Relating for Gold (Part3)

Relating for Gold (Part 3)

 

Five Steps to Whole Community Mobilisation

Suddenly by employing AI and ABCD someone in Steve’s position has the potential to be caught up in a process that perhaps for the first time encourages them to see themselves as a valued and needed member of a local community. For those of us who are reasonably functional we can take that perspective for granted, but for someone on the margins such as Steve, that realisation is profound, potentially life changing.

Kretzman and McKnight outline a 5 step approach to classic ABCD. Many communities are picking up on the principle of working from a strengths approach but not necessarily employing all 5 steps. However for our purposes understanding the original methodology will help in its application.

Step 1 – Asset Mapping: As described above the process of creating a register of skills and perspectives is instrumental in helping each person feel that they have a worthwhile contribution to make. A church with a robust Kingdom theology and appropriate orientation towards the world would be in a good position to facilitate such a process, in fact to be key in all 5 steps. As completion of the register nears the community can then ask the question what resources do we have to tackle the concerns in front of us.[1]

Step 2 – Building Relationships: Healthy connections are key to the success of this process. Traditionally churches have done well at the fostering of internal relationships, this skill can now be turned outward to help the community construct meaningful connections. These networks could be between individuals, or between any of the 3 layers of the community. Meals and other informal gatherings allow the opportunity for trust to grow and people to find common ground. Celebration is also another key way to foster the building of relationships. Because of the centrality of relationships to the CD process this paper will dedicate a section to examining how to build what’s called ‘relational proximity.’

Step 3 – Economic Development and Information Sharing: Many parts of local communities are depressed economically, with people suffering from unemployment or under-employment. As people become aware of the skills they have, their ability to start micro enterprises increases, which in turn increases confidence and the negative cycle of poverty can begin to be turned around. Businesses, associations and institutions are also encouraged to as much as possible source what they need locally, helping to stimulate the local economy.[2] This has many positive effects, including reducing greenhouse gas emission as goods are not being transported large distances into the community.

Communication is also key to successful community building. When people lived in a village, the community hub was the well, everyday most people would need to go to the well, so it was not uncommon to see people sitting and talking discussing current issues. Today communication nodes are more complicated however the information flow needs to be tracked through local papers, community radio and the ‘grapevine.’ These are also avenues to actively promote new messages.

In Pakenham there were a couple of key communication nodes, the publican at the bottom pub and the barber. I found the barbershop a fascinating phenomenon, the barber was fourth generation and the old men of the town would gather at the shop, sure for haircuts but I suspect more to have a chat and a catch up on what was happening in the town. So if we wanted to promote a project, I would often talk with him and if he came on board you knew the informal chain of communication would get worked. We were also regularly in the local papers, with the journalists beginning to chase us for stories at certain times of the year.

 

 

Step 4 – Community Visioning: If we are working to see community regeneration, this step is vital. The community begins to come together around the creating of a shared identity, vision and values. Without this common thread the process of regeneration can stall and people can turn inwards and the possibility of a fuller community experience so necessary for human flourishing is diminished. It is important that everyone is invited to the planning table, especially the marginalised. These meetings are future focused and build on the foundation of AI allowing people to voice their aspirations. Typically in these sorts of meetings common themes are discovered which begin to set a course of action for the community. It is important to invite buy-in to this process and its outcomes so people are invested and willing to work together toward change. It is important that the change envisioned is grounded and not excessively future orientated[3] as this allows people to enjoy early success and provides motivation for future endeavours.

