I have had the pleasure in 2013 to co-host Faith in Action: a community of practice for explorers of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) in Adelaide.
Co-host is really probably a bit of a generous title as my fellow host Peter McDonanld has put in the majority of the sweat and dreams… none the less it has been a interesting venture and a nice break to work on rather than in the ministry I’m engaged in.
The monthly gathering has been diverse (anywhere from 4-30 participants) with as many as 1/2 being brand new to the conversation at any given gathering which has made consistency of purpose quite a challenge. Many who have attended have also never come across an asset based approach to community development before and so we have also found ourselves on occasions talking from quite different frameworks.
I’m am discovering more and more how foreign a strength based approach to community development is in Australia both in the agency and the church worlds (the worlds which I inelegantly straddle- all the while feeling a little alien in both). One participant shared with us last Friday that, while she wants to work from an asset based approach, her mind has been trained towards a deficit/needs based approach for such a long time she inevitably finds herself falling into that way of thinking despite her best intentions. This is exactly what I think the community of practice is for!
Asset Based Community Development is a methodology that seeks to uncover and use the strengths of a community as a sustainable way of further strengthening that community towards a thriving future together. It is not a flawless method (no method is) but it stands in contrast to seeing the community only as needs that must be met or problems that must be fixed. The plan for our community of practice was to push the limits of an asset based approach to community development; to test it’s tools; to challenge its presuppositions and to see where it fails because as Peter has eloquently put it:
Failure is a learning opportunity we don’t want to miss
Our final gathering for the year was hosted by our fellow explorers at Clayton Wesley Uniting Church (for Adelaide readers that is the big old church that juts out onto the Parade in Norwood-pictured at the top).
This gathering demonstrated one of the greatest strengths of ABCD: the way it gives room for creativity. Instead of unsolvable problems we are suddenly surrounded by opportunities in the form of skilled people and unique relationships. I loved hearing stories and dreams about embracing the big Southern European population within the local community in an Italian Contrade/urban village centre; or the local coffee shop CWA that one woman attended in which she felt “too old” among the group of hip young trend setters; or op-shop nanas teaching hemming, darning and sustainability through a “waste-not-want-not” approach to life.
One “weakness” of this model, however, is its decentralisation. If we’re creating a community story then it is just possible that I won’t be the central character… Just possible that the Church won’t even be the central expression… How do we feel about this?
I think our host Rev Paul Turley put it best when he quoted Robert Schuller:
There is no end to the amount of good one person can do as long as they don’t mind who takes the credit
If you would like to be a part of Faith in Action in 2014 shoot an email to email@example.com
If you would like to be a part of this ongoing conversation about using a community’s assets to work together towards a thriving future then please click the “follow me” link in the top right hand corner of this page and add to the conversation in the comment box below.