ABCD: Discover unrealised value in your business


Whether you’re a manager, a marketer or any professional handed the classic ‘do more with less’ challenge, there are some lessons you may find useful in a process that isn’t born out of business strategy.

During my community development studies at Deakin University, I came across Asset-based Community Development (ABCD), and I think it offers valuable insights for businesses.

Founded in the mid 1980s, ABCD took the idea of community development – originally anchored in community economic development – and reversed the common approach. Rather than starting with needs, it started with assets. It looked at what a community had at its disposal (whether individually or collectively) rather than what it didn’t have. It linked assets and relationships to enable change.

ABCD is, above all things, a way of thinking. It’s highly flexible and can be adapted to suit the character of the community (or organisation) using it. The power of ABCD is grounded in the community’s ownership of, and participation in, the process and its findings. Simply put, what you discover is dependent on who is involved. ABCD recognises and harnesses the collective potential of a community. Here are three broad stages in applying the principles of ABCD asset mapping to an organisation.

One: Think about participation

You might decide to involve your whole organisation, through workshops and surveys, or create a working group based on people who show interest in the concept. A typical closed-door session with a business leadership team misses the point. It is impossible for them to have a deep picture of the assets in your community.

You also don’t want to swing to the other end of the pendulum and create an opened ended minefield of brainstorming that leads to no action. My suggestion…involve a range of people from the outset. They will likely have great ideas for how an ABCD process might play out in your organisation and it will give them greater ownership and accountability for what happens next.

ABCD is useful for entire geographic communities but it can also be used to tackle a problem or opportunity at a business unit or even project level.

Two: Identify and map assets

The most useful way to identify assets is to find a framework that not only identifies obvious assets, but also encourages people to think outside the square. Categories tend to help.

In the process, it’s important to consider both the assets you have a high degree of control over (eg team skills, IP, time, physical resources) as well as those that might be more dependent on relationship-building (customers and partners, research, industry associations).

‘Types’ of assets may include your team, customers and partners, space and facilities, expertise, networks, materials and equipment, and economic power (see ref 1).

You can list your assets, set them up as a mind-map, or turn your findings it into a diagram. The style of map is almost irrelevant. It comes down to an approach that helps people think widely and deeply and gives you visibility on what you discover.

What’s the value? It’s a great tool to remember relationships long forgotten or explore new connections and unrealised potential. Tackle it in the way that makes the most sense to your community.

Three: Enable action

The value of ABCD is not in developing impressive lists of assets that collect dust. It needs to be connected with action. Community development processes again offer a departure from typical business models. At this point, community development would look at connection and collaboration, rather than control and competition.

How you go about developing an action plan is completely up for grabs. It simply comes down to how you use what you’ve just discovered to:

  • Better deliver on your strategic plan

  • Identify new opportunities

  • Develop solutions to existing roadblocks

You will probably find that assets closer to your organisation and your people, may lend themselves to immediate activation, whereas assets further out of your influence might be part of longer-term plans.

The point is that, too often, we look at our organisations through a filter of need and ‘lack’ rather than assets. Change your perspective to an asset-based one and you’ll find a new way of solving problems, realising opportunities, and developing your community.

Learn more

1. Kretzmann, J, McKnight, J, Dobrowolski, S & Puntenney, D 2005, Discovering community power: A guide to mobilizing local assets and your organization’s capacity, Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

2. Mathie, A & Cunningham, G 2003a, ‘From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community-driven development’, Development in Practice, vol. 13, no. 5, pp.474-486.

3. McKnight, J & Kretzmann, J 2005, ‘Mapping community capacity’, in M Minkler (ed.), Community organizing and community building for health, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, pp.158-172.

4. Roehlkepartain, E 2001, An asset approach to positive community change, Search Institute.

5. Turner, N, McKnight, J & Kretzmann, J 1999, A guide to mapping and mobilizing the associations in local neighborhoods, Asset-Based Community Development Institute, Chicago.

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