Step 5 – Leveraging Outside Resources: As a community develops there may be the need to enlist specialist services, which the community doesn’t have. It is essential that this is the last step in the process.[4] Many communities look at what they are lacking and lament that ‘they should fix it.’ This attitude locks these communities in poverty as they wait for a magic handout. The community working through the ABCD process has become an empowered community and instead of expecting a handout to fix the community’s issues, they look to partner with the provider of the services they need. The nature of relationship with outside help is vastly different to that of a needy community putting out their hand.[5]

Another way of expressing ABCD is Asset Based Community Driven, it is essential that the work of regeneration is done by the community, not for it. This approach challenges the welfare models predominant in the social services. Many of these models have a biblical root, where we are told to feed the hungry, look after the poor and so on. Purely handing out goods and services is a misunderstanding of this biblical mandate. For the most part when the Bible talks about the alleviation of poverty it is so individuals and the community can participate socially and economically in the broader society. A key to ABCD and preparing people for involvement in this kind of enterprise is relationships. In poorer communities hope has quite often gone missing. There is very little belief that things can ever be any different, personally or for the community. As relationships are developed and trust grows there is the opportunity to feed in an alternate message.

[1] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 346.

[2] Van Eymeren, “Building Communities of the Kingdom,” 68.

[3] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 352.

[4] Van Eymeren, “Building Communities of the Kingdom,” 69.

[5] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 354.

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Relating for Gold (Part 2)

The Rise of Localism

Whilst not subscribing to every aspect of ‘localism,’ as a political philosophy and economic strategy it has something of merit to offer. As its name suggests, Localism prioritises the local. It supports local production and consumption of goods, local control of Government, production of local history, culture and the forming of a local identity.[1]

Proponents of this thinking tend to favour the local over the regional, national or global interests, a better way maybe to follow the old adage of ‘think global and act local.’ Meaning in this instance we can promote the local with an eye to broader concerns. Local Government is beginning to pick up on these notions, not only looking to strengthen the identity and economy of a municipality but to foster a place based approach, which recognises smaller hubs of community and seeks to empower them.

Media expression is also picking up the concept of the local with the rise of what is know as hyper local journalism. Yarraranges,tv is a burgeoning website focused on the telling of local stories for the purpose of building familiarity and relationships between members of the community.[2] In and of itself the telling of story is important to cement identity and create commonality, however with the further aim of building local connections, storytelling takes on a deeper and increasingly significant role in the community.

Localism is one way to help us understand the importance and to motivate us to be part of the rebuilding of the relational fabric of our communities. I can’t help wondering how different life might have been for my mate Steve, if that fabric had been stronger.

Steve

I first met Steve at our Op Shop in Pakenham. Big House Communities the missional endeavour that Amy (my wife) and I were leading, after a few years of operating out of our house, with no public space, had finally managed to secure a double shop front. We used the space to sell clothes, furniture, books, bric-a-brac and a host of other items. Then in the spacious back room we were able to create a lounge area and a kitchen space. Each week day a small team of volunteers would make sandwiches or soup, sometimes a cake, which would all be available for those that needed a feed, or community or just a place to come and sit and be.

One day a particularly rough looking man came for a sandwich. His grey hair was dirty and messy, his skin was a funny yellow colour, with tattoos covering his arms. He arrived with his two best mates Collie and Taebo who waited patiently outside with a bowl of water. Steve had lived a tough life, I suspect someone who just couldn’t find their fit in the world. He had been in and out of prison for various robberies and assault and was currently living in the shed of a suspected paedophile.

Over time a relationship began to form between Steve and a few of us in Big House. He eventually accepted an offer to stay with one of our families. It wasn’t long till he had bonded with the kids and began to feel somewhat at home. The journey wasn’t always simple and there were a few hiccups along the way, however in all of this process a new Steve began to emerge. We saw a kind, articulate man who loved to help others. There were constant stories of him working in people’s gardens, building planter boxes and generally being around if people needed a helping hand. The first day he helped at the Op Shop saw him showered, hair tied back and a huge smile on his face as he set off to vacuum the whole shop.

Life was never simple for Steve, despite seeing the colour of his skin change and him coming to faith, he eventually died of alcohol related causes and experienced many ups and downs along the way.

