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.

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