ASSET- BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT – A PEER LED EVOLUTION.
1: In order to promote asset/strength-based ways of working. You must first believe, and reinforce that belief in others, that everyone has strengths and abilities. We live in a ‘deficit’ world and this need’s to be challenged as much as possible at every turn. Sadly it is human nature to focus on the negative; this need’s to be challenged at every available outlet and a new perspective must be advocated for within our communities for the vulnerable among us, and in turn for every member of that community. The right care, support and attention will inevitably have a positive knock on effect on the whole community.
2: How you perceive the neighbourhood that you live or work in is going to profoundly influence the way that you act and also the way others perceive your community.. Typically a neighbourhood is seen from the perspective of its largest deficits. “That area is full of junkies” “That neighbourhood looks riddled with poverty” “It’s riddled with youth gangs” ‘’Crime stats are through the roof and deprivation is everywhere’’”empty buildings everywhere””Ghetto” How many times have you heard that as a first description of a neighbourhood or area within your neighbourhood, an estate, etc? We all know about the negative things that are a part of our community, we’ve lived through them, and the barriers and stigma that this can create for some groups living within that community, but, at the other side of every deficit, is an asset begging for some attention.
3: The Recovery/therapeutic mutual aid Community, in all it’s many shapes and sizes, is an asset. And everyone who supports it or is indeed on that journey in any way shape or form is an asset to it. Despite what your definition of recovery may be. The word ‘recovery’ is open to interpretation and the more open minded we are as to what ‘being in recovery’ means, the more powerful a movement we will have. The whole essence of the growing movement is to address stigma and galvanise all those who are focused on creating a more inclusive and supportive community and are willing to take chances, in order to become part of the solution, rather than sit there and moan and bitch, which just adds to the problem. Isolating and demonising the vulnerable among our community without taking the time to look into the reasons behind why they do what they do, or why they are the way they are. Or in some cases accept responsibility!!!! Failed policies, ideology, ignorance or just pure arrogance.
4: Our communities fall into this same category. In every community there are problems and issues. These tend to be the main issues promoted by the local media and ‘guiding lights’ within those communities; Crime, drugs, broken families, unemployment, homelessness, etc…. BUT IS THAT IT, IS THAT WHAT DEFINES YOUR COMMUNITY!! Your silence in these matters allows you to be judged, normally in the wrong light, with completely the wrong outcome, by those who don’t know you or have any interest in finding out about you. Our so called community leaders!! Who would rather we were not part of their community, but we are!!!! And are just as much a valued member of that community as anyone else!! We have been victims of crime, sometimes on a daily basis, we are exploited by those who would have us locked up and hidden away behind closed doors, hospitalised and wrongly diagnosed with all manner of ‘tags’ and ‘titles’ We are often looked down on by those who are involved in our care. Despite the daily struggles we have to face just to get through the day.
BUT HEY!!! YES YOU!!! I HAVE FEELINGS, I AM REAL, I AM INDIVIDUAL, I AM SOMEBODIES SON, DAUGHTER, BROTHER, SISTER, MOTHER, FATHER. I HURT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, I BREAK, I BLEED, I CRY!!!!!!!
5: Every neighbourhood has assets; the problem is that too many individuals within that community focus on the negatives and this adds to the stigma within that community resulting in isolation, demonization and in general a detrimental ‘us and them’ syndrome which is extremely demoralising and dangerous. The idea behind ABCD is to promote the assets within the individual and the community and put relevant things in place to bring the assets together productively.
6: Everyone has gifts, skills and talents that can be used in the community. There are a lot of transferable skills that members of our community have, and numerous skills that can be used productively within the community. How can we find these out? We ask!!!! We pay attention!!!! We show an interest!!!! We get involved!!!! Take action!!!!
If you are part of a group or other form of mutual aid support network perhaps this is the best place to start. Skills inventories. Get people to fill in an inventory sheet saying what they are good at and what their hobbies and interests are. This will break down barriers within the group and bring the group together in a more positive way and also add to the groups diversity.
What are some of the associations available within your community? List these in another inventory.