For me, Steve’s story raises a few questions; What are the expectations that we have of a transformed life? As Bart Campolo (now a Humanist Chaplain) said a few years ago at a Surrender Conference, ‘his ticket has already been punched.’ Campolo was referring to people like Steve who have lived a very different life to most of us and are fairly entrenched in that life, to the point that they may not be able to make a complete break from it, or at the very least will continue to wear the physical and emotional consequences of chronic alcohol and drug abuse and criminal activity. Taking into account the complexities of working with people like Steve what are some guiding principles and methodology that will help us live and demonstrate the essence of the good news we are bearers of?

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)

For many, thinking about community development in a Western context is a bit of a conundrum. Traditionally CD is thought about in the third (or developing) world and has economic implications. This is also true of ABCD in a Western setting however the economic lift is a by product of developing the social capital within the community. Put simply ABCD is a process for the empowerment of whole communities through the utilising of strengths within that community.[3] Though not a response peculiar to Christian thinking in our language ABCD recognises the inherent worth and value present in individuals, each person being a loved creation. It also affirms that within each community there are Kingdom possibilities yet to be unearthed.

In this way ABCD is akin to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is a reconfiguration of action research. It focuses on a 4-D cycle; Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny / Delivery.[4] The research method is collaborative with participants and seeks to discover what is working well within the community, what people enjoy about where they live and what they would like to see happen over say the next 5 years. The underlying belief behind this approach is that organisations or in our case communities move toward what they study.[5] Related to this Whitney and Trosten-Bloom describe four beliefs about human nature and organising that form a basis for AI and highlight its roots in the research epistemology known as social constructivist theory.

  • People individual and collectively have unique gifts, skills and contributions to bring to life (this is also a core understanding for ABCD).
  • Organisations (and communities) are human and social systems, sources of unlimited relational capacity, created and lived in language.
  • The images we hold of the future are socially created and, once articulated, serve to guide individual and collective actions. (ABCD seeks to bring together these images or hopes for the future, encouraging active participation in their outworking)
  • Through human communication in the form of inquiry and dialogue, people can shift their attention and action away from problem analysis to lift up worthy ideals and productive possibilities for the future.[6]

ABCD builds on this and values the contribution of 3 levels within the community; individuals, organisations and institutions. Kretzman and McKnight emphasise that everyone within a community has something to offer to build it up. This could be in the form of a gift, skill, perspective or some other talent. They especially include the mentally and physically handicapped and those who sit on the margins within a community.[7] Kretzman and McKnight advocate for an intensive mapping of these assets alongside what organisations and institutions have to offer. In the pure form of this methodology individuals are interviewed to determine their skills, what they might be prepared to offer the community and even what they might be willing to teach others.[8]

The next level of contribution are organisations or what is called in the United States citizen associations. These include churches, sporting clubs, hobby groups, not for profits and so on.[9] Kretzman and McKnight believe that the possible contribution of these groups is greatly underestimated and that they can often be stretched passed their original purpose to become full contributors in the development process.[10]

This potential was demonstrated by recent work I was involved in with the City of Wyndham. They wanted to do a strength based community planning process and so we designed a set of questions that helped the community members identify the community groups around them, what they saw as their current strengths and how these strengths could be utilised to realise a vision for the community.

 

In this kind of mapping the third level in the community are formal institutions, including businesses, schools, libraries and hospitals. These are some of the most visible aspects in a community and it is relatively easy to list their contributions. It can be difficult to help them gain a holistic view of the community and so motivate them to be involved in the development of the whole community.[11] However in a local context I believe this conversation is becoming easier as placed based approaches to development are gaining momentum.

ABCD Principles

(Next week we’ll unpack the principles of ABCD and introduce the relational proximity framework)

[1] “Localism (Politics),” Wikipedia, last modified July 17, 2015, accessed August 4, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Localism_(politics).

[2] “About Us, ” Yarraranges.tv, last modified 2015, accessed 4 August 2015, http://yarraranges.tv/

[3] John Kretzman and John McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilising a Communitys Assets (Chicago, IL: ACTA, 1993), 1.

[4] Fiona Cram, “Appreciative Inquiry” MAI Review, 3 (2010): 1.

