Nurture Development Course on Commissioning & Service Transformation: Through the Lens of ABCD

Why we developed the Course – Cormac Russell and Mick Ward

This week’s blog is a story, a story about two friends, namely Mick Ward and yours truly. Both of us are passionate about communities and about public services being in “right relationship” with each other. So we decided to hatch a new support offer for public services working in citizen space. I’ll let Mick start off and tell you his side of the story, so to speak:


When I retired last year, after 42 years in Adult Social Care with Leeds City Council (LCC), I knew there were a number of areas I wanted to still contribute to, from becoming a trustee at PAFRAS Leeds (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) to working on health and care innovation with Health Systems Innovation Lab at LSBU to becoming a Shared Lives Carer in Leeds. But the one area I really wanted to continue to work in was Asset Based Community Development – ABCD. This was based on the belief that ABCD is one of the most significant ‘game changers’ I had come across within my entire career.

I had been fortunate to lead on ABCD in my role as Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, at LCC, but my involvement went back a few years to when I was Chief Officer for Commissioning, and later Deputy Director, across Adult Social Care, Public Health, Housing Support and Leeds NHS CCG. In that role, I had seen the positive impact of ABCD and Asset-Based approaches and was involved in laying the foundation for proliferating ABCD across the city. Like many people, my first contact with, and learning about, ABCD was via Cormac, and as such it was Cormac, I naturally approached to talk about how my knowledge and skills could be best used working with Nurture Development to further promote and support ABCD and asset-based approaches after I had retired from LCC.

In those discussions, it became clear that the most helpful and appropriate area to develop further was around a strategic approach to ABCD, especially one that supported major organisations or partnerships to either commission ABCD, or to significantly transform their delivery structures to move towards ABCD and asset-based ways of working. This was very much based on our experience in Leeds, but also by learning from Cormac and others in the ‘ABCD world’ and crucially through engaging with others across the UK working towards establishing ABCD in their work.

In Leeds, our first experience of ABCD was back in 2013 when we established 3 “do and learn” pathfinders, using ABCD, as part of our strategic and practical approach to tackling social isolation and loneliness by precipitating community-led responses. The success of these was so significant we quickly mainstreamed funding for further widespread support across the city, and it was from these ABCD sites we started to see further positive outcomes, not just for Adult Social Care, but wider Health and Well Being and also broader Leeds City Council directorate priorities. This ultimately led to significant investment in ABCD in the city and shifted approaches across the council to asset-based; community-centred ways of working. The fuller story can be seen in this blog.

However, what I believe was critical to the approach in Leeds was that although we initially started with a couple of pathfinders, we swiftly integrated ABCD into our strategic commissioning plans, sitting alongside the commissioning being done across the rest of Adult Social Care, Public Health and integrated health and care services. Everything from Neighbourhood Networks, Care Homes, Home Care, Community equipment etc. to our approach to Dementia Care, Mental Health Third Sector, Learning Disability support etc. At the same time, other directors were integrating asset-based community development approaches within their work, from communities to sports, to culture, to tenant involvement (See LCC Executive Board report from September 2020). I highlight this because ABCD was never seen as an ‘add on’. Indeed, we recognised that it was the success of ABCD and Asset Based approaches, particularly its cost-effectiveness (in terms of ethical cost savings), that allowed us to continue to effectively commission or directly deliver other critical social care and other council and health services.

Whilst individual ABCD work is taking place across numerous sites and many small organisations and projects across the country, there are still few areas where it is at the core of strategic planning and commissioning, something that I argue is critical if you are to nurture and more fully harness the potential of ABCD and citizens are to benefit from the outcomes it can achieve especially across a whole system, geographical area, or large service/organisation. And so, Cormac and I developed a course that curates our learning in Leeds, with his learning from across the UK, Europe and the world.

What this course does is take the learning from cities and areas nationally and internationally where ABCD is becoming core and then ground that with application of the theory behind ABCD and the experiences of ABCD practitioners to demonstrate the key tools, approaches and strategies that organisations can use within their own practice to move towards that strategic implementation of ABCD and Asset-Based approaches.


Increasingly I am meeting folks in public service who are asking different questions; better questions, about how to work well in citizen space. Mick, has been at the forefront in walking his talk and in grappling with such questions. His enabling work in Leeds speaks for itself, its impact is clear where it matters: in the lives of citizens and in neighbourhoods throughout Leeds. Mick continues to be curious about how better to support community alternatives to the tired top-down; traditional interventions that have reached the limits of their capacities. So, when he approached me about what we might do together, that which we could not do alone, I was delighted to combine efforts and welcome him as a senior associate at Nurture Development.

The course we have developed together – as well as being grounded in international research and horizon scanning in terms of adoption of innovation – is the result of our shared passion for community-led change. In many ways, we are hesitant about even calling it a course because, at its core, it is a transformational conversation about how we must re-function commissioning so that everyone can flourish forward fairly.

Our new course is grounded in the following analysis of the current reality:
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. Over time, five unintended consequences of this arrangement become evident:

  1. People who need support due to economic isolation or fragility become
    defined as problems to be fixed, not as people to be valued and
    connected, people who possess the assets and resources that are critical to addressing their challenges.
  2. A significant portion of the money intended to support those who are economically marginalized goes to paid service providers, not to the economically marginalized people themselves.
  3. Active citizenship begins to retreat in the face of ever-growing professionalism and expertise. People not credentialed by a professional “guild” become increasingly more dependent on institutional services to do what previously was done by participating in community life.
  4. Economically marginalized communities begin to internalize a map—a map drawn by outside experts—that defines them as helpless people populating hopeless places. Not surprisingly, the people who live in communities that have been defined by others as backwaters of pain and suffering come to believe that things will get better only when someone with the right resources and expertise comes in from outside to make them better.
  5. Citizens begin to believe that a good life is not to be found in interdependent relationships at the center of community life, alongside near neighbors, but in services and programs at the edge of their communities, provided by salaried strangers. Many of those who are surrounded by a wide range of such services have been exiled from community life into “serviceland,” the environment within which services and programs dominate. They are no longer known as a sister, brother, son, daughter, friend, or neighbor; they have been redefined as a service user, a patient, someone endlessly waiting to be fixed. The many services coalesce to form a new environment around the person that transposes their role from citizen to client.

If like us, you are passionate about organising some of the assets of your institution or those you commission so that they can better support local communities and precipitate their capacities. And if like us, you don’t just want to make things a little better, but you want to move towards an alternative more sustainable and equitable future, then please reach out to us for an exploratory conversation.

For further information on the course go to the Community Renewal Centre
or contact Mick Ward.

Back to BlogBack to Latest News
1 Comment
  • Very exciting times.

    April 15, 2021 at 3:41 pm

Post a Comment