ABCD logo jpegNotes from a presentation by Jim Diers (Seattle) at the Beehive, Grays, on Friday 5 November 2013

A gathering of Thurrock citizens known as the local Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Community of Practice

Introduction by Cormac Murphy from the ABCD Insitute (

The Five Principles of ABCD are…

  • It is place-based
  • There is a focus on relationship building
  • It’s starting with what assets and strengths a community has that leads to action
  • Citizens are in the driving seat – citizen-led not institution-led (ask: Who leads the party?)
  • It is about social justice – challenging exclusion and the existence of in-groups and the out-groups, asking who is and isn’t in the room

Jim Diers

Government and Non-Profiits work in similar ways, and there are two paths to addressing community needs:

  • Service delivery and advocacy, and/or
  • Community building

This creates tensions between…

  • Agencies and associations
  • Professionals, volunteers etc. and citizens
  • Top-down and democracy
  • Needs and gifts
  • One-way and reciprocal approaches

Jim Diers 5 jpegThe world in crisis
In Chinese, crisis = danger and opportunity (see pictogram, right)

  • Democracy is in crisis
  • The economy is in crisis
  • There is environmental crisis
  • There is a rediscovery of unity and up-tapped resources
  • The real value of community is emerging as being a lot different to paid government
  • Community is the key to resilience
  • Every major social change is bottom up – it’s not only about advocacy, but people discovering their own voice
  • Society is geared up to break down
  • Some agencies that exist to help community actually do more damage (by making them dependent)
  • “Silos” – who’s serving who?

Steps towards partnerships
1. Move beyond “siloed” thinking to focusing on whole places e.g., City of Seattle Department of Neighbourhoods

  • Organised itself the way society is organises itself (everything under one umbrella; umbrellas for each area)
  • Little City Halls with coordinators were established in each area
  • Connect to create one community (as opposed to divisions within a community)
  • “Overt double agencies”

2. Move beyond starting with needs to starting with strengths

  • Neighbourhood matching fund – money with hours, e.g.
  • Build social capacity
  • In Seattle, there’s been 5000 projects over 25 years e.g., playgrounds, new parks, environmental projects, food security (urban gardens), renovation, youth development, library, social housing, public art etc.

Jim Diers 4 jpeg3. Move from top-down to community-driven

  • Neighbourhood planning – give the people the power to plan
  • Encourgae the community to take responsibility to implement plans, because the plans are theirs – they own the plans!
  • Take responsibility to regenerate the high street (get business back from the shopping mall) e.g., bicycle non-profit business run by volunteers, leading to cycle education, fitness, youth programmes etc. (see picture on right)

4. Five steps towards getting agencies to support community building – motto: “do no harm”

  • Stop distracting the community from its own priorities
  • Don’t force the community into bureaucratic silos (departmentalisation)
  • Don’t take people’s time without showing any results
  • Never do for people what they can do for themselves (creating dependants)
  • Non-profits are NOT surrogates for community (ask: where are their priorities?)

Jim Diers 2 jpeg5. Remove the barriers of…

  • Centralised decision making
  • Programmes & regulations
  • Inaccessibility (of any kind)
  • Bureaucratic red tape
  • A know-it-all attitude

6. Build community capacity through…

  • Training
  • Outreach tools e.g., translation
  • Work with associations of all types
  • Develop network forums
  • Non-meetings for engagement – build relationships through fun!
  • Share stories – not data, but stories
  • Highlight community strengths
  • Move beyond customer service to community empowerment

Ask yourself and/or your group…

  • What do you want to keep doing?
  • What do you want to stop doing?
  • What do you want to start doing?

