Commissioning and Service Transformation through the lens of ABCD


“Real, Practical, and strategic in the best sense of the word…The course has acted as a catalyst, becoming infectious, with people framing their work through an ABCD lens”

– Charlie Croft, Assistant Director (Customer and Communities) City of York Council

I worked with Cormac Russell and others at Nurture Development to develop this course through 2020 and the start of 2021, with it becoming ready to launch by the summer of this year (and a thank you to Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, in helping initially promote the course to other Local Authorities).

The driving idea behind the course was an analysis of the current reality, as noted by Cormac that:

In a democracy, effective central and local governments and not-for-profit institutions function as an extension of civic life and serve to protect it. When institutions begin to replace civic life—doing things to or for citizens that they can do themselves or with each other—a shift from a democratic to a technocratic way of life takes hold. Technocratic governing relegates citizens to second place; it turns them into clients and consumers of government services and positions “experts” and “officials” as superior to the people they serve’.

This was backed by a recognition, particularly in my experience, that although there are many examples of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) across the UK, there were few places, or major organisations, where there was a strategic framework or vision in place to substantially proliferate ABCD and asset-based ways of working as core business across the organisation.

(Further thinking on the background to establishing the course can be found in this earlier blog by me and Cormac)

Nevertheless, in prototyping our offer, we at Nurture Development & The Community Renewal Centre were aware of a number of organisations (Local Authorities, NHS Organisations and Large Third Sector) interested in and committed to bringing about positive change and in embracing ABCD and asset-based ways of working and crucially, that there were others who had started on this journey and were willing to share their experiences.

We always knew that the course would need to be online, making use of the fantastic Community Renewal eLearning Platform which we developed to host much of Nurture Development training.  Our courses take learning and change-making experiences beyond traditional course delivery to offer a mixture of: direct facilitated sessions (via Zoom) delivered by Cormac and myself;  life-long access for those on the course to a wide range of resources (Videos, Documents, Interviews) hosted on the e-learning platform; and the need for participants to do assignments in between the facilitated sessions.

Content across the 5 facilitated sessions included:

  1. ‘Outline of ABCD’ and how it relates to the specific organisation(s) taking part in the course;
  2. Moving from ‘Theory into Practice’;
  3. ’Implementation at a Strategic Level’ (whether commissioning or service transformation);
  4. ‘Evaluation and Monitoring’; and
  5. ‘Relocating Authority’.

Just as importantly, as part of the overall offer from Nurture Development, there was pre-course development work with the organisation to both customize the course to meet their specific situation/requirements and also work to establish an organisational ‘baseline of readiness for ABCD’. Then at completion of the course, a further session with the organisational leadership is provided to review the implementation of the learning and how Nurture Development can support this.

Another key element of the courses we have successfully delivered so far was that although the sessions were to be delivered by me and Cormac, the materials shared with participants include contributions from a wide range of sources, and a big thank you to Penny Germon from Bristol City Council, Cath Roff from Leeds City Council, Katie Kelly from East Ayrshire Council, and Jim Diers for doing video interviews for the sessions, and to many others for allowing us to share practical examples of good practice.

Once we knew we had everything in place, we put out material on the course to test interest, crucially, we offered a discount to the first organisations to take it up, as we knew we would need more from them for these first few courses as we worked together to refine content and delivery we were therefore really pleased that the first organisation to contact us was City of York Council (Communities Directorate) and in particular to hear from Joe Micheli, Head of Communities, as both Cormac and I have had the pleasure of working with Joe many times over the last few years. This was swiftly followed by interest from Newcastle Council (especially those within Adult Social Care and Health and Care partners) and York Complex Needs Network. Again, huge thanks to representatives from these organisations for helping further develop the course and to ensuring that delivery went so well.

In regard to delivering the online facilitated sessions, I personally focussed on presenting and outlining examples of practical implementation of ABCD and asset-based ways of working relating to the various elements that Cormac skilfully outlined within each session. To be honest, I was initially nervous that many of these related to my work in Leeds in my previous role (and its ongoing focus on ABCD) and that people would get annoyed, and feel as if I was saying, Leeds was all sorted and everyone could learn from this (which was definitely not my message!). But in fact, participants really liked the real-world examples of implementation of ABCD (inc. those where it hadn’t worked as planned). And also, as I shared these, it was easy to highlight how the work in Leeds had itself been developed from learning from other cities and organisations in the UK and from around the world.

Of course, we have done full evaluations for each of the 3 courses so far and pleasingly they have been overwhelmingly positive, both in regard to content and delivery. But more crucially, in each of the three areas, there have been significant commitments made to implementing ABCD and asset-based approaches. This was nicely summarised in comments made by Alison McDowell, Director of Adult Social Care and Integrated Services in Newcastle City Council:

The ABCD training was an excellent launchpad for us in Newcastle. We had already started to think about how we change our approach as a system and were building on some great relationships, but the framing (or frame-breaking!), challenges, and tools that Mick and Cormac provided has really helped take our thinking to the next level.

The impact of the training will reach far and wide across health and social care locally. Within the local authority, it has already given us a new lens through which to design services and is helping to shape our commissioning practice going forward.

Looking ahead, we are seeking to co-develop more neighbourhood alternatives to services and to transform the way we deliver strength-based assessments. The knowledge, tools, and relationships we have gained through the course have equipped us with the essential skills we need to take this forward in a truly neighbourhood-led way.”

For me, this commitment to implementation by participants and the relevant leaderships was the most crucial element, and of course why I wanted to be involved in the first place, and I know that all of us at Nurture Development (ND) are really looking forward to seeing these develop over time. Indeed, one idea that has come out of the courses so far, is the need to convene a national network of organisations working to facilitate ABCD efforts at a strategic level. This is something ND are happy to support. We do however want to co-create such a network, and will be testing this out further in 2022 – so do keep an eye out for more on this coming out in the near future.

We now have a number of other organisations lined up for the next phase of delivering the course early in 2022 (and positively this is a mixture of Third Sector, NHS and Local Authority) but we still have some capacity to deliver more if your organisation wants to go deeper in implementing ABCD. – Just get in touch!

Further information on the course can be seen here.

Or feel free to contact me directly to discuss any element:

Mick Ward

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