Sharing our Theory of (Practice Based) Change


This blog aims to build upon last week’s three part series entitled 13 Staging Posts of Learning and Development. We’d like to lift out four staging posts of particular significance. These four staging posts consolidate our theory of change; the framework within which we guide strategic change, implement practice, create a sustainable legacy and evaluate impact.

Our theory of (practice based) change can be summarised as follows:

  1. We believe we are advancing a fourth process of helping which is distinctly different from the three dominant forms of helping, which are relief, rehabilitation and advocacy.
  2. In making the transition towards Helping 4.0, organisations that traditionally would have majored in direct service delivery or advocacy, will face the challenge of making six significant shifts in practice, policy and structure. We refer to these shifts as the spectrum of change.  
  3. Our theory is a grounded and embodied one, mainly concerned as such with practice and context. Hence the importance of an iterative practice framework, within which we lift up eight of the more common practices of community building and animation.
  4. Finally, our theory of practice based change defines the domains of community powered change.


  1. Helping 4.0: The fourth form of helping

Central to our theory of change is the belief that most socio-political, environmental, public health and safety and economic challenges must be addressed across four dimensions: relief, rehabilitation, advocacy and community building. Our contention is that to date the first three of these have dominated, hence we have addressed four dimensional problems using three dimensional responses. If we are to help in a sustainable way, then the intentional re-centring of Community Building is critical.

We believe it is important to frame the various forms of helping at play in any given environment. As we mentioned in our last blog series, we believe that three forms are most dominant, namely relief, rehabilitation and advocacy. While we do not wish to minimise or reduce the efforts of those who provide help in this way, we do wish to ensure that people understand that we are actually speaking about a fourth form of helping which is quite distinct from the other three. It is not a better form, but it is very different, in that the focus is on building strong communities. Once the form of helping is appropriately framed, we can ensure that the offer of help is proportionate to the situation; we must ensure our efforts, both to do no harm and do avoid displacing local neighbourhood invention, are realised. More importantly communities and individuals can use this framework to explicitly choose which form of help if any they require and hold practitioners to account should they deviate. We commend the work of John McKnight’s Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits  and John Lupton’s Toxic Charity as two publications that offer an solid analysis of the challenges of not being explicit about what forms of helping we offer or receive.


What we have done at Nurture Development is to take that work a step further by setting out a new framework for thinking about helping which we are calling Helping 4.0.


We frame the four forms of helping as follows:


Helping 1.0 Relief: The offering of assistance, especially in the form of food, clothing or money given to those in special need or difficulty. This form of helping responds to the immediate need e.g. disaster relief or displacement caused by war/conflict.

Helping 2.0 Rehabilitation: To use a ship building metaphor, rehabilitation puts a person in dry dock for repair. Taking them out of their social context/situation and transplanting them into a therapeutic or convalescent environment.

Helping 3.0 Advocacy: Action to assure the best possible services for, or intervention in the service system on behalf of, an individual or group is realised. Often this form of helping includes provision of information and tools for self-empowerment and helping an individual or group to obtain needed services, legislative change and improve quality of life more generally.

Helping 4.0 Community Building: Local people are recognised as the primary architects of a more sustainable future and are enabled to come together to discover, connect and mobilise the assets required to create and realise their shared long term vision. This form of sustainable community development recognises that the more collective agency, ownership, power and control people have over their own lives and communities, the healthier and more prosperous they and their communities will be. Radical inclusion is at the heart of 4.0 and the strength of a community is calibrated by its capacity to create a welcome for the ‘stranger’ at the edge and not by its capacity to create consensus among like minded individuals.

We have often found that before disambiguating the four forms of helping as above many practitioners were convinced that they were engaged in asset-based community development, when what they were actually doing was rebadging relief, rehabilitation or advocacy. ABCD sits firmly within Helping 4.0. We will be writing more about Helping 4.0 in the coming weeks, especially with regard to its political nature and our analysis of power that sits alongside this new framework.


In its most straightforward terms, the framework acknowledges that Helping 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 are forms of helping that are:

a) oriented towards ameliorative efforts that flow from a helping professional to a client/ patient.

b) focused largely on individuals, as opposed to the wider environmental, social and political context.

c) where group work is done, it is typically through peer groups who have similar conditions

d) helping efforts start with a needs assessment

e) the transaction between the helper and the helped is characterised by the delivery and receipt of services and programmes.

f) where the helper cannot help through Helping 1.0 to 3.0, they will refer the person onto a helper from another discipline who offers some formulation of Helping 1.0-3.0.

g) the primary agents of change are professionals and their credentialed partners. Where citizens are empowered to influence matters, it tends to be as advisors who influence process, structure and pathways of delivery.


