In the late 1980s McKnight and Kretzmann, along with 18 or their associates, traveled across North America visiting over 300 neighbourhoods in 20 cities. They wanted to understand how citizenship and community prevailed in low-income neighbourhoods, despite multiple socio-economic and political challenges.
It was no surprise to them when their research findings confirmed that low-income communities facing hardship can, and often do, become stronger and prosper.
They co-authored a book in 1993, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, which described their findings and also set down the principles and practices of the Asset-Based approaches.
Encouraged by record sales of the book, John and Jody established the Asset-Based Community Development Institute in 1995 and since then both continue to support the growth of ABCD worldwide.
John Kretzmann and John McKnight work with the premise that every neighbourhood – even the most impoverished – is filled with human, associational and institutional assets that should be identified, connected and mobilised before seeking outside help.
They both see the traditional approach to low-income neighbourhoods as one-dimensional and focused solely on the deficits of communities and not their capacities. We then view these places as the sum of their problems, concluding that they are ‘needy and problematic and deficient neighborhoods populated by needy and problematic and deficient people.
To change this, we need to stop seeing them as a collection of needs and see them as a wealth of assets that haven’t yet been identified, organised and made productive.
As Kretzmann and McKnight write:
“All the historic evidence indicates that significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. This observation explains why communities are never built from the top down or from the outside in.”
However, they also add that outside resources are almost always needed, but they are effective only when requested by local leaders and matched by local efforts.