The Most Important Idea In Community Development

Speaking this week to community managers in Israel, one idea struck a chord; asset-based community development.

It’s the most important concept in community organizing you probably haven’t heard of.

ABCD is when a community organizer (builder, manager) stops treating communities as a group with a collective problem to solve and starts treating the community as a group with countless opportunities for growth.

It’s the belief that every single person who walks through the door of your event, who joins your community, or engages with you in some way has something they can offer the group.

It’s the belief that every single person has unique skills, knowledge, experiences and more that they can contribute to the collective benefit of the group.

Your community today has people with backgrounds in design, law, technology, marketing, sales, customer service.

Your community has people who have spare rooms, a car they’re not using, books they don’t read repeatedly, clothes, food and more.

Your community has people who know people. People that need to fill jobs, can give medical advice, or have traveled to wonderful places.

In short, your community has people who can design things, translate things, lend items, provide expertise and be more engaged if you can make the connections and make them feel special about doing it.

Someone asked in the Tel Aviv session, ‘What’s the secret to keeping members actively engaged?’.

ABCD is the answer.


  1. Joel Zaslofsky says:

    I’ve been using ABCD in every online and offline community I belong to for about four years. It’s how the Puttytribe got our new WordPress/Discourse/ hybrid site built, it’s how I organize block parties in my neighborhood, and it’s how I run Offers and Needs Markets (a non-commercial gift exchange) as my gift at any event I participate in.

    I have many ABCD related resources I could share, but I’ll recommend just two if you want to explore more:

    First, Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging. I was ready to give up after a couple of chapters because besides definitions for community and belonging, there didn’t seem to be anything valuable. Boy, was I wrong – especially as I hit Chapter 6 on What It Means to Be a Citizen.

    Block has firm opinions and incorporates the best aspects of many social engineers, event designers, and his work with ABCD to present a compelling “what could be” vision of a world of small community owners all being accountable. The signature benefit of this book is the treasure trove of questions he gives a reader to offer up to their community – some of which require deep commitment and trust.

    There is a great how to section of event design in the middle of the book and I’d say it really gets going on Chapter 10, Questions Are More Transforming Than Answers.

    Second, Cormac Russell’s TEDx Talk, Sustainable Community Development from What’s Wrong to What’s Strong.

    Here are some good snippets:

    Certain styles or forms of helping have a shadow side and are actually doing more harm than good … When we do change to people, they experience it as violence. But when people do change to themselves, they experience it as elevation.

    Despite the fact that 1,000s of pieces of evidence calls to the idea that we should start with the capacities and abilities of people in communities, we see this great preponderance of programs around the focus and obsession that is starting on what is wrong, what is broken, what is pathological within people. It takes people and defines them not by their gifts or their capacities, but by their deficiencies.

    Money, which is intended to go to those who need the help, doesn’t. It goes to those who are paid to provide a service. Entire communities who are defined as deficient start to internalize that and believe that the only way something will change for them is when some outside expert with the right program and the right money comes in to rescue them … Fortunately, we can instead focus on what’s strong instead of what’s wrong.

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