Reflections On McKnight & Kretzmann’s Mapping Community Capacity and Mathie & Cunningham’s From clients to citizens – Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development

McKnight & Kretzmann’s Mapping Community Capacity address an issue that I have puzzled over for many years:  How can the government create an incentive to better one’s life circumstances without creating and perpetuating an environment of unhealthy need and dependence that engenders mere existence and probably hopelessness, to create producers rather than service clients?  Unfortunately, I have observed friends living on public assistance who don’t realize they have skills and creativity to contribute to their community, and I have seen politicians that are not interested in addressing this problem where one group votes to cut benefits and the other group votes to increase benefits.  Neither is interested in the disenfranchised and how to help them.  The disenfranchised are merely pawns for votes or non-votes.  I don’t see hope in the perpetuation of such inequities.

The alternative is an asset-based community development (ABCD) that assesses the knowledge and experience already present in the community, to help people thrive rather than merely survive, to value the skills that are already present in the community rather than concentrate on what is missing.  There is also a more practical reality in this approach:  Most urban communities have no hope of attracting major industries or services that would bring local jobs.  The old saying regarding making lemonade when all you have are lemons is appropriate here.  Use the resources you have and get creative.

ABCD, the more I understand it from the readings and from class discussions, reminds me of anarchist communities where the assets of individuals are utilized for their greatest contributions to the collective.  Everyone contributes according to their needs and abilities, is given resources according to need, and everyone contributes to the overall success of the community.  I see value in implementing such a system because I don’t see any government able to sustain its contradictory desires for greed and serving the people at the same time.  However, I see small communities that are adjacent or distant able to work together to thrive and survive in much the same way that early capitalism was utilized to trade needed goods by land and by sea for other needed goods.  McKnight and Kretzmann see this in similar ways when they assess the assets of the individuals in a community (even the so-called disabled have skills that are assessed for contributions) through surveys that identify the abilities of each individual, their knowledge, and their ability to learn new skills that can contribute to the whole of the community. I do see a lot of hope in individuals contributing to the growth of their communities.

But what is profound about ABCD is more than just an assessment of individual gifts and skills.  Local organizational and business assets are assessed to determine collective input.  This is powerful.  Instead of requesting assistance and waiting for a solution from the state or federal government, you pool resources, assess skills, and get things done.  Business, cultural, and religious organizations are asked to take part.  Micro-loaning organizations are even created to encourage local resourcefulness.  It is very powerful in that everyone involved is an active participant rather than a bystander that has to constantly apply for help from a government organization. This is my powerful interpretation of what anarchism is:  Think, create, and trade locally.

Additional outside organizations that are outside of the local community culture but have an influence on it are assessed for assets.  McKnight and Kretzmann cite the examples of non profit organizations, hospitals, local universities and public schools, hospitals, and local law enforcement and fire departments.  Granted this article was written long before Occupy Wall Street was a gleam or a movement, it applies in this case to the “main” “organization” of Occupy (quotations are for emphasis due to the fact that Occupy groups make decisions by consensus and there is no central authority) of Occupy.  Since before Occupy Wall Street was physically disbanded, other intra-related groups were formed nationally and internationally, and since the disbanding of the physical space many external groups founded on the principals of Occupy and decision by consensus have formed and are thriving.  One group in particular has been formed to minimize the need to rely upon the present banking monopoly, the Occupy Cooperative (www.occupycooperative.com), and create a bank/cash card that is not dependent upon a bank and a good credit rating.  The group is still new, so the dream of creating an “open source” people’s bank is still only a future possibility.

Occupy is cited as an example of anarchism’s similarity to ABCD that I see in every case study, whether it is the articles I am reading or the videos I am viewing.  I see ABCD applying to physical communities, those not yet formed, and even virtual ones. Occupy seems to be no different.  McKnight and Kretzmann further discuss the assessment of physical resources such as land, energy and waste.  While it is optimistic to believe that community leaders and power structures are willing to assist in the revitalization of a community and its individuals, I believe that is only the case if their hand is forced if there is enough pressure from the people and outside-of-government community leaders (whether official or not), rather than police officers, or law enforcement or peace officers, however one looks upon their role or necessity.

Mathie and Cunningham’s From clients to citizens takes on ABCD as an approach to a “set of methods for community mobilization, and as a strategy for community-based development.” They approach it, first, by assessing past successes to determine what worked, what was successful so as to keep the value and delete the processes that do not contribute to the success of the community’s development.  Like anarchist communities, ABCD assesses the social capital present in, amongst, and between local groups where there is a desire and ability to collaborate to achieve successes to help the community thrive rather than just getting by to survive.  While Mathie and Cunningham explore the conditions under which local governments decide to encourage and cooperate with the local population and other local governments decide to disable and discourage the local population, they also assess the social conditions of the local population (against the variety of government above) as cooperative and almost classless or adversarial with a class hierarchy.

ABCD should be explained and taught to and implemented by all local communities.  The implications are both revolutionary and transformative.

Sources:

McKnight, J. L. & Kretzmann, J. P. (1996).  Mapping Community Capacity, The Asset-Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University.

Mathie, A. & Cunningham, G.  (2003).  From clients to citizens:  Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development.  Development in practice, 13, 3, pp 474-484.

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