When you work in the social housing sector it’s often hard to keep up with all the latest terminology and initiatives. If you are as old as me you might have been there, done that and bought the ‘Best Value’ and ‘Tenant Compacts’ T-shirts. Most recently we’ve heard lots of talk about Asset Based Community Development and it being what some have called a ‘new’ approach to working with communities based on ‘Assets’. Yes you too might have heard of it, but what is it?. Well with my colleagues Helen and Phoenix we decided to find more about this ‘new’ approach and brush up on our ABCD.
We recently met with the super experienced Derith Powell from Community Development Cymru (CDC) who, by her own admission has worked in communities for many years, to find out what ABCD really is. I thought I knew some bits but Derith provided us with a real life understanding which then gave us an opportunity to think about ABCD in the social housing context.
Firstly for us in the social housing sector the word ‘assets’ can have a completely different meaning altogether as we now have things like Asset Management Strategies and Asset Management Teams looking after housing stock, even though we all know that in the real world they’re still known as repairs and maintenance.
In ABCD terms ‘assets’ can range from the personal gifts and skills of individuals to local community groups, networks and social enterprises as well as physical assets such as local facilities and environment. So ABCD is essentially an approach which is based on the principle of identifying and mobilising these individual and community ‘assets’, rather than focusing on pre-determined problems and needs (i.e. ‘deficits’).
We will all know communities where we live or work which are packed full of ‘assets’ yet which some professional and perhaps distant and more needs driven organisations may see as failing or socially deprived. ABCD is a distinct move away from this downbeat thinking approach where some public organisations identify problems and then ride in as experts hoping to solve them.
As I was getting to grips with the theory of ABCD I began thinking about how this approach could best work within the social housing sector. Two things stood out for me. Firstly ABCD can be a slow burner, asset approaches take time. It takes time to build relationships with communities, time to identify their strengths and assets and time to mobilise the assets. Organisations, especially their senior bosses, will need to accept that change won’t happen overnight but that it will happen gradually. Perhaps one way is for organisations to start with a small pilot project even at street level and accept that the approach requires time and some experimentation along the way.
Secondly in social housing adopting an ABCD approach might need a change in mindsets as an assets approach is unlikely to work with pre-determined agendas. It’s about letting communities set the agenda. Some culture change might well be needed, across organisations and top down. For some organisations it might be difficult to rethink their long established ‘deficit’ approach and even their use of language; in housing we do have a tendency at times to think ‘vulnerable’, ‘needs’ and ‘decline’. Time to think and speak “strengths” and “assets”.
It’s clear that ABCD is a distinct move away from a traditional deficit model and takes a change in approach and thinking. The upbeat thinking ‘asset’ approach, if given time, could provide a fantastic opportunity for the social housing sector to empower local communities to take a greater role in improving and shaping their own communities.