Empowering citizens: as easy as ‘ABCD’

  • Local government has a further £10bn of savings to achieve over the coming years
  • Many local authorities are ‘worlds apart’ in their approaches and success in transforming their organisations
  • An ‘Asset Based Community Development’ approach, can offer an innovative and agile alternative to traditional top-down governance

Local government is currently reimagining the way it operates. Central to many authorities’ ambitions is the need to take a more preventive approach by being innovative, agile and empowering residents to meet their own goals rather than access public services.

However, as our Risk Report reveals, while there is innovation, local authorities across the country are worlds apart in both their approach and success in achieving this. Some local council leaders are proving able to embrace the shift, driving forward local communities, but there are also many who are struggling with funding deficits and community sustainability.

Gloucester City Council ‘Community Builder’ John Gow is one example of how some local authorities are trying to empower local residents in the light of changing demands on local government.

The view is that effective citizen support has to be community-centred and targeted, providing different types of services to meet local needs. These needs can be very local, even potentially just one street.

Gloucester City Council’s, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach is transforming the way it serves local residents. Community builders like John are helping to balance the roles of the local authority, local residents and voluntary community groups.

What is ABCD?

Local government typically takes a largely top-down approach, using data and insight to identify problems in communities and deploy public assets to address them. Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), however, takes the opposite approach, shifting focus from what is lacking in a community to what is in abundance by way of its assets.

It identifies existing assets within communities and supports local people to use them collaboratively and create sustainable solutions to their unique needs.

Public funds are not used to deliver macro-level services that residents become reliant on. Instead, ABCD recognises that, with the right support and guidance, local people can create more effective and sustainable solutions to their own unique problems than any top-down programme.

Community building in Kingsway

Gloucester City Council appointed John Gow as the ‘Community Builder’ for the Kingsway Village district in 2014. Over two years, John’s task was to use the ABCD approach to draw on residents’ individual talents and resources, and get them working together to better meet their needs.

Through meetings and questionnaires, John asked residents what assets they could offer the community – which included anything from skills and time to property or funds – and the kinds of activities they would be interested in being involved with.

Using this information, John was able to connect those who can offer assets with those who wish to use them. For example, a large number of people were interested in joining a running club and others expressed an ability to organise such an activity. That running club is now almost 80 members strong, meets several times a week and even organises a sponsored park run each Saturday.

Delivering wide-ranging benefits

Kingsway Runners and several other groups created with John’s support now offer local residents many of the opportunities they felt they lacked, and may have expected local government to deliver.

Following a qualitative review into the impact of ABCD in Kingsway, in addition to greater levels of community interaction, those involved also reported significant improvements to both their physical and mental health and wellbeing, therefore supporting the council’s preventative ambitions in areas such as health and social care.

Jon McGinty, Managing Director of Gloucester City Council and Commissioning Director at Gloucestershire County Council, explains: “Districts are well placed to help their county councils meet demand management challenges. Whereas Counties have to plan and deliver at scale, districts can help them identify support services and networks from the bottom-up and which are based in the community.”