The 7 Functions of Flourishing Communities: A Path Towards Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Vision
Twenty-seven years ago, the best-selling book, Building Communities from Inside Out: A Path towards finding and mobilizing a Community’s Assets (1993), authored by John McKnight and John P. Kretzmann, was published. It has sold over 120,000 copies to date with a further 20,000 gifted to community groups around the world. Over the intervening three decades, this publication along with others, has amplified the work of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute (www.abcdinstitute.org) and partners in localism movements. It helped to sound a clarion call for asset-based community development approaches, as an alternative to the more traditional deficit-based development approaches, which by the late 80s/early 90s had taken center stage.
Building Communities from Inside Out identified six assets or resources that enhance local collective well-being:
- Contribution of Residents
- Local Institutions
- Local Places: built and natural environment; ecosystems, biosphere.
- Exchange: fiscal and non-fiscal
- Stories that encode cultures, heritage, customs.
In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on the 7 Functions of Flourishing Communities, following new insights from lessons learned over many decades from local communities around the world. The 7 functions are a response to the question: what are the essential functions that communities are best placed to take on? The answers to this question provide an important breakthrough in the ongoing effort to better understand the ways and means by which citizens grow power and well-being together. Building on earlier work, they reveal that self-consciously abundant communities, not only use local resources (assets) to invest in their shared well-being, but also take on some or all of seven essential community functions (see below) in doing so. Indeed, often these functions, not the focus on assets, are what precipitate citizen-led action; the pursuit of assets is in service of those functions, not the other way around. In other words, the 7 Functions of Flourishing Communities notes that, when citizens collectivize around shared functions, they deepen their resolve towards a preferred future and from there tend to meaningfully tap into their assets in service of what they wish to produce together.
The seven functions are common activities that communities collectively undertake to produce well-being, using the six resources/assets (above). These functions are bottom-up (grassroots), disaggregated, hyper-local, and citizen-led.
- Enabling Health
- Assuring Security
- Stewarding Ecology
- Shaping Local Economies
- Contributing to Local Food Production
- Raising our Children
- Co-creating Care
When groups of citizens take on some or all of these shared functions, they create the basis of good, satisfying lives for themselves, their local environments and economies. Up to now, these functions have been considered to be the primary if not exclusive view of the institutional world. What we are learning through our work at Nurture Development is that: The 7 Functions of Flourishing Communities turns the common assumption about institutions on its head. It is highlighting that while institutions can and have attempted to take on these 7 functions, they cannot hope to produce the care needed to make their outputs satisfying, sustaining and empathic; since only communities can produce care, and care is at the very core of wellbeing, safety and planetary sustainability.
Why Does this Matter?
Perhaps the most worrying characteristic of modern life is that consumerism has become the dominant identity construct -even during COVID-19- through which most have come to understand themselves and their place in the world. In today’s world the media and entertainment industries (which are now one and the same) are shaping culture. Added to this, as turbo-consumers, the doctor is believed to be the one that produces health and well-being, the teacher becomes the primary educator of our children, the police unilaterally keep us safe, and our political leaders and their economic advisers define our futures. All this while at the same time, public trust in institutions diminishes. What is going on? This amounts to a democratic inversion, where the role of the citizen is defined as that which happens after the important work of the media moguls, professionals and politicians is done. The only role left for a “good citizen”, is to consume (or complain about) the goods, services and ideologies that are produced for them.
The 7 Functions of Flourishing Communities reminds us that this inversion is bad for our democratic, economic and environmental well-being and our personal and family’s health and safety. In a democracy, the role of professionals and politicians is defined as a supplementary one, in other words, that which happens after the essential functions of communities have been activated. Framed in this way, we can hope to reduce professional burnout and increase citizenship and community agency.
Nearly everyone knows what the functions of any given institution are, from the pizzeria to Adam Smith’s (The Wealth of Nations, 1776) fabled pin factory, the functions are clear: produce pizzas; produce pins. But what are the functions of families and communities? Throughout the world, we learn daily that community is an experience that people, who believe the satisfaction of their neighbours is essential to their own, create. Through their collective efforts, they create compelling evidence on why precipitating more community driven action is essential to our shared futures; and how we can support each other to make the journey from being horrified spectators or stupefied cheerleaders, to being powerful yet compassionate co-creators with our neighbours.
Of course, institutions can take on any or all of the 7 functions, but they cannot hope to satisfy us with their proxies for community functions. Indeed, when institutions produce services and programs that displace, replace or overwhelm community functions, they leave us dissatisfied as citizens and increase burnout among professionals. As Eric Hoffer (American philosopher) once said: “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need”.