Again list all the institutions within your community that you feel might be assets. Some institutions can prove to be really productive partnerships, for example; local colleges can and do have numerous assets that can be of benefit to you in your community. These institutions are always good strong links. An example would be if you were making a film or similar, there are always media links in the local university’s who are looking for experience in film making and only too happy to get involved in any way they can….and it’s free!!! If you are looking at setting up a community interest group or local charity and there is a need for training at some kind of level. It might be an idea to approach your local educational facility and show them your proposal and mission statement. You could then have a discussion around how there could be some partnership link work put in place to establish a solid working relationship. Most educational facilities welcome the chance to expand and if you are proposing something that is of benefit to the community on the whole, but that is not on their range of training options, they will sometimes make changes to accomodate any training that is need to support the work, as long as it is not too specific or specialised. If this is not on their prospectus then it offers them a chance to expand their course knowledge and add this to their curriculum, which is always a good thing with regards to offering a more comprehensive range of training in the future to the community in which they are delivering their educational packages.
In order to initiate change we must first get of our arses and put in some action. My opinion is that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain so why not give it a go. No-one ever got criticized for trying, except by someone whose ignorance is excusable. What I don’t want to see is the same people, sat in the same situations, in the same pain and suffering, with the same stigmatised community keeping them exactly where they want them, in 5 to 10 years time, looking back thinking. If only I had done, or tried this!!!! Things MIGHT have been different!!!!!!
Community organisers must be passionate about bringing people together, building dialogues, listening to ideas and making their community a better place to live.
The role of a community organiser is to help residents, groups, associations and businesses in their area to develop their power to act together for the common good and take action to tackle local issues which are important to them.
Do I have a positive and optimistic outlook on life?
Am I open to doing things differently?
Do I believe that individual human beings are capable of changing their behaviour, attitudes and assumptions?
Do I believe that people can work purposefully together for the common good?
Am I willing to develop my understanding of myself in relationship to groups, the community and the wider world?
Am I willing to challenge myself on my own attitudes and assumptions – about people and their potential, about power and politics?
Can I take criticism?
Can I stand firm and be courageous in the face of conflict or attack?
Do I learn from my mistakes and experience?
Can I laugh at myself and see humour in situations?
Am I comfortable in my own skin?
Do I have the self-confidence to initiate discussions with people I’ve never met before – whether that might be in a front room, pub or meeting hall?
Do I know my strengths and am I willing to use them to empower others for the common good?
Do I know my weakness and am I willing to share them for the common good?
Am I prepared to put in the time to meet and engage with people in their own space?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, you could well make a good Community Organiser. Give it a try!
History of community organizing in the United Kingdom.
Citizens UK has been promoting community organising in the UK since 1989 and has established the profession of Community Organiser through the Guild of Community Organisers teaching the disciplines of strategy and politics. Neil Jameson, the Executive Director of Citizens UK, founded the organisation after training with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA. Citizens UK (formerly the Citizens Organising Foundation) established citizens groups in Liverpool, North Wales, the Black Country, Sheffield, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London. TCC (Together Creating Communities) in North Wales is longest established beginning in 1995. It has been independent of COF since 2001. London Citizens’ forerunner TELCO was formed in 1996. Milton Keynes Citizens began in 2010. The others had a brief and glorious start lasting roughly 3 years when COF was unable to finance them any longer.
Together Creating Communities in North East Wales is remarkable in community organising in that its area of operation includes substantial rural areas. Its current membership of 40 groups includes churches, schools and the Wrexham Muslim Association as well as community groups. Amongst its actions,it has successfully prevented a waste incinerator being built in Wrexham, and in 2010 secured the appointment of a specialist nurse for Parkinson’s Disease sufferers. It has held accountability meetings for Westminster and Welsh Assembly Elections in 2001, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Manchester Changemakers was formed in 2007 and is independent of Citizens UK.
Community organising in the UK is distinctive because it deliberately sets out to build permanent alliances of citizens to exercise power in society. The UK analysis is that to understand Society it is necessary to distinguish Civil Society from the State and the Market. In a totalitarian Society all three may virtually coincide. In a fully democratic society the three will be distinct. Where the state and the market become predominant, even in a democracy, civil society is reduced on the one hand to voting and volunteering and on the other to consuming. This is very dangerous for democracy because the sense of citizenship and agency becomes feeble and ineffective. In other words Civil Society becomes powerless. Community organising and the role of the professional Community Organiser is working out how to take back power from the State and the Market by holding them accountable. The state and the market cannot operate without moral values and direction. It is not the role of the state or the market to determine those values. In a democratic society there has to be a genuine public discourse concerning justice and the common good. Problems with the global banking system in 2008 in large part arose because “light touch regulation” meant that there was no underlying moral system. The market was left to its own devices with disastrous consequences for the global economy.
