Contemporary Visionmakers-John McKnight

Last night I had the great pleasure of spending some time over dinner with John McKnight, Professor of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University. John has made a major contribution to neighborhood and community development by turning conventional thinking on it's head.


He explained that traditional thinking about communities is based on deficit identification. In other words, let's see what's wrong with the community and begin from there. What John and his colleagues concluded was not only was the approach wrong, it reinforced a condition of dysfunction and the psychology of scarcity in the communities it attempted to "fix."


Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) "considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future."


What a concept. As McKnight explained "we tend to see the glass as half empty. We decided to look at it as half-full."


Part of the work of capacity-building is to engage the disenfranchised and marginalized. McKnight informed me that when you approach someone as a potential contributor –despite their circumstances– with requisite gifts and talents, you open up an entirely different relationship.


Asset-Based Community Development has spread world-wide. Thanks to John McKnight and his colleagues, our vision of what is possible in community has grown exponentially.


For more information on this important work please



© Patrick O’Neill 2010. All rights reserved

Posted on July 13, 2010 and filed under Uncategorized.