[5] Cooperrider, Whitney & Stavros (2003) cited in, Cram, “Appreciative Inquiry,” 1

[6] Whitney and Trsten-Bloom (2003) cited in Cram “Appreciative Inquiry,” 2.

[7] Andre M. Van Eymeren, “Building Communities of the Kingdom: An Argument for Asset Based Community Development in local communities as a practical expression of the Kingdom’s advance” (MA Minor Thesis, University of Divinity, 2012), 66.

[8] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 6-7.

[9] Van Eymeren, “Building Communities of the Kingdom,” 66.

[10] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 6.

[11] Kretzman and McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out, 8.

Relating for Gold (Part1)

Over the next few weeks I’d like to share with you an article I have written on the importance of Asset Based Community Development and Relational Thinking in relation to strengthening individuals in the context of working with marginalised communities.

 

Introduction

I wonder how do you see the people that you work with? What are the views you hold of the communities that you seek to change? As you reflect on your answers to these questions, a challenge for us in the thrust and parry of the everyday of caring community work, is to remember that each person we come across, whether an old friend, work colleague or a new connection from the street has inherent worth, because they are a loved creation of our creative God. Each one is made in His image and innately reflects something of the divine (Ps8:4-9). However for some, this spark of gold is hidden under layers of hurt, rejection, pain and heartbreak.

If we are to be true to the high value God bestows on humankind, we need a framework that will help us dig below the surface that elements such as emotional and existential pain present. Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)[1] together with Relational Thinking (RT)[2] establishes such a framework and provides for us a rationale and demonstrable methodology or set of principles for our community work.

Through the exploration of community I will unpack the importance of local connections and how they unearth hidden strengths, opening the door for personal and community empowerment. This process will help to shape a theology of engagement that recognises God’s Kingdom is in the world and that he invites each one to play a part in its advancement.

Local Communities

Think with me for a moment about your local community, either where you live or where your work is based. What are the elements that make up that community? Sometimes it’s hard to stop and analyse the waters that we swim in or the air we breathe. In each of our communities there will be elements that seek to meet the needs we have, whether they present as physical, emotional or spiritual. These include the business community, schools, medical care, friends and family, sporting clubs and other varieties, churches and the religious expressions of other faith communities, libraries, local government, social services, media outlets and so on.

If these elements of the community are working well and in harmony, they form an interconnected web of relationships, structures and institutions, where people can gain a sense of belonging and support to discover and live out their place and purpose as contributors in the world.[3] If you like, a safety net of relationships has been established which affords the individual the opportunity to explore more of their external and internal worlds. There may even be the opportunity to explore new abilities in this context.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 2.52.55 pm

Figure 1 Jane’s Community. The ideal community recognises the individual placing them in a relational web, which provides for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs and those of their family.

Unfortunately we know only too well that our communities aren’t like this and in fact the relational web that provides this safety is broken in so many places. The causes of this rupture are numerous including; individualism, consumerism, family breakdown, domestic violence, tall poppy syndrome, selfishness, addictions of various types and the list goes on. The results are equally as devastating both for individual psyches and communities more generally.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 2.53.55 pm

Figure 2 Effects of the Broken Web. These are just a few of the results of a broken relational web, as we look at our communities the story is way too familiar.

During the time I spent leading a missional community in Pakenham, on the South Eastern outskirts of Melbourne, I sat on the welfare committee of one of the local primary schools. Each Wednesday of the school term we gathered in the staffroom to work through solutions to some of the most concerning issues that the young students were facing. One morning we discussed the unfortunate divide present in many families and its effects on the children. Pakenham was a sleeper suburb with over 70% of the population leaving the community everyday to go to work. It was also one of the fastest growing suburbs in Australia. These two factors had a number of immediate implications. Firstly it meant that many parents spent long hours each week commuting up to 120km a day into the CBD. As well the time away from the community often led to the focus of the parent’s lives being elsewhere, even recreation could be removed from the place where there house was situated. On the other side of the equation the children were in the community. They lived their lives in the local community, were encouraged to become active in it, learnt about its history. In a sense made their ‘home’ in the community. We saw direct links between this disconnect and children ‘acting out.’ They couldn’t name it, yet the divided focus they were asked to live with and the confusion it caused was palpable.

