ABCD: Connectors, Conductors & Circuit Breakers

This is the first of 3 blogs in which Cormac will be exploring issues of citizenship, power and democracy and what these mean to asset based community development.

Recently an ABCD Community Builder in Gloucestershire commented that in the neighbourhoods where he works there are three kinds of people:

1. Connectors: those that bring people and energy together.

2. Conductors: those that constructively hold negative energy and creative tensions and either help others channel these in a positive direction (like lightening rods) or ‘earth’ them… In other words bring them to ground before someone ‘blows a fuse’.

3. The third he described as Circuit Breakers. These are people, institutions and sometimes places that break connections and the flow of energy, sometimes with very negative consequences, but often, even in the apparent negativity, they create new learning that can’t be experienced by going with the flow.

I have come to understand that there are two kinds of Circuit Breakers; those that are ‘radical’ and those that are ‘reductive’. Radical Circuit Breakers call us to seldom seen places, they are the innovators, they occupy the fringe, and they goad us away from the quick fix, short-term solutions. Their focus is outward; they are not self-serving.

Then there are Reductive Circuit Breakers who are progressively ‘inward’ and competitive in their approach, they are people, organisations, and places that draw energy from others for their own ends, they block progress that doesn’t grow their personal or organisational ‘ego’.

I would add ‘Dynamos’ and ‘Spare Fuses’ to the Community Builders’ list. Dynamos are leaders who focus on setting a direction on issues of the day and on growing a following behind them and their route of travel, often in that order, though some do it in reverse. Like dynamos they fire people up and direct collective energy towards collective action.

Spare Fuses are hugely important, but often are hidden away in drawers or presses on with other ‘bits and bobs’ that will ‘come in handy someday’. These represent the people we have rendered invisible. While their value is broadly affirmed, and as right thinking people we all agree they have strengths, we just can’t find a use for their contribution ‘today’. Their contributions lay dormant, hidden behind labels, that make it hard for them and others to see their true worth, but we all know the day will come when we won’t be able to get by without them. When that day comes, amid a blackout or the like, that Spare Fuse will be rooted out from some dark corner (with trepidation – what if it doesn’t work anymore?) and inserted to or through requisite device to restore light again.

Whether a neighbourhood of strangers transforms into a community of neighbours is largely contingent on how the energy flows between:

1. The people living there and their associations

2. The place and the ecology of the place

3. The agencies (for profit, not for profit, governmental)

4. The economy

5. The various cultures and heritages characteristic of the place

6. Political influences

To aid that flow we need Connectors, Conductors, Dynamos, Spare Fuses and yes even Circuit Breakers. The challenge is supporting them to work on common ground and to negotiate uncommon ground (where often the most creative ideas reside) in a way that is collaborative, not competitive.

This is what we are trying to learn about in each of our learning sites in Gloucestershire, Leeds, Kirklees, Torbay, Croydon (in the UK) as well as Kigali in Rwanda, and what we have been learning about since 1996, in various other communities all over the world. While the dynamic varies everywhere we go, we are finding a consistent set of roles emerging, analogous to the Connectors, Conductors, Circuit Breakers, Dynamos and Spare Fuses described above.

Our role at Nurture Development in helping people to navigate this terrain is threefold; in understanding what grows community power and how it is best channelled, in recognising the external forces that might jeopardise the flow of the power, and in creating the conditions, through ABCD, in which community power can flourish. These are issues picked up and explored in the next two blogs in this short series and we hope you will engage and contribute to the shared learning.

Cormac Russell

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