Principles and Practice of Strengths-based and ABCD Approaches to CD

In 2019, The Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise (TAASE) worked with CCSA to look at the experience of community centre users. The TAASE borrow the Six Hallmarks of Strengths Based Practice from Rapp, Saleeby and Sullivan: 1 2

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TAASE identified that “place-based and strengths-based community development approaches are at the core of [community centres’] success in generating positive user outcomes.” If your community development practice includes the principles mentioned above, it could be considered strengths-based.

It is important to regularly assess whether your practice is strengths-based. Incorporating policies, procedures and skills that promote these principles will inspire success.

For example, if you are unsure if the relationship between your organisation and its community is hope-inducing your organisation might choose to utilise recovery oriented language in formal and informal communication. This is a person-centred communication strategy that  uses words that convey respect, dignity and hope for the future.

Extend Your Learning

Check out the Mental Health Coordinating Council’s Recovery Oriented Language Guide to ensure that your individual and your organisations’ language is empowering your clients.

Aaron's Story: A Strengths-based Approach in Community Centres

For 10 years, Aaron experienced social anxiety and rarely left the house. Aaron was referred to the Personal Support Program at Hackam West Community Centre and, in time, his life began to change.

Using a strength-based approach, Aaron and his supporters got him volunteering in the community garden, his Learner’s driving licence and a job interview! Watch the video below to hear from Aaron about how the program has impacted him.

Click on the arrow below to play video

A Moment of Reflection...

  • What individual strengths did you identify in Aaron as you listened to his story?
  • What could you suggest as a community development practitioner to further strengthen Aaron’s resilience and capacity?

Share your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of this page.

Every single person has capacities, abilities and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capacities can be used, abilities expressed and gifts given

– John McKnight

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Principles and Practice

ABCD principles are very similar to strengths-based principles. They are interested in the importance of relationships, a focus on strengths and meaningful choices. However, there is also prioritising of the following:

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In addition to upholding the above principles, Asset Mapping is a key component of the ABCD approach. This consists of recognising the skills, talents, assets and capabilities of the individuals and the whole community (or group).

There are a range of ways to assist your community to identify their strengths and assets. Organise a focus group, hand out forms at the reception desk, have informal discussions with individuals at a community event, or ask for feedback on social media – the options are endless! Just be sure to make an effort to reach out to under-represented people and those who wouldn’t usually engage with the centre.

A few ideas that can be used to identify assets or strengths include:

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Head Hands Heart Feet

Ask individuals to complete and return this worksheet, then make a collective list of all the skills and resources available to the community through these individuals.
Click to Download Worksheet

Make a "Best of" List

Ask the community to tell you their favourite things about where they live and use them to make a 'best of' list. e.g. the best places to eat, the best places to play, etc.

Play a Game

The ABCD Institute has instructions and resources for the "We Can" and "People Powered Change" games.
View ABCD Toolkit

Make sure you think of a creative and accessible way to present your findings back to the community! You could use an infographic, create a short video or poster. We recommend utilising Canva for any digital design – adjust one of their many pre-made templates. However, now you know the skills and assets of our community, you might find that there is someone in the community you could ask to assist you with this project!

Nurture Development is an organisation that is a major partner of the ABCD Institute. Watch the following video where Cormac Russell, the Founding Director of Nurture Development, describes the benefits of an ABCD approach.

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Utilising a strengths-based approach is beneficial across a range of sectors! It is essential to community development and upholds the values of empowerment, human rights, equity and fairness and respect for diversity.

The ABCD approach can benefit our practice though asset mapping of local resources. These resources can then be employed to solve local issues or built upon to develop community capacity.

Extend Your Learning

See the Bank of I.D.E.A.S.’s Guide to Asset Mapping for an in depth look at asset mapping for your community including activities and suggestions on how to present your findings.

Enjoying the course? Buy the course or the full Getting Started in Community Development package.

  1. Mackenzie, C., Louth, J. & Goodwin-Smith, I. (2019) “I feel a sense of belonging here”: An investigation into the experiences of Community Centre users in South Australia. (page 11 & 26) The Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise. University of South Australia. Adelaide

  2. Rapp, C. A., Saleebey, D. & Sullivan, W. P. (2005). “The Future of Strengths-Based Social Work.” Advances in Social Work 6(1): 79-90.

  3. Russel, C. (2017) Asset Based Community Development – 5 Core Principles. Nurture Development. Accessed on 02/02/23 at

See more from Cormac Russell at TEDx Exeter speaking about Sustainable Community Development: From What’s Wrong to What’s Strong.

Jim Dier from Neighbor Power presented Neighbourhood Power Building – at the Community Centres SA conference in 2017.

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