Applying ‘Advantaged Thinking’ to communities, by Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair

I recently had the pleasure of attending two of the recent Better Way Roundtables.   I found them both to be inspiring and useful opportunities to meet some very interesting people.

At the Tactics for Practitioners event, Colin Falconer spoke about Advantaged Thinking and the balance between meeting the needs of people and developing their strengths.  He drew reference to the emergence of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and other strengths-based approaches that have championed and driven similar thinking.

Colin described how he and his colleagues at the Foyer Federation had attempted to develop an alternative narrative about young people that would inspire rather that to focus on the negative.   To identify how well this was working in practice they developed some tests based around:

·       How we talk about people without stigmatising.

·       How we understand people and their potential, not just their problems.

·       How we work with people encouraging risk taking and building trust.

·       How we invest in people beyond just supporting them to survive and cope.

·       What we expect for people for them to thrive.

·       How we involve people as their own solutions so they are primary agents of change in their own lives.

·       How we act to find, develop, support and challenge thinking in others in order to make all of the above more widely possible.

 It struck me how much these questions are routinely considered within the work of Local Area Coordination and this got me thinking about the idea of doing something similar.

 By means of a quick overview; Local Area Coordination is an approach adopted by local authorities across England and Wales who are looking to shift the paradigm from one of public management and controlling resource towards one of co-production and community investment.  They achieve this in part by working with communities to appoint a Local Area Coordinator for each locality of 10,000 or so people.  The Coordinator then becomes a useful resource to that community working with individuals, families and groups to help them identify and achieve their vision of a good life.  The areas who’ve adopted Local Area Coordination are all members of the Local Area Coordination Network.  You can read more about our Network here

 Local Area Coordination is underpinned by 10 principles which form the drivers for its implementation and success.  Inspired by what I’d heard at the roundtable I took these ten principles and posed some questions associated with their application in practice.   In doing so I tried to outline two distinct approaches associated with each principle.  The first approach outlines something along the lines of the Local Area Coordination vision and the second is practice that seems to be a barrier to making this happen in my experience.  As so much of our work in the social sector is determined by our unconscious bias, values, previous experiences and perceptions, my hope is that these questions could form a useful reflective practice tool, encouraging helpful discussion and personal exploration.

1.     Citizenship –is our work creating a shift towards a society that recognises all people as having the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities to participate in and contribute to the life of their communities? Or, is it contributing to a system that excludes and marginalises people as a result of them being defined by their deficits?

2.     Relationships – do we build positive, balanced and natural feeling relationships with people and does our contribution encourage people to do the same?  Or, are we creating relationships of dependency based on a power imbalance in which we become understood as the only answer to someone’s problem?

3.     Natural authority – are we helping people to understand and position themselves as the no.1 expert in their own life? Or are we promoting a reliance upon external expertise to determine what are the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices for someone to make?

4.     Lifelong learning – are we encouraging people to explore opportunities for ongoing informal and formal learning regardless of perceived “capability”?  Or are we making assumptions about them that prevent us from having that conversation?

5.     Information – do we help people access accurate, timely and relevant information and is this supporting people to make informed decisions?  Or, are we limiting people’s access to information on the basis that we think we know what’s best for them?

6.     Choice and Control – are we helping people to take the lead in making their own decisions and plans in life where they can choose and control supports, services and resources? Or, do we attempt to limit this in the context of available resources and based on what we’ve seen from other people’s experiences?

7.     Community – is what we’re doing helping the natural bridge builders who exist in communities to maintain and sustain what they’re doing?  Or are we replicating, duplicating and disempowering the conditions that lead to this?

8.     Contribution – are we proactively valuing and encouraging the strengths, knowledge, skills and contribution that all individuals, families and communities can bring?  Or, are we working to a model of civic life that only understands certain groups as having the “capacity” to make a “useful” contribution?

9.     Working together – is our work intentionally collaborative and does it help generate effective partnerships at all levels where outcomes are shared?  Or, are we acting in a siloed manner, trying to attribute outcomes to our own approach in order to further a particular agenda?

10.  Complementary nature of services – are services complementary to the natural authority of individuals, families and communities and their vision of a good life?  Or, do they operate in a way that is somehow destabilising this?

Nick Sinclair is Director of the Local Area Coordination Network at Community Catalysts. Local Area Coordination is a place and assets-based approach that helps people achieve their vision of a good life, builds community capacity and drives systems change and reform.  It has 30 years of evidence behind it including 14 evaluations from England and Wales. Nick Sinclair supports local authorities and their partners to adopt, implement and sustain Local Area Coordination and to become Network members.  The Network is an exciting community of leaders and practitioners where people regularly connect, reflect, share and support each other in their development.