After thoughts

  • “Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything can be counted counts.” Albert Einstein
  • “You don’t fatten the hog by weighing it.” US Farmers’ Adage
  • It’s all about happiness…
  • Send out “Smile Spies” into the community – people who intentionally smile at people
  • “Don’t measure oursleves by what Seattle has done. Measure ourselves with ourselves – how can we be part of a global movement?” Cormac Murphy



Jim Diers 3 jpegJim Diers is…

  • Lecturer, School of Social Work & Affiliate Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture at University of Washington
  • Consultant, Speaker and Facilitator at Neighbour Power, ABCD Institute, Nurture Development, and Inspiring Communities

Jim Diers has a passion for getting people engaged with their communities and in the decisions that affect their lives. Since moving to Seattle in 1976, he put that passion to work for a direct-action community organisation, a community development corporation, a community foundation, and the nation’s largest health care cooperative. He was appointed the first director of Seattle’s Department of Neighbourhoods in 1988 where he served under three mayors over the next 14 years.

Currently, Jim teaches courses in community organising and development at the University of Washington and serves on the faculty of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. He travels internationally to deliver speeches, present workshops, and provide technical assistance to community associations, non-profit organisations, and government.

Jim received a BA and an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College. His work in the Department of Neighbourhoods was recognised with an Innovations Award from the Kennedy School of Government, a Full Inclusion Award from the American Association on Developmental Disabilities, and the Public Employee of the Year Award from the Municipal League of King County. Jim’s book, “Neighbour Power: Building Community the Seattle Way” is available in both English and Chinese editions.


See Jim on YouTube (parts 1 & 2):

Neighbour Power: Building Community the Seattle Way by Jim Diers

Jim Diers 1 jpegBuilding on the lessons of early labor leaders, civil rights volunteers, and political activists, Jim Diers has developed his own models and successful strategies for community development. “Neighbour Power” chronicles his involvement with Seattle’s communities. This book not only gives hope that participatory democracy is possible, but it offers practical applications and invaluable lessons for ordinary, caring citizens who want to make a difference. It also provides government officials with inspiring stories and proven programs to help them embrace citizen activists as true partners. Diers’s experience is extensive.

He began as a community organiser in 1976, then moved on to help establish and staff a system of consumer-elected medical centre councils. This led him to Seattle city government, where he served under three mayors as the first director of the Department of Neighbourhoods, recognized as the national leader in such efforts. In the 1990s, Jim Diers helped Seattle neighbourhoods face challenges ranging from gang violence to urban growth. The Neighbourhood Matching Fund grew to support over 400 community self-help projects each year while a community-driven planning process involved 30,000 people. Diers provides evidence that productive community life is thriving, not just in Seattle, Washington, but in towns and cities across the globe.

Both practical and inspiring, “Neighbour Power” offers real-life examples of how to build active, creative neighbourhoods and enjoy the rich results of community empowerment.

“Jim Diers was the Pied Piper for the Seattle neighbourhood movement which built a national and international reputation for its new approach to planning, giving real meaning to the slogan, ‘Power to the People.’ In describing the potential for this approach to revitalise our cities, his writing is a must-read for citizen activists, urban planners, and elected officials.” – Paul Schell, former Mayor of Seattle

“A very readable account which touches on many of the major challenges facing every city in the country.” – John P. Kretzmann, co-author of Building Communities from Inside Out

To buy, go to

* It has been pointed out that actually this frequently used motivaitional illustration translates roughly as “crucial/critical point” not “opportunity”. See

Questions arising

Questions for change agencies and community projects…

  • How can Asset-Based Community Development assist with changing entrenched mindsets and negative paradigms across Thurrock?
  • How does your agency or project apply ABCD principles to its activities and desired outcomes?
  • What assets or strengths does your agency or project bring to the table?
  • Is it the role of your agency or project to create dependents or a culture of interdependancy?

Questions for the church…

  • How can ABCD assist with the continued transformation of Thurrock?
  • How can the church apply ABCD principles to its activities and desired outcomes?
  • What assets or strengths does Thurrock’s church bring to the table?
  • Is the church’s role to create dependents or make disciples?

Questions for everyone…

  • What do you want to keep doing?
  • What do you want to stop doing?
  • What do you want to start doing?

The above notes are Tim Harrold’s interpretation of what was said and any inaccuracies of reportage are down to him.