Looking Back to Look Forward: the intellectual heritage of Asset-Based Community Development

What a week, we’ve just finished the ABCD Festival where we celebrated with people from 17 countries. We revelled in the greatness of small, local, and organic things. And we weren’t alone, yesterday we trended at number 6 in the UK on Twitter for over two hours, then drop to number ten for a further hour; and we also trended at number 9 in Canada.

Next week we’ll write more about the festival once all the graphic art and presentations come through. Another big dimension of the week was the launch of my book: Asset-Based Community Development-Looking Back to Look Forward.

This book is a prequel to a longer book I’m writing called: Altered State.

Looking Back to Look Forward‘ seeks to explore the intellectual heritage of Asset-Based Community Development.

June19 blog_02

John McKnight

In direct interview with John McKnight I explore how -between the late 1950s to date -ten radical thinkers have helped to shape this hyper local, citizen led perspective.

These include:

June19 blog_15Poignantly, Judith Snow provided the art work for the cover of the books two weeks before she passed. Making what was already a wonderful experience-the writing of the book-even more meaningful. The piece of Judith’s art is entitled ‘Altered State’.

The central thesis of the book as with ABCD is that we need to make small the new big. In a citizen centred democracy citizens produce the future, and the state creates a protective and equitable dome of protection around that, within which citizen led /community invention can flourish.

This book reminds us of the limits of defining democracy in government centric, instead of citizen centred terms. Its central assertions are:

1. Communities are the primary inventors in a democracy, the work of ethical civic professionals is to support that invention; not replace it, overwhelm, or undermine it.

2. Citizens are the producers of the future. 

3. We need more radicals, connectors and heretics who help us figure out ‘our way’ particular to our context. Many current leaders are stifling such impulses because of their drive to recruit followers for “their way”.

It is clear that ABCD has a rich and varied intellectual heritage. And that it does not espouse any one way, but rather is grounded in the belief that we’ve got to figure out our way, where we live, together with our neighbours, and be prepared to continue to revisit and revisit in an endless effort to broaden our circles of participation. In this regard it reaffirms the values of localism, and a belief in the significant capacities of indigenous communities. Which largely go unnoticed. 

Of course ABCD recognises that there are external forces at play that must be challenged and changed. It simply questions the merits of exclusively trying to change those forces before we’ve done the work of identifying, connecting and mobilising the local forces and resources internal to communities. 

The inherent promise being that if more people come to the democratic table, to secure more income, community, choice and control we will alter the State of things at all level. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

ABCD Festival-J.McK J.K and CR

John McKnight, Jody Kretzmann, Cormac Russell. ©Richard Perry

How to get a copy of the book ‘Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD): Looking Back to Look Forward’


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  • Cormac, Thanks for your leadership to make the ABCD Festival so wonderful, inspiring and just bloody fun.

    June 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm
  • nurturedevelopment

    Dan it was a team effort and an absolute hoot to be part of! Great to catch up again!

    See you soon,


    June 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm
  • Thanks Cormac, it looks interesting. I must admit I’m surprised that only one of the 10 radical thinkers is female. I would have thought there are more woman who could have made the list. I am convinced that social justice needs to be a foundation of ABCD and to me part of this is being aware of gender balance. Identifying assets often involves finding and naming assets that have been overlooked, and I hope that Altered States will actively present the voices of women as well as men. In my experience, feminism included a range of radical thinkers who encouraged me to think differently and to work in a much more inclusive, bottom-up way.
    Thanks for all the work you do in promoting and writing about ABCD. I’ll look forward to reading your book.

    June 22, 2015 at 8:18 pm
    • A great number of heartening thoughts Graeme! There is such diversity in our community, surely the task of finding and identifying gifts won’t be that difficult. It is important we look though, and identify our blind spots. Some of the most generous feminists I’ve met have been men, however the role of ally is one that requires mindfulness. I can only be an empowering ally if I take time and effort to understand the ideas of each movement. We stand on shoulders of many activists, some of whom gave their lives, let’s never forget the people! It is my privilege to be an ally, to promote the ideas that challenge elitism, classism, disablism, racism, homophobia…

      June 24, 2015 at 9:02 am
  • nurturedevelopment

    Thanks Graeme yes Altered State does indeed include the voice of women and women of colour very definitely.

    Good wishes,


    June 23, 2015 at 7:49 am
  • peter sheath

    Hi Cognac I will be ordering your book today. I’ve met you a couple of times, read the abundant community and been soaking up anything to do with ABCD over the last five years. I’m entirely convinced that a cultural shift towards this way of thinking and being is long overdue. I am a consultant/trainer in social care and I weave this stuff into everything I do. I also try, on a daily basis, to practice it and live by it in my own community. Love your work.

    August 14, 2015 at 6:41 am
    • nurturedevelopment

      Thanks for your kind and encouraging words Peter, I very appreciate them.

      I have been aware of your work too, and admire your authentic efforts to grow communities that have a welcome for the stranger at the edge.

      Go well my friend,


      August 14, 2015 at 7:45 am

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