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By: Jessica Beckendorf

“We have all the capacity, expertise, and resources that an alternative future requires.” ~ Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2009

This powerful phrase is one that has given me the most hope in my work, and has buoyed my spirits when change seems impossible. When I take a moment to reflect on this truth, a world of possibilities opens up in my mind. Suddenly, I’m not trying to solve a problem anymore, I am working with others to re-imagine, iterate, ask “what if…?” What a gift it is to know that each group, each community of practice or geography, has everything they need to create change and to thrive.

Where do the capacity, expertise, and resources come from? In The Four-Legged Stool, co-founder of the Asset Based Community Development Institute John McKnight suggests that the real power resides in associations. Groups of citizens coming together to “make power,” as opposed to “delegating power” to elected officials. (McKnight, 2013; Block, 2009)

symbol depicting the interconnectedness of people and community

A few ways associations come together to “make” power.

The Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) movement is rooted in identifying the assets of individuals, associations, and institutions, and matching individuals with people or associations that have an interest or need in that asset. ABCD pays particular attention to the importance of assets in social relationships within formal and informal associations (networks) (What is Asset Based Community Development, Collaborative for Neighborhood Transformation).

Why focus on social relationships when trying to re-imagine an alternate future? Don’t we just need to identify needs, brainstorm ideas, agree on a course of action, and create a plan? Linear problem solving approaches (like logic models) works well for some issues, but they do not work as well for complex issues. In fact, it is linear approaches that prevent anything from truly changing (Block, 2009). Block posits that community is a conversation. And conversation “is the action step that makes creating an alternative future possible.” The power of this action step is in the shift that occurs when people come together in a pluralistic and interdependent way, as Block describes:

“It moves us from having faith in professionals and those in positions of authority to having faith in our neighbors. It takes us into a context of hospitality, wherein we welcome strangers rather than believing we need to protect ourselves from them. It changes our mindset from valuing what is efficient to valuing the importance of belonging. It helps us to leave behind our penchant for seeing our disconnectedness as an inevitable consequence of modern life and moves us toward accountability and citizenship.”

Associational connections provide space for the making of meaning and expression of values. The conversation that is created by the association members both strengthens social capital and is created by the continued building of social capital .

What have you done or could you do to “make power” by connecting people with each other? Please share your thoughts in the comments.