Community organising works because it organises people and money through the institutions which have the potential to engage in the public discourse about what is the common good. These are the institutions which can mediate between the family and the State – such as faith organisations, cooperatives, schools, trades unions, universities and voluntary agencies. Community organising builds these institutions into permanent citizens membership alliances which work together to identify issues and agree ways of introducing solutions. Community organising teaches the art of non partisan, democratic politics. Because community organising brings together diverse institutions which do not normally work together it is sometimes referred to as Broad Based community organising.
Community organising starts with the recognition that change can only come about when communities come together to compel public authorities and businesses to respond to the needs of ordinary people. It identifies and trains leaders in diverse communities, bringing them together to voice their needs and it organises campaigns to ensure that these needs are met. “Our answer is to organise people through the places where they have regular contact with their neighbours – faith institutions and workplaces and educational establishments. Our experience of practising broad based community organising across the UK has confirmed for us that the threads that once connected the individual to the family, the family to their community and the community to the wider society are fraying and in danger of breaking altogether. We believe these strands, connections and alliances are vital for a healthy democracy and should be the building blocks of any vibrant civil society.
“We believe in building for power which is fundamentally reciprocal, where both parties are influenced by each other and mutual respect develops. The power and influence that we seek is tempered by our religious teachings and moral values and is exercised in the fluid and ever-changing relationship with our fellow leaders, allies and adversaries. We value and seek to operate in the public sphere. We believe that UK public life should be occupied not just by a few celebrities and politicians – but also by the people themselves seeking a part of the action.”
The Institute for Community Organising
Citizens UK set up the Institute for Community Organising (ICO) as part of its Centre for Civil Society established in 2010 in response to growing demands for its training. The ICO is the first operating division of the Centre and was established to offer a series of training opportunities for those who wish to make community organising a full or part time career and also for Community Leaders who wish to learn the broad philosophy and skills of community organising and who are in a position to put them into practice in their institutions and neighbourhoods. The Institute provides training and consultancy on a commercial basis to other agencies which wish to employ the skills and techniques of community organising in their institutions. The ICO has an Academic Advisory Board and an International Professional Advisory Body drawn from the global network of Community Organising Institutes in the UK (CITIZENS UK), USA (Industrial Areas Foundation) and Germany (DICO).
Citizens UK General Election Assembly
In May 2010 Citizens UK held a General Election Assembly at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster with 2,500 people from member institutions and the world media present. This event was three days before the election and proved to be the most dynamic and electric event of the election campaign. Citizens UK had negotiated to have David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown as the leaders of the three main political parties attend. Each candidate for Prime Minister was questioned on stage concerning their willingness to work with Citizens UK if elected. Each undertook to work with Citizens UK and come to future assemblies to give account of work achieved. In particular they agreed to work to introduce the Living Wage and to end the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention.
In 1994, the city of Baltimore passed the first living-wage law in the USA. This was to change the working and living conditions of Baltimore’s low-wage service workers and become the example for other cities in the USA. In London it was a campaign launched in 2001 by London Citizens, the largest civil alliance in the Citizens UK network. The Living Wage Campaign calls for every worker in the country to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life. Launched by London Citizens in 2001, the campaign had by 2010 persuaded more than 100 employers to pay the Living wage and won over £40 million of Living Wages, lifting 6,500 families out of working poverty. The Living Wage is a number. An hourly rate, set independently, every year (by the Greater London Authority in London). It is calculated according to cost of living and gives the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with the essentials of life. In London the 2010-11 rate was £7.85 per hour. London is now being copied by other cities around the UK. As a result Citizens UK set up the Living Wage Foundation in 2011 to provide companies with intelligence and accreditation. It also moderates the hourly rate applicable for the Living Wage outside London.
