The Path of an ABCD Guide

I am excited to tell you about one of our latest online courses. Over the years, as people have deepened their Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) practice and gone on to become companions to others, they’ve asked for additional support to deepen their practice and support them as they walk alongside other ABCD enthusiasts. That’s why we developed the ABCD Guide Course.

ABCD Guide Training

An ABCD guide is a practitioner who possesses a sound understanding of Asset-Based Community Development in both theory and practice, demonstrates a passion for citizen-led change and has completed Nurture Development’s training. ABCD Guide Trainers are able to do the following with confidence:

  • Host a Community of Practice around ABCD
  • Support the growth of ABCD conversations in their area
  • Bring practitioners together to share learning

ABCD guide training creates a local legacy in effective ABCD Practice. A cohort of ABCD guides will have the ability to support the growth of ABCD in practice across the locality. As ABCD practice deepens, local ABCD Guides become a go-to point for others in their local area that would like to have a genuine conversation about the dilemmas of living and practising in an ABCD way.

ABCD Guides will also seek to organise local ABCD networks to support the deepening and precipitation of practice and citizen-led action where they live and serve. To find out more about the ABCD Guide Training, click here.

Here are some of the values they try to live by:


  1. Walk a Mile in their Shoes

You may be getting together with a group to discuss an issue, but behind every issue is people and the life of the group itself.

When you speak to the person and the group behind the issue, not just the issue itself, you end up with a much deeper conversation and a lot more commitment towards change.

An ABCD Guide knows that there’s little to be gained by getting cross with people because they are being deficit oriented, or their ABCD outlook isn’t pure enough. It takes time to get our heads around ABCD principles. We’ve all been there ourselves, wrestling with the ABCD mindset, and in many respects taking a high handed approach is the opposite of ABCD. An ABCD guide does not seek to convert another, they try to understand and get alongside people and groups.

You can do that by imagining what it’s like to be them to walk in their shoes.

ABCD Guides understand that those they are speaking with have emotions, fears, dreams, hopes and experiences every bit as valid and valuable as their own.

Can you remember the questions you had when you were at their stage in the journey from deficit to ABCD thinking? Maybe you were never as downstream of ABCD thinking as they appear to be, but imagine the questions you would have if you were them. Try treating people who are downstream of your ABCD thinking the way you’d like people you see as further upstream from you in their ABCD thinking, to treat you.


  1. Avoid Making People Feel Defensive

Most people heading into a conversation about working in a more community-centred way are a bit nervous—they may be wondering whether they’ll be judged on their practice and embarrassed in front of colleagues if they are judged not to measure up.

How will they be made to feel? ABCD Guides are good at creating safe environments where people can feel at ease.

People know immediately if they are with someone who is out to make them look or feel bad. And their defences go up far quicker than most of us realise. The cheap joke about their profession or organisation comes at a high cost in terms of trust lost. ABCD Guides know you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

An ABCD Guide never wants to make anyone look bad even when they disagree with a person.

Remember it is very hard to dislike someone whose story you’ve taken time to get to know. Much of what an ABCD Guide does can be summarised as: creating the space for people to discover and share their stories.

People who feel defensive will not share their story. Putting people at their ease and creating psychological safety doesn’t mean you can’t explore challenging issues or recognise resistance in a group situation. It simply means we can only travel at the speed of trust, and that means not putting people on the defence.


  1. Ask What It Felt Like

It is so easy to stay in our heads when talking about ABCD. We need to guide the conversations into people’s toes and fingertips. Bringing things into a feeling space matters because we are all emotional beings, and mainly those emotions are what drive us to change or dig in and resist.

If you really want to connect with the person you’re speaking with, when they tell you about a critical moment in their life (good or bad) ask them what it felt like.

What was it like to have to conduct a needs assessment when you knew there were also strengths in the community you were surveying?

What did it feel like for you as a community development practitioner to report to KPIs that didn’t really reflect the core principles of your work practice? What was the cost to you for having to work that way? How did that feel?

In those moments, you move from head-to-head conversations to heart-to-heart conversations.

These are what are termed affective conversations: in other words relational conversations. Many people who are bound by a deficit mindset are often pressured to be effective, at the expense of being affective. When you ask them how that feels you show empathy and solidarity. The builds trust, and from there, space for preferred alternatives opens up.


  1. Look For The Unexpected

Life is full of surprises. Institutions however focus on creating managed space which often extinguishes surprise. As an ABCD guide, you will want to encourage surprise and pay real close attention when unexpected things are said or done.

As a guide, if you get surprised, then hang on to what surprised you and pursue it until you and those around you fully appreciate its value.

Normally we’re surprised because some common assumptions have been challenged. Someone spends the conversation quietly listening while everyone else is speaking about the importance of hosting people and being good hosts, then near the end they speak up to say: “I think it’s equally important to be a good guest in the lives of the people we serve”. These kinds of mic drop moments are essential to learning about community building. Lift up those moments, celebrate them and others will too.


  1. Go Deeper

Get past the small talk and conversations about the weather.

We all have stock phrases and rehearsed answers that act as fillers in our opening conversations. An ABCD guide gets beyond these while valuing their role in helping people relax and warm up socially.

Creating time is key. If someone says they will allow you 15 mins to talk about ABCD on their agenda, I’d be cautious about accepting such an invitation. Real conversations take time, at least an hour.

As an ABCD guide don’t be afraid to ask for the necessary time to allow you and those in the group to drill down on key issues. Choose the kitchen over the boardroom table.

When you hear something someone says that piques your interest, go deeper, invite them to say more and lean forward.


  1. Be Curious – Not Helpful

Curiosity is your best friend as an ABCD guide. Child-like, as distinct from childish, curiosity goes a long way, especially when mixed with humility. Questions like:

  • Why do you think that?
  • Why do you think that happened?

Such questions making the invisible visible, especially when asked with a warm open face and body posture and positive tones.


  1. Be Interested In Others

ABCD guides are interested in asking questions not making a point. They are not in the business of selling, converting or capturing someone’s attention.

As a rule of thumb, they’ll try to talk less than 10% of the time in a group session.

Some people will try to get you to be the sage on the stage in order to knock you off or to elevate you to guru status. Don’t fall for it. Instead, forget about yourself and support the group to forget about any designs they have on you being their rescuer or their persecutor. As an ABCD guide, when you listen first and speak second, you end up being much more useful to all concerned.


Cormac Russell, Nurture Development & The Community Renewal Centre

Check out our courses here

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  • Heather Barham

    Thanks Cormac. Some super pertinant reminders here

    September 24, 2021 at 6:59 pm
  • Rachel

    Thank you for this Cormac, really helpful for where I’m at currently, even though I’m way off ABCD Practice in reality. I was looking for something to get back on track, and I appreciated this.

    October 11, 2021 at 11:41 pm

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