‘Proliferation’ – The implementation of ABCD in Leeds Part 2

By Mick Ward, Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, Adults and Health, Leeds City Council

Whilst not ‘pure ABCD’, and not as likely to really dive deep and nurture all the potential assets and functions in a community, we believe that there is a great opportunity to work with a huge range of organisations in the city to move towards a more asset based approach in their day to day work.

In the Third Sector, as noted, we have built on the existing role and ways of working of Neighbourhood Networks (NN). We have now built this into the grant criteria for the services and expect to see more NNs learning from the example of Action for Gipton Elderly and others who are now themselves ABCD Pathfinders. We have similarly placed the expectation of using an asset based approach into the contracts of the new community mental health service and have had very positive discussions with a range of organisations including those delivering support to people with a Learning Disability, and people needing housing support. Whilst we do not expect them to be able to use the full ABCD framework, as they tend to be city wide based, rather than in neighbourhoods, they are increasingly taking a much stronger asset based approach and are looking at how they can support people to be more connected to their communities and to nurture individual’s strengths and gifts.

Similarly, there is interest in this approach from other directorates in Leeds City Council, which is manifesting itself in areas such as the way Active Lifestyles is reaching more into communities, or how arts and cultural organisations are looking to be more community/citizen led, or how libraries and library staff are becoming community assets and community connectors. We are also working with the Communities and Environment directorate to commission ABCD Pathfinders, and where using ABCD as both a framework and approach is gaining support within council based staff, changing their relations and interactions with communities.

This is also now being reflected within the work with NHS organisations and there is interest in applying ABCD within community healthcare services and increasing support for the approach from GP practices within the emerging Local Care Partnerships.

All of this is backed up with providing access to the ABCD training and an ABCD practitioners’ network delivered and supported by Touchstone (a local third sector organisation) in partnership with Nurture Development.

Critical in terms of getting that crucial wider support, so ABCD in Leeds is not just seen as a social care intervention, has been getting the greater understanding of the potential impact of ABCD across the city as a whole. Key to this has been learning from The Four Essential Elements of an Asset Based Community Development Process written last year by John L McKnight and Cormac Russell.

And in particular how it describes the ‘7 functions of community’:
1. Enabling Health
2 .Assuring Security
3. Stewarding Ecology
4. Shaping Local Economies
5. Contributing to Local Food Production
6. Raising Our Children
7. Co-Creating Care

I have been able to rewrite and present on this key document for a local perspective to highlight the benefits to Leeds and this has been vital in gaining support across council directorates.

Not surprisingly in implementing an approach as radical (or simple?) as ABCD we have met (and learnt from) significant challenges. I think it is important that these are considered as part of any strategic approach, as failure to take these into account will disrupt any city’s ambitions. Our work in Leeds so far has identified four key issues:

  1. We already do that!’This refers to a view from some existing service providers (especially in the Third Sector) and to some extent from commissioners, who when approached regarding developing ABCD in practice claim to be doing so already, and therefore do not need to change. Whilst they are often doing some very good work, it is not ABCD, and can be just another form of community development (which I know can be itself beneficial) or in some cases is simply a community based service – so it is vital to keep the debate going and to maintain a high profile of good ABCD practice.
  2. Making it work for all (and recognising where it doesn’t)Whilst a strength of ABCD is that communities themselves identify issues and therefore solutions, we recognise that these communities may not be always inclusive for all. This is particularly relevant for Adults and Health in terms of those with care and support needs. Whilst evidence so far in Leeds is that ABCD work has worked particularly well in regard to people with mental health needs, and to some extent those with long term conditions, the same cannot be said of people with a Learning Disability or a significant physical or sensory impairment. We also know from research that people with a long term condition or regular ill health are less likely to volunteer (though less is known re informal community contributions). Therefore a key element of the mid-term strategy is to work with the ABCD Pathfinders to ensure that they fully include and engage with people with care and support needs (especially people with a Learning Disability). At the same time, we will continue to work with providers of specialist services (Third Sector and statutory) that are based on supporting specific (and often segregated) groups: be that Learning Disability, Mental Health, Physical and Sensory Impairment, Drugs & Alcohol or Homelessness, to support them to work in an asset based way, to help connect the people they work with to their local neighbourhoods and vice versa.
    We also recognise that ABCD is not an alternative to direct provision of personal care, medical support and other higher need interventions, and it would be naive to think it was. However, there is evidence that (like other early intervention/prevention/self-management work) it reduces demand on these services. And the culture of ABCD and of Strength Based Social Care in the city is also positively influencing how these services work and their relation to the individuals they support.
  3. Importance of still funding existing services – We recognise the importance of the broad range of services in the world of health and wellbeing, and that they will need to continue to be funded alongside ABCD work. This will continue to be challenging in the financial climate. However,  funding for ABCD is relatively small to the cost of these core services and so a small top slice, or the first call on additional monies when available, has been critical to our proliferation of ABCD.
  4. Traditional Evaluation and Reporting Our evaluation and outcomes framework has been highlighted in part 1. However, in implementing this and reporting on findings, we should not underestimate the challenges we may face. Despite much talk of a move to focusing on outcomes our reporting is still focused on outputs and numbers, or is looking at only a small part of the system.  I would argue, as noted by Cormac Russell, that evaluating an ABCD process requires a move away from traditional top down summative and formative evaluation processes and towards a developmental and emancipatory learning process. Relationships are the primary currency of community work, not data or money. Hence the learning process will be one that values what goes on between people, not what goes on within them as disaggregated individuals. It is not therefore about simply counting numbers of people who show up, but about nurturing and celebrating the participation and contributions that strengthen community life and provide those connections that we know are so valuable that we will be focussed on in our evaluations.


Finally, it is important not to underestimate the degree of change for a Local Authority, or health and wellbeing system that a move towards ABCD requires. By moving toward ABCD the starting point for communities, commissioners, and health and care (and other) practitioners is substantially a very different place from where we are now.

It is also a seismic shift away from ‘service land’ to areas such as community activism and sometimes simply supporting good neighbourliness. For some this can be seen as yet another way of delivering cuts, or the Local Authority negating its responsibilities, or as a threat to existing services and roles. However, and for me one of the most significant learning moments around this area of work, can be challenged in a great quote from Edgar Kahn, (founder of time banks) that I always use in talks on ABCD:

“No society has the money to buy, at market prices, what it takes to raise children, make a neighbourhood safe, care for the elderly, make democracy work or address systemic injustices….. The only way the world is going to address social problems is by enlisting the very people who are now classified as ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ and converting them into co-workers, partners and rebuilders of the core economy”

It is understanding these two core messages that has given me, and I would argue much of Leeds, the passion and understanding to work towards Leeds being an ‘ABCD city’.

For a brief but great overview of ABCD in Leeds – see this short film – where you can hear directly from ABCD Community Connectors and Community Builders:

Mick Ward

‘Proliferation’ – The implementation of ABCD in Leeds Part 1


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