leadership and management is far more often than not a substantially very different place from where they start. It includes making a seismic shift away from what Ward termed ‘service land’ in how the needs of the community population are met. 

Ward contends that a combined culture of ABCD and of Strength-Based Social Care in the city of Leeds is positively influencing how other services work together and their relation to the individuals whom they support. There is evidence that ABCD/Strength-Based Social Care (both?) reduce demand on these services but other early intervention/prevention/self-management programs work as well. One question is how closely is Strength Based Social Care is to truly community-based ABCD?  How do they intermediate? They seem obviously closer in accommodation but can’t be exact, one being from outside the community.

In Leeds, ABCD worked particularly well regarding people with mental health needs and to a certain extent with long term conditions but less well with people with a Learning Disability or a significant physical or sensory impairment. This could be considered a direct first-order change. 

Those people with a long term condition or regular ill health are, research indicates according to Ward, less likely to volunteer. Less known is the extent of informal community contributions which could be said are at the heart of ABCD. 

This focus to feedback into the community is a second order change which ABCD does encourage by having commissioners, service practitioners and communities simply support, good neighborliness which seems a natural extension of an ABCD vision but there is a substantial second order change needed in the structure of community governance to bring about the full level of first-order change desired (reinforcing feedback) which would be greater participation in the community and its affairs.

Making democracy work and addressing systemic injustices are at a second order level, which I would argue is at a different level than first-order level community-based helping-others with helping-ourselves-together programs. ”Community activism” might depend on how you define it. There is a deep potential relationship between the two levels that can be developed but that is not assured.

A strength of ABCD, Wards asserts, are communities themselves identifying issues and therefore solutions, arguably most acceptable to the particular community in question. There isn't necessarily a direct relationship though between identifying an issue and devising a viable solution, both effective and adequately efficient and which seeks to avoid or agilely respond to unintended consequences. Especially if civic-level decisions involve other communities, with possibly competing interests, within the same political jurisdiction.

Ward seems to recognize that even ABCD favorable communities may not always be fully inclusive for all, particularly for Adults and Health with care and support needs. This only gets worse with clique communities,  especially those that have become entrenched systems.

Ward argues, along with Cormac Russell, that evaluating an ABCD process requires moving away from traditional top-down summative and formative evaluation processes and moving towards a developmental and emancipatory learning process. ABCD evaluation, therefore, is not about simply counting numbers of people with which a program interacts. It is about nurturing and celebrating the participation and contributions that both strengthen community life and that provide those connections known to be so valuable. Despite much talk of focusing on ABCD based outcomes, as highlighted in part 1 of Ward’s articles, reporting is still focused to a large extent on more traditional outputs and numbers, looking at only a small part of the system.  Getting past that point, however, all too often involves convincing those still using standard metrics unless other pathways are found.

Ward, seems to put the responsibility on the ABCD Pathfinders for addressing what could be considered a key element of a mid-term strategy to implement ABCD-based governance throughout all communities by asking them to ensure that they fully include and engage with people with care and support needs (especially people with a Learning Disability). At the same time asking them to continue to work with Third Sector and statutory specialist services providers which support specific and often segregated groups, be they Learning Disability, Mental Health, Physical and Sensory Impairment, Drugs & Alcohol or Homelessness to work in an Asset Based manner by helping them connect the people they work with to their local neighborhoods and connect their neighborhoods to them.

Ward acknowledges that ABCD is not an alternative to replace the direct provision of personal care, medical support and other higher need interventions. What ABCD objects to is when those services usurp community asset-based functions. Recognizing the importance of the broad range of services in the world of health and wellbeing, and the importance of continuing to fund those services, he also acknowledges the current financial climate can be challenging as competition for funds becomes stringent. Asserting that funding for ABCD is relatively small compared to the cost of these core services and therefore justifies first call on what Ward refers to as ”a small top slice” on any available additional monies may not always be persuasive despite being critical to the proliferation of ABCD. Merely recognizing that they will need to continue to be funded alongside ABCD work may not be enough. Other means of leveraging the system of which ABCD is a part would then need to be devised.

There is a debate then which Ward suggests needs to continue to maintain a high profile of good ABCD practice but it's important then to understand other models or systems and how they fit into the larger system of which ABCD is a part. 

Past Posts