Community Strategy Insights

The latest insights on community strategy, technology, and value by FeverBee’s founder, Richard Millington

The ABCD Method: How To Rapidly Build Thriving Communities In Smaller Groups

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

What Is Asset-Based Community Development?

If there is a single silver bullet to building smaller communities (especially communities of practice) asset-based community development (ABCD)

ABCD is essentially an approach to building communities that focuses on the existing strengths and assets within a community rather than its needs and deficits. 

Its key principle is that every member, regardless of their past experience, skill, or knowledge, possesses valuable resources they can contribute to the community. 

Even if it’s your very first day on the topic, you know what it’s like to be completely new to the topic

You can highlight the questions you have (which the people who come after you will also have). You can identify any topics or areas within the community that are confusing or difficult to understand (and thus need to be better explained). You can even help test areas of the site from your perspective. 

And you may also have past experience in other sectors and industries which apply to this new community as well. 

Once you realise that you as a newcomer can make contributions the rest of the community finds useful, you’re more likely to stick around and continue participating. 

In this post, I’m going to share why ABCD is so effective and guide you through a process to do it within any small group you operating within.

If you prefer a live demonstration, click here. 

Why Is ABCD So Effective?

We’ve talked about ABCD before and shared examples of how it can be used to help triple retention rates for clients

We’ve undertaken hundreds of community surveys. The majority of members give the same reason to explain why they don’t participate

“I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.”

This is sad to hear. If people who have been eager enough to join and visit our communities don’t feel they can contribute anything positively to them – we’ve got plenty of scope for improvement. 

If you want to drive more engagement, you need to persuade members they have useful assets they feel they can contribute to the community. 

The more members feel they can make a unique, useful, contribution to the community the more likely they will make unique, useful, contributions. 

This is where we need to adopt an ABCD approach.

Let’s go through the key aspects of ABCD. 

Step One: Identifying The Assets

Identifying Member Assets

The first step is to help members identify the assets they feel they can contribute to a community. There are several handy ways of doing this.

  1. Registration page. You can create a simple question on the registration page that asks ‘What can you contribute to the community?’. The power of this question is people will identify any assets they can contribute. You can also create a question where people can select from existing options which assets they can contribute. This might make it easier than people having to come up with the answers themselves. 
  2. Survey. Similar to the above, you can create a simple Google form which you can ask members to complete. This asks members about the assets they can contribute to the community. 
  3. Interviews. You can also go through the process in interviews. You can find our ABCD interview script below. Interviews are especially powerful before you’ve launched the community when you’re just engaging with the early potential members. Helping them identify what they can contribute to the community would be tremendously useful. 

The key questions you would ask in surveys and interviews here would include. 

  1. What do you feel you can contribute to the community?
  2. Which of the following do you feel you can contribute to the community? (select from the options)
  3. Which kinds of people would you most like to connect with? 
  4. What do you feel the community is missing? 
  5. What would be a ‘game-changer’ for you? 

Whether you ask people in surveys or in interviews, the outcome should be the development of a list of individual assets people can contribute to your community. 

Here’s an example:

Identifying Organisational Assets

Next, you need to create a list of organisational assets. These are assets the organisation (typically your organisation) can bring to the community. However, if you have other organisations participating, you might ask them to complete this process too.

This might include:

  • Unique expertise
  • Verified source of truth.
  • Access to key staff members. 
  • Financial resources. 
  • Providing technology (for the community/hosting events etc…)
  • Access to industry influencers)

Keep a list of these similar to the one below. You will be surprised how useful they will become later. 

Here is an example:

Step Two: Identifying And Prioritise Needs

You want to identify the pressing issues your audience wants to address or achieve. These don’t have to be negative in nature – sometimes people just want to get better at doing what they’re doing. 

Once you have your inventory of assets, you can begin bringing people together for the purposes of identifying the needs and priorities of the audience. Your surveys and interviews have probably already surfaced some common needs already. This is a good start. 

Typically here you also want to bring your members from above into a shared space to have a facilitated discussion with one another. 

A good three-pronged approach includes:

1. Host an online workshop.

Use Mural or Figma where each person can create ‘post it notes’ highlighting what their needs are. You want to let everyone create up to three needs. They should post in the format “I want [something] in order to [outcome]”. You limit this to just three needs per person to avoid getting an endless list.

