The Asset-Based Area

In an age of austerity, a great deal of time is necessarily spent on identifying what councils and the NHS can no longer do. But that makes it vital that we are also clear on what they can do. An asset-based[1] public body has no customers, only citizens. It has no providers, only partners. It is responsive to need, but looks always for capability and potential. It is confident in the things it can do and the difference its people’s skills and expertise can make, but it has the humility to recognise what it cannot do: fix people or communities.

Despite cuts, we can and must create asset-based areas. The asset-based area:

  1. Has a living map of the area’s resources and works with the whole range of assets: state and private money, social action, community groups and charities, services, private sector and enterprise, buildings and land.
  2. Actively relocates authority to its citizens, seeing its role as enabler and facilitator: equal partnership is the default working mode and all of its staff and those of its partners are trained in asset-based thinking.
  3. Passes ‘the connection test’: challenging all service interventions to build people’s resilience and social connections and investing in models which can demonstrate this added value.
  4. Uses the Social Value Act principles by default in all contracting and grant making.
  5. Builds and sustains social and community enterprise as part of ensuring that it has a wide range of asset-based support models, also building partnerships with local business.
  6. Builds mutualism and shared ownership, including through use of the Localism Act, and increases year on year the proportion of the public service workforce who have current and recent lived experience of using those services.
  7. Thinks in terms of neighbourhoods (not statutory boundaries) and invests in connecting people within an between those neighbourhoods, through models such as Asset-Based Community Development, Local Area Coordination, Circles of Support, Shared Lives, Homeshare and time-banking.
  8. Aims to increase the proportion of its resources invested in prevention and early intervention year on year, whilst insisting that every service intervention is ‘future focused’.
  9. Measures all forms of social action including volunteering and seeks an increase year on year, investing adequately in this rather than seeing volunteering as ‘free’.
  10. Has a unified set of outcomes measures for all services, which measure wellbeing, resilience, independence, peer support and self-care for people using services and their families and carers.

To discuss how to put these ideas into practice, please contact us: We offer advice, seminars and service development support.

[1] This draws on the learning of asset based community development (ABCD) and the work of John MacKnight who wrote The Careless Society and other texts. This version of these ideas has benefited from suggestions for further points from ABCD expert Cormac Russell:

  • The council willing to relocate authority to citizens.
  • Make neighbourhoods the primary unit of social change.

Donna Hall, CEO at Wigan Council, also kindly highlighted that The Wigan Deal includes all of the suggested points except Time Banking and says, “It really works! 83 percent of citizens agree with The Deal, we have saved over 100 million and we have the happiest Council staff in the UK.” The Deal was flagged for me after we published the Joint VCSE Review, as a strong example of implementing a number of the recommendations.

Angela Catley of Community Catalysts flagged the link to: the Enabling State published by the Carnegie Trust



2 thoughts on “The Asset-Based Area

  1. Does your carer take sugar? June 30, 2016 / 7:57 am

    You mention savings to the Local authority but no mention of the outlay of public funds to Cormac or Nurture Development ? Have the risks to vulnerable people in particular people with intellectual disability been properly assessed? If so where? Finally who has accountability when things go wrong?
    Thank you

    • Alex Fox June 30, 2016 / 9:07 am

      Thanks for commenting. Most areas will need some support to make a real transition to a new system. Some of that support could come from an outside agency, but the real test will be the area’s ability to internalise the change, otherwise it will last only as long as the consultants are working with them. I am a big fan of agencies which train local people to y paid roles in creating change.
      There is a danger that changes of this kind are done half heartedly, or the language of asset-based community development and personalisation used to disguise other agendas. We do all need to share more responsibility for our own health and care but this should not be about dumping risk and responsibility upon disabled people or their carers, but informing them, supporting them and backing them up. Statutory agencies will retain their current statutory obligations, but in reality those duties form a fairly fragile safety-net.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.