Even within a household the relational web can be broken leaving the members floating and feeling disconnected from each other and broader society. Some would argue if the basic building block of a community is broken, ie the household, is there any point looking to a more utopian hope for our communities. Sociologist Jim Ife believes that we must start there, as it provides inspiration and a framework for development that moves us from reaction to a focus on medium to long-term goals.[4] From a Biblical perspective the prophet Isaiah outlines what a community could look like. He sees a place where; there is joy, the young and old are valued, each have what they need in terms of shelter and food, there is a strong connection between work and purpose, and the people recognise their dependence on God (Isaiah 65:17-25). The building block for this type of world is the local community.

(next week I’ll show the importance of the local community and introduce you to Steve)

[1] Asset Based Community Development is a methodology for community worked designed byJohn Kretzman and John McKnight. They have established the ABCD Institute that furthers this thinking around the world (http://www.abcdinstitute.org).

[2] Relational Thinking refers to the work of Michael Schluter, from a Kingdom of God viewpoint he has designed a framework of Relational Proximity which can be used as a guide to establishing life promoting relationships (http://www.jubilee-centre.org, http://relationalthinking.net).

[3] Working definition of a community, developed and taught by Andre Van Eymeren.

[4] Jim Ife, Community Development: Creating Community Alternatives – Vision, Analysis and Practice (Melbourne: Longman, 1995), 98.

Reflections on a Journey

View from Poatina lookout
View from Poatina lookout

The morning after the storm saw a clear, blue sky, radiant in its beauty, the air was crisp with just a hint of movement, providing an auspicious canopy for the mountains and fields. Another glorious winter’s day in the Midlands of Tasmania. There was no hint of the disruption of the night before, as pilots braced themselves for bumpy landings and drivers wandered between lanes unable to determine the road markings in the glow of the headlights and raindrops bouncing off the asphalt.

This sort of weather is not peculiar for an island state as the winds blow and the climate changes sometimes on an hourly basis. I have fond memories of mornings like these rising early to walk in the stillness of mist with blue above me. The valleys full of green rolling fields falling away from the side of the road, in front of me were the impressive Western Tiers and further up, their crowning jewel the Great Lakes. In winter I remember waking up some mornings, looking up to the mountains and seeing their tops shrouded in the most beautiful white powder. On those mornings despite the cold there was a quiet reverence about the village, a collective awe. Only to be broken by a ute full of young adventurers who would bring the snow down to us via the bonnet of their vehicle.

This weekend Amy and I have ventured back to Tasmania to catch up with old friends as well as explore places we missed during our three and half year stay in Poatina. As I write we are getting ready to drive up to the village. Such a beautiful place yet a place full of old emotions, hopes, ambitions, memories and pain.

For the uninitiated Poatina began life as a hydro town, housing workers that built the massive infrastructure to supply hydro electricity to parts of Tasmania. The giant pipeline which is a central feature of the work, now looks like a scar down the middle of the western tiers. As the infrastructure was finished, and the workers moved away the town became somewhat obsolete and so was put up for sale. There were a couple of other interested parties, but through a miraculous turn of events, Fusion Australia a Christian youth and community organisation was able to purchase the town. It’s purpose for purchasing was to create an intentional community to care for at risk young people. As well it was to be the national headquarters for the movement and a place of training for workers.

We moved into the village when much of this was already established. There was a youth program, which included giving young people the opportunity to begin study in various trades as well as being cared for by the loving embrace of a community concerned to see them succeed. We came to do Fusion’s training having already been working with the movement in South Australia.

