Asset-Based Community Development – 5 Core Principles


The Asset-Based Community Development approach has a set of principles, which act like a compass not a map. The five core principles of ABCD are:

1. Citizen-led
2. Relationship oriented
3. Asset-Based
4. Placed-Based
5. Inclusion focused

This week’s blog will take each of the 5 principles separately and explore them in detail:

1. Citizen-led: there are certain things that only citizens, in association with one another and the assets around them, can do. ABCD is focused on this domain of change. From this inside-out, citizen-led perspective, socio-political, cultural, environmental and economic change efforts, are viewed through the lens of the following questions:

-What is it that residents in communities are best placed to do together?
-What is it that residents can best do, with some outside help?
-What is it that communities need outside agencies to do for them?

The sequence in which the above questions are asked is critical. If you are a helping practitioner using ABCD principles and practices, you would start by inviting local residents to ask of each other: “what can we do best for ourselves and each other?” (a version of the first of the three questions above). By engaging with that question people are enabled to identify, connect and mobilise what they have, to make change happen. That puts them in the driving seat of change. They take the lead by using what they have, to secure what they need. In this way, residents also assume a powerful lead in directing outside helpers in how best they can be helpful. Since, until residents know what they have which is local and within their control, they cannot know what they need from outside (what is not local and not within their control).

2. Relationship oriented: While ABCD considers every person as having irreplaceable gifts, skills and passions, as an approach it goes beyond individuals and their capacities, to tap into relational (plural) power. Sadly, the power of relationships tends to be undervalued in industrialised societies. Notwithstanding, relational power (outside of hierarchical structures such as the workplace) presents an incredible and often untapped force for good, and continues to be the primary energy source for social movements throughout the world.

Relational power enables consensual ‘grouping-up’ or hive like behaviours to amplify and multiply the capacities of individuals, ensuring the societal whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. This is not to say that the individuality of members does not matter, it does, but rather to point out that for us to have a good life there are certain things we need to do with each other, as we cannot do them alone, that is where relational power matters. Relational power, also referred to as associational life, is a key determinant of:

– individual wellbeing,
– public safety,
– response to natural disasters, and
– vocational opportunities, to name but a few.

3. Asset-based: the starting point for ABCD is with what’s strong, not what’s wrong. Some misunderstand this as an attempt to minimise life’s challenges, or normalise injustices, nothing could be further from the truth. ABCD is the process by which relational power is mobilised to produce sustainable and satisfying change. With that in mind, starting with what’s strong enables local people to get organised to address what’s wrong and making what’s strong even stronger. It also asks searching questions of those who seek to define certain neighbourhoods by the sum of their deficits, challenging them to open their eyes and see what is actually before them. Being actively present to the capacities and resources that exist in every community (which include the gifts of individual residents, associational inventiveness, environmental fruitfulness, cultural heritage, and economic possibilities) becomes difficult when you view the people and place you serve by the sum of their problems. To really show up in a neighbourhood you’ve got to set aside the utopian impulses to fix, save and deliver, and instead be curious, collaborative and humble.

4. Place-based: Small local places are the stage on which a good, sustainable and satisfying life unfolds. Seeing the neighbourhood as the primary unit of change is a powerful strategy for addressing some of our most intractable socio-political challenges. It is, however, a strategy that is counter-cultural, in that it seems to contradict the vast swathe of helping strategies which see individuals or institutions as the most legitimate domains for change.

While personal transformation and institutional interventions have their place, we have seen that by intentionally organising relational power at neighbourhood level, local residents can connect local human, associational, environmental, economic and cultural resources together and by aggregating them at a hyper-local level come up with incredibly inventive solutions which are not within the reach of top-down institutions.

Neighbourhoods, small towns, villages and estates are the scale at which local residents come to believe they can make an impact. This neighbour to neighbour impact is not about service provision, it is about neighbourliness. A small local place also provides the context within which the multiplicity of helping agencies (each currently working within their own siloes) can agree a common ground that automatically takes them beyond their administrative boundaries, to work across siloes.

‘Neighbourhood’ is the potential context and scale within which everything can come together, where relational and civic power can, when needed, join with enterprising individuals and the power of civic professionals and their institutional resources. In sum, places can exist and thrive without people, but people cannot exist and thrive without places. Therefore, advocating for health, safety, learning, prosperity or justice, while behaving as though they have nothing to do with our places and cultures is like trying to grow a flower in a potted plant with limited soil, when we have an entire meadow at our disposal.

5. Inclusion focused: communities have imperceptible boundaries, inside which are those deemed to belong, and outside are those considered to be strangers. ABCD therefore, as well as supporting local residents to discover and connect local assets, is about actively creating a welcome for ‘strangers’ at the edge of those unnamed boundaries. Since there is nobody who’s gifts are not needed, when it comes to creating an environment within which everyone’s gift is given and received.

In short, the 5 principles of ABCD are about investing in the group life of the neighbourhood, recognising that collective efficacy is measured not by the strengths or capacities of its leaders, but by the power and connectivity of its groups and their connectivity to each other, their ecology, culture, economy and the gifts of those at the edge.


Cormac Russell, Creative Commons License, 2017




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  • Ron Dwyer-Voss

    I love this, although you may want to change the order. Right now the acronym is CRAPI. Jus sayin.

    June 2, 2017 at 8:39 pm
  • Cecilia pepson

    This is fantastic. You’ve judt put into words my deep desire for my community based organization.

    April 23, 2018 at 10:51 pm
  • Vedawattie Ram

    Peter Block writes about citizen-led initiatives. In my part of the world, this is DEFINITELY needed! I am right now preparing to use the ABCD concept in a transformational leadership project.

    May 13, 2018 at 7:12 am
  • Ali Blakey

    Actually I think I will remember that acronym or at least the letters in it even when you change it!

    November 9, 2018 at 5:09 pm
  • Jim Scholtz

    What a great iverview that articulates, not just information, but the deeper true mission of ABCD!

    My church wants to continue, and better be a neighbor and partner in impacting significant issues in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, our current financial crisis, may doom the existence of our church, due to financial resources. PLEASE HELP! Are there any suggestions, resources, ir successful models we could use, to first get our church, in a position financially to grow, prisper, and then join effirts to be a neughbor to help with change.

    May 13, 2019 at 3:24 pm
  • Rebecca Skhosana

    Outstanding presentation. Well articulated. Thanks

    July 17, 2020 at 6:48 am
  • “To really show up in a neighbourhood you’ve got to set aside the utopian impulses to fix, save and deliver, and instead be curious, collaborative and humble.” Im stealing this quote… just kidding, will use it and reference it back to you Cormac, thanks for a great article!

    November 16, 2020 at 2:36 am

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