Helping 4.0 in contrast is:

a)Oriented towards a form of helping that sees people primarily as producers and makers, not clients, patients or consumers.  

b)Hence the focus is largely on the neighbourhood and wider social and political matters, as defined by local people. Even when working with individuals, the focus is on how the practitioner can support a person to contribute to the wellbeing of their neighbourhood.

c)Groups are diverse and organised around local people’s cares, concerns, and desire to exchange and connect. There is a strong emphasis in Helping 4.0 on creating and celebrating diversity. A core question is how can we create a welcome for the stranger at the edge.

d)Helping efforts start with the practitioner in the role of ship builder, not ship’s captain. Local residents are the leaders. As a ship builder, the practitioner (a Community Animator) will help the community to start with a key orientation around ‘how can we use what we have to secure what we all want?’. In other words, Helping 4.0 starts with citizens defining their priorities followed by an asset inventory of what they have themselves to start with. From there they work outwards to what external supports or change they need.

e)Helping 4.0 is not about services or programmes. Its orientation is towards supporting local people to build community from inside out.

f)Where the helper cannot support the community through animation, he/she sits down with local residents to whom they are accountable and work out next steps. A practitioner using Helping 4.0 would never speak for a citizen, nor do for citizens what they can do for themselves and each other, but they will always stand shoulder to shoulder with communities.

g)The primary change agents are local citizens and their associations. They use the three powers of citizens to bring about change: first they define the problem/possibility in their own worlds and context; secondly they develop solutions/strategies/tactics that make sense to them locally, finally they take action together in an inclusive way.


The role of a helper in 4.0 is not as the inventor but as the side-kick to the primary inventors; the community. So in this form of helping the practitioner is the caddy, the community are the golfers; or put another way, the community is Batman, and the practitioner is Robin.  

Each of these forms of helping is essential in it own right and in the correct context. While each may be essential none can be sufficient in addressing the myriad of challenges we face. Hence the need for proportionality across these four forms of helping, if we are to ensure better outcomes for all.


  1. Our Spectrum of Change: Six key shifts from what’s wrong to what’s strong

Our evidence, gathered from field research over the last twenty-one years, and in particular over the last six to seven years in the UK, confirms that there are six prime shifts that helping organisations will necessarily make in moving from what’s wrong to what’s strong, and when operating more dominantly in the domain of Helping 4.0. These shifts in leadership ensure the creation of space for community led invention and mitigate against the danger of stifling local efforts and ingenuity. We don’t see this as a binary shift, but a move towards what’s strong as a starting point, not an effort to ignore what’s wrong. This is a journey that is likely to take several years and to be fraught at times with many false dawns and dilemmas. Nonetheless a journey worth the time, effort and strong stewardship required.


  1. Practice Framework: Eight Touchstones of Asset-Based Community Driven effort

At neighbourhood level there are 8 touch stones we find to be most effective in community building practice. Not to be confused with stepping stones or a linear models, the 8 touch stones offer different entry points into building strong and vibrant communities; we acknowledge that each journey is different. Over the past 6 years we have learnt alongside practitioners in neighbourhoods as they flow between these touchstones in their practice. There is no right or wrong order, the use of each touchstone must be timely, proportionate and context specific; like all effective community building.  Over the following weeks and months we’ll be writing more on the value of these touchstones; in the meantime we hope you find our slideshare presentation useful.


  1. The Domains of Community Powered Change: 13 irreplaceable functions of community

Underpinning our theory of change are the 13 domains in which the function of local residents can not be replaced or emulated by programmes, services or organisations. These domains are where residents freely exercise their power to act and make change, creating community well being. Those who have read previous blogs will know we often ask these three questions;


  1. What is it the local community can do for themselves?
  2. What is it the local community require light touch support with?
  3. What is the sole responsibility of organisations and agencies to do on behalf of citizens?


These domains provide a frame of reference for citizens, practitioners and helping organisations. Citizens must ensure they are not giving away their agency to act in these domains of community powered change. However, it is equally important that practitioners and organisations ensure they are not displacing the skills, passions and talents of local people and their collective, in their desire to be helpful.


It is important to say that while we speak about 13 domains, people do not live their lives in silos or compartments, hence all of these domains overlap. The neighbourhood is one of the most fertile, yet neglected places within which all of these domains can be animated to include everyone. The exciting things is that when we do this, people take a giant step towards the Good Life, and an truly inclusive society.


  1. So what next?


Next week we’ll be releasing our new learning and development offer, alongside an exciting new training and development proposition for neighbourhoods across Europe and an invitation for expressions of interest in establishing new Learning Sites.  The Nurture Development team are excited to have the opportunity to share what we have learnt over the past 21 years and our offer for 2017.


The Nurture Development Team


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  • jacob

    Hey and firstly THANKS SO MUCH for the good work-

    Where can I find the Slidesharepresentation that was mentioned in this article?


    January 24, 2017 at 9:00 pm
    • Shaun Burnett

      Hey Jacob,

      Thanks for pointing this out. I have now added the link, you’ll also find it here

      Many thanks


      January 24, 2017 at 10:00 pm

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