Capacity Building Beyond Community Services
with John McKnight
Introduction by Ed Preneta, Retired Director, Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities
Anyone interested in successfully including people on the margins into neighborhood and community life needs to listen to John McKnight and study asset based community development. John is a community organizer, an academic and a brilliant story-teller. He is deeply committed to promoting the ability and capacity of people, their neighbors and their associations. He believes every community has welcoming places and people and that every person has a gift, ability or skill to share. It is a matter of finding these gift-focused people and connecting them with people on the margins. Gift-focused people can see the gifts and capacities in others and know where and how to connect them so that those gifts and capacities can be shared.
John and his colleagues provide the information, stories, tools and workbooks for learning about the process of welcoming and hospitality in the community through the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University and the AbundantCommunity.com blog.
A student of Saul Alinsky (Rules For Radicals), a friend of Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society, Tools For Conviviality, Medical Nemesis), experienced with civil rights, civil liberties and human rights, John and asset based community development can be a challenge for public and private professionals, provider agencies, funding sources and policymakers focused on providing services for labeled people. He is aware of the negative power associated with labeling and concerned with the counter-productivity of organized service providers that do needs assessments. John teaches that needs assessments are counter-productive in that they measure deficits, needs, neediness and problems. Asset based community development is about discovering and enhancing abilities, capacities, gifts and skills. He promotes doing capacity inventories, instead of needs assessments. For John, the glass is always half full not half empty.
John is wary about paid outsiders coming in to fix things without much regard for the capacity of people in their neighborhoods and neighborhood assets; providers who are not from the neighborhood, who focus on providing services instead of enhancing and supporting the abilities of individuals, and who take money out of the community instead of supporting the local economy. Instead of outsourcing, John is about insiders, that is, mobilizing local residents and their capacities; local people who sustain the local economy by constantly sharing, bartering, trading, exchanging, buying and selling.
While there may be a time and place for outside resources, it is the local groups, clubs and civic associations where gift-centered connections are made and caring happens. John argues that no system ever produced care, cannot manage care, and that organized services can corrupt the essence of community. In his book, The Careless Society, John challenges the fundamental understanding of community services. His book is a critique of professional social services and a celebration of the ability of communities to help themselves from within.
Lastly, instead of independence, John is about interdependence, that is, trusting and relying upon the motives of people who feel an identity with a place they, not city hall, call a neighborhood and who share a feeling of mutual responsibility. Resident-defined boundaries is the space in which the residents are motivated to care about each other, where people have relationships with each other, where people freely and voluntarily commit to each other, and that space tends to be small.
Read John's writings and books, explore the resources at the Asset-Based Community Development Institute (www.abcdinstitute.org), and visit and participate in his AbundantCommunity.com blog. Equally as important, go to a McKnight lecture. Listen to his marvelous stories. John will mesmerize, and teach, with a Sufi story, stories about people like his mom, John Deere, Alexis de Tocqueville, and places like Logan Square, Chicago, John's place in Wisconsin, and lots of other people and places that are full of gift-centered people incorporating people on the margins into community life.
Put aside what you thought you knew about community services and participate in learning about, and contributing to, the process of understanding asset based community development, hospitality and welcoming.