This also focuses people to prioritise their needs. 

You can see the outcome of this here:

2. Categorise needs.

Next, you want to work with members to try and categorise these needs. You should usually be able to create up to a dozen distinct groups of needs.

You might not be able to categorise every need (you can always create a ‘misc’ section). But you should be able to agree on some broad categorisation of needs. Delete or merge duplicate needs at this point. 

You can see an example of this here:

Aside: ChatGPT is surprisingly good at quickly categorising a list of needs like this. 


3. Prioritized Needs. 

Now you invite members to prioritise needs. You can use a survey for this if you like, but if you’re hosting a workshop, you might as well do it there. 

It’s good to give members 3 ‘tokens’ they can assign to the list of needs. Members can assign them all to one need – but they usually spread them out. 

Here’s an example:

Now you have a list of prioritised needs the next step is to go through the list of assets and information members have already suggested they have and begin looking for matches. 

You can even do this in the session itself if you like.

You can review a need, ask if anyone has the resources to help with it, and then assign a note to follow up later. 

Step Three: Match The Assets To The Needs

This is a simpler process where you look for assets listed above that can directly contribute to addressing the needs of your members. 

It’s often at this stage where members themselves highlight how they can contribute their assets to achieving these needs.

Go through your lists and see what you find. If you don’t have assets to address a highly ranked need, simply move on to the next one. ABCD is about building on strengths, not deficiencies. 

By the end of this, you should have a clear list of needs, assets to address that need, and members connected to each asset (and staff members for organisational assets). 

Everyone should be able to see which assets they can contribute to solving which goals. 

You can see an example here:

Step Four: Mobilise Your Assets

It’s in this step that the unique skill and ability of the community professional becomes critically important. This is where you begin to weave the disparate threads of community together. 

There are two critical skills you need to deploy here. 

1) Persuasion

You need to persuade, cajole and otherwise motivate members to contribute their assets to the community. I can’t stress enough how important (and tricky) this skill is.

You need deep empathy and understanding of the people you’re working with. You need to be persistent, but not annoying. You need to be friendly, but not a pushover. 

A typical template here might be:

Hi Pritti,

I’m hoping you can help. 

We have several members who are looking for scripts and templates for responding to inbound expressions of interest. 

I remember in our workshop you mentioned you had some scripts and experience with this. Would you be willing to either share some scripts, participate in an interview, or maybe even lead a workshop on the topic? 



You need to be able to build relationships with and between members. You need to be able to tell the right stories at the right time to the right people. The exact words you use matter. The tone of voice matters. This is a practised skill which is hard to gain solely from reading books. 

You need to make a lot of mistakes to gradually discover what does and doesn’t work.  


2) Facilitation

You will also be serving in the facilitation role at this stage.  You should be helping to organise meetings, following on threads that have gone quiet, and otherwise, offering support as needed. 

Thus you might host collaboration and networking events to help build a stronger sense of community between members. You also play the role in this stage of addressing any skill, knowledge, or resource gaps which you can build on.

What’s The ‘Must Win’ Battle?

For building communities amongst small groups of members, ABCD is easily the most powerful and most proven approach. But that doesn’t make it easy. 

The hard part of ABCD is gaining and sustaining the interest of people who have conflicting priorities and multiple groups battling for their attention. 

If your community activities seem too time-consuming, it’s unlikely people will want to participate – especially at the beginning. We also feel we have busy lives and it’s hard to squeeze in a new activity – especially one which feels like it’s going to be a lot of work.

On the flip side, if the activity feels boring or low-value, we’re also not likely to participate. The key to your messaging and communications is to try and find the balance between the two. You want the activities to seem engaging, high value (in the psychological rewards people will receive), and not too much work. 

The other challenge is beginning a process without knowing where it’s going to end. When you begin the ABCD process, you won’t not what the outcome will look like. It’s a member-led approach. They highlight what their needs and assets are. You simply follow and support them in deploying it. 

This makes it hard to answer questions about the outcome at the beginning. If you knew that already, the approach wouldn’t work.

Good luck!

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