As we arrived in the village it didn’t take us long to realise the hive of activity that would soon envelope us. There were rosters for the various businesses, people involved in maintaining and developing the infrastructure. Another circle connected to training. The national operations of Fusion had an office complex in the village, many of those guys looking serious and official, there was a communications hub and so on and so forth. Quite the thriving community yet with all the pretence of a quiet sleepy town.

Reflecting back on my experience in Poatina, despite our training that sort to push us in an alternate direction, the town consisted of a very driven community. As part of the youth program Amy, Josh and I were a first port of call for young people coming to the village, helping them transition to a more independent lifestyle. I filled rosters at the chalet, both in the kitchen and front of house, I worked the shop, sometimes the garage (just serving, I wouldn’t haven’t trusted me to even help with any of the mechanics), completed Fusion’s diploma, helped to establish the radio station and filled many on air shifts, helped establish and was the manager of an evening cafe on a Friday and Saturday night, was on the village management group, helped with an introductory training course in Launceston and ended up provisionally managing the work in Launceston for a short period. All this in three and a half years.

Looking back after the experience in Poatina I felt I got caught up in the machinery of the village, I suspect most of us did. Much to my growing chagrin I wanted a big role, a role I considered important, which pointed to leadership. I feel now I missed a lot of things because of that ambition and what I needed to do, to feed it. I think about the young people that came through our house, how present was I for them? Could I have done more with them? Played, just been available? I’m not going to beat myself up too hard about that, but as perspectives grow and change, I see what’s truly important a little differently.

We came to the village as students and as such it took time to build relationships with the permanent residents, who saw many such groups come and go. Even so whilst a common task of sorts bound us together due to busyness and a lack of emphasis from senior leadership there was surprisingly little deep connection between people, particularly between people in different circles. We have a number of great enduring relationships from that period, yet there could have been so much more. Don’t get me wrong there was fun and laughter along the way, but surprisingly little deep connection.

The training we received for the most part was excellent, some of the books we examined shaped my thinking considerably into the future. The lecturers knew their material and for the most part delivered it well. There was plenty of chance for interaction and questioning. The classes were made up of people exploring their hopes and dreams, longing essentially for a better world. On the whole Poatina provided a great community for people to explore a particular model of youth and community work.

Yet it was driven and looking back there was much done for the sake of doing it. As much as there was freedom to explore as I got more involved in the work, decisions tended to be unilateral and there was very little room to input new ideas, even those being looked at in the training.

I struggled to leave for 18 months, I struggled with frustration over not being seen and heard, I struggled with new ideas that found no expression, I struggled with Amy about what it meant to leave well and in God’s will… I struggled. And so 11 years on it was interesting to visit the community once again. I think we’ve been back once in that time but on this visit a very different Poatina presented itself to us.

The infrastructure was the same, the community hall, chalet, all the houses, the streets. The view was still spectacular, the mountains behind and valleys on the other three sides. Yet a great deal of the driveness was gone, it was quiet and to the outside observer almost peaceful. Again though if you dig deeper a different story emerges. Five years ago events took place that changed the shape of the community. The senior leader of Fusion was asked to leave due to inappropriate behaviour, this sent the movement generally and the village particularly into a tailspin. Many of the Fusion people finished up with the movement, hurt and disillusioned, others not of the Fusion ilk moved into the village to join the community and today there is somewhat of an ‘us and them feel.’ Those not connected to Fusion are reluctant to respond positively to most initiatives that feel top down and those who still work with the movement tend to be the ones holding all the infrastructure together.

I believe in the power of intentional community, when a group of people come together to live, and respond to some sense of common cause outside themselves that ultimately unites them. It seems to me to be a great reflection of what the Church could be. They are notoriously hard work, fraught with danger, yet there is something in their genesis which I believe is part of the restoration that the world needs. They require commitment, sacrifice and are counter cultural in the extreme.

Could Poatina once again take its place in this journey? There needs to be a lot of dialogue, a lot of forgiveness and the beginnings of a new dream shared by all in the community. However I need to believe it is possible, not just for Poatina but other intentional communities in the cities where we live… they just might be a core solution to so many of the issues we see around us everyday.