People’s Olympic Legacy
When London announced it would bid to be the host city for the Olympic Games in 2012, London citizens used their power to gain a lasting legacy for Londoners from the billions that was to be spent. Following on from hundreds of one-to-one meetings and a listening campaign across member institutions, in 2004 London Citizens signed an historic agreement with the London 2012 bid team, which set in stone precisely what the people of east London could expect in return for their support in hosting the Olympic Games. The People’s Promises, as they are known, demanded: 1) 2012 permanently affordable homes for local people through a Community land trust and mutual home ownership; 2) Money from the Olympic development to be set aside to improve local schools and the health service; 3) University of East London to be main higher education beneficiary of the sports legacy and to consider becoming a Sports Centre of Excellence 4) At least £2m set aside immediately for a Construction Academy to train up local people; 5) That at least 30% of jobs are set aside for local people; 6) That the Lower Lea Valley is designated a ‘Living Wage Zone’ and all jobs guaranteed a living wage The Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Olympic Legacy Company work with London Citizens to ensure that these promises are delivered.
Independent Asylum Commission
Citizens UK set up the Independent Asylum Commission in order to investigate widespread concern about the way refugees and asylum seekers were being treated by the UK Borders Agency. The report made a series of over 200 recommendations for change which are still being negotiated. This resulted in the ending of the practice of holding children of refugee families in detention by the Coaltion government elected in 2010.
- Activism: According to Edward Chambers, community organizing is distinguishable from activism if activists engage in social protest without a coherent strategy for building power or for making specific social changes.
- Mobilizing: When people “mobilize,” they get together to effect a specific social change but have no long term plan. When the particular campaign that mobilized them is over, these groups dissolve and durable power is not built.
- Advocacy: Advocates generally speak for others who are unable to represent their own interest due to disability, inherent complexity of the venue such as courts and hospitals, or other factors. Community organizing emphasizes the virtue of trying to get those affected to speak for themselves.
- Social movement building: A broad social movement often encompasses diverse collections of individual activists, local and national organizations, advocacy groups, multiple and often conflicting spokespersons, and more, held together by relatively common aims but not a common organizational structure. A community organizing group might be part of a “movement.” Movements generally dissolve when the motivating issue(s) are addressed, although organizations created during movements can continue and shift their focuses.
- Legal action: Lawyers are often quite important to those engaged in social action. The problem comes when a social action strategy is designed primarily around a lawsuit. When lawyers take the center stage, it can push grassroots struggle into the background, short circuiting the development of collective power and capacity. There are examples where community organizing groups and legal strategies have worked together well, however, including the Williams v. California lawsuit over inequality in k-12 education.
- Direct service: Americans today often equate civic engagement with direct service. Organizing groups usually avoid actually providing services, today, however, because history indicates that when they do, organizing for collective power is often left behind. Powerful groups often threaten the “service” wings of organizing groups in an effort to prevent collective action. In the nonprofit sector, there are many organizations that used to do community organizing but lost this focus in the shift to service.
- Community development: Consensual community development efforts to improve communities through a range of strategies, usually directed by educated professionals working in government, policy, non-profit, or business organizations, is not community organizing. Community development projects increasingly include a community participation component, and often seek to empower residents of impoverished areas with skills for collaboration and job training, among others. However, community development generally assumes that groups and individuals can work together collaboratively without significant conflict or struggles over power to solve community challenges. One currently popular form is asset based community development that seeks out existing community strengths.
- Nonpartisan dialogues about community problems: A range of efforts create opportunities for people to meet together and engage in dialogue about community problems. Like community organizing, the effort in contexts like these is generally to be open to a diverse range of opinions, out of which some consensus may be reached. A study circle is an example. However, beyond the dialogue that also happens inside organizing groups, the focus is on generating a collective and singular “voice” in order to gain power and resources for the organization’s members as well as constituents in the broader community.
- Power gained and exerted in community organizing is also not the coercion applied by legal, illegal, physical, or economic means, such as those be applied by banks, syndicates, corporations, governments, or other institutions. Rather, organizing makes use of the voluntary efforts of a community’s members acting jointly to achieve an economic or other benefit. As opposed to commercial ventures, gains that result from community organizing automatically accrue to persons in similar circumstances who are not necessarily members, e.g. residents in a geographic area or in a similar socioeconomic status, or persons having conditions or circumstances in common who benefit from gains won by the organizing effort. This may include workers who benefit from a campaign affecting their industry, for example, or persons with disabilities who benefit from gains made in their legal or economic eligibility or status.
While these distinctions are useful, in actual practice the boundaries are often less clear.