A strengths-based approach (sometimes called an asset-based approach) is central to the work of community development. Whether you are working with individuals, small groups, large communities or sections of our society – an effective community development practitioner must look for and work with the strengths in the people they are working with and for. These strengths may be obvious or it may take some investigation and discussion for the practitioner and community to identify them.
Strengths-based practice is used across a range of sectors. You may have heard of strengths-based therapy, coaching or mentoring. If you search on the internet for ‘strengths-based approach’ you will find frameworks to apply to working with adults, children, in education, in social work, in health, and many more.
Watch the video below from former CEO of CCSA, Kylie Fergusen, as she provides a brief overview of strengths-based practice in community.
Click on the arrow below to play the video
Fundamentally, strengths-based practice focuses on interests, abilities and potential rather than on problems, deficits and pathologies. This means we start with the strengths of individuals, families and communities rather than the problems they face.
A deficit-based approach begins by asking ‘what is wrong? What is the problem?’ It is a sort of downward spiral that can cause people to reflect inwards and feel helpless about the outcomes. It can leave them feeling as if there really is something wrong and perhaps they aren’t strong or skilled enough to manage on their own. This is disempowering and makes people feel like they need rescuing. This can also lead to a ‘doing to’ or ‘doing for’ attitude from the practitioner or organisation implementing the practice.
A strengths-based approach begins with ‘what is going well? What do we already do well? How can we build on what we already have?’ This is an upward spiral! It encourages people to view the situation from a growth mindset and promotes resilience, self-determination and empowerment. It allows the individual or group to remain the expert of the situation, encouraging them to identify the way forward.
Look at the table below for a comparison of strengths-based versus deficit-based approaches.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a framework heavily based on strengths-based practice. It was developed in the 1990’s by John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann in the United States following the publishing of their book – Building Communities from the Inside Out. 2 The ABCD Institute continues their work today by providing education, resources and ongoing research to the sector.
Consider your own strengths by completing the Head, Hands, Heart, Feet worksheet.
According to the ABCD framework, community assets (or strengths) can include:
Click on or hover over the cards below for more information
The collection of information regarding a community’s strengths is called asset mapping. We will discuss this further in the following topic.
Click Principles and Practice of Strengths-based and ABCD Approaches to CD below to continue.
Read about the 12 principles of ABCD in this article by Mike Green.