I’ve known about the work of John McKnight for a long time. He is perhaps best known for Asset Based Community Development. When I was studying community development at Trent University, we were treated to his series on CBC Ideas called Community and its Counterfeits, later published as a book. McKnight was a young apprentice to Saul Alinsky, the famous Chicago-based community organizer. Over the years his work has garnered accolades from folks all over the political spectrum and has spawned community mapping, asset inventories and other now standard practices of community and economic development.
A post last month at Wealth Bondage, combined with a conversation I had with Richard Cornuelle (Denationalizing Community is my favourite paper of his) reminded me again of ABCD. There are a number of projects I am doing at the moment that might be a chance to put my work together with McKnight’s ideas.
When I began work in consultation and what is now called “community engagement” I based my approach on some lessons I learned from an Oneida Elder, Bruce Elijah. Bruce was our organizational Elder at the National Association of Friendship Centres in the early 1990s when I was there and he taught me a huge amount about process, healing and community work.
Over strong tea one night at my place Bruce recounted his approach to working with communities on community-wide healing. The first thing he does when he arrives to work in a community is to ask the people to take him to the place of power. When they are there, literally standing in the clearing, the building, the space where the community has its heart ans soul, he asks about why THIS spot is the power place and the begin talking about what the community still has. It’s appreciative, asset-based, spiritual development for a whole community.
This approach works for places of virtual power as well. If you are a facilitator or an OD consultant, the next time you begin a project with a client, ask them to take you to the place of power in the organization or community and see if you can’t discern what makes it so. It might be a physical place, or it might be a time or a collection of values, or a highly regarded project or initiative from which people take strength. I’m willing to bet that what you learn there will form the basis for whatever it is your about to do.