Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Paradigm Shift

Sometimes the way we look at the situation defines our framing of questions and answers we expect to hear. In my previous articles in AL Iqra, I discussed the “moro problem”. In that article I mentioned that as early as 1900s, attempts of addressing this problem have always been there. Then, the Philippine government in the year 1965 also attempted in addressing the so called “moro problem”, so on and so forth. It is 2013 already, and now we still have the same idea of addressing the problem.

Albert Einstein once said that, ” Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. We have so many lessons but it seems we never learned anything at all.

Last November 2 – 4, 2013, I attended an activity entitled Asset Based and Community Development (ABCD) Facilitators Training. This activity was organized by iEmergence and North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). The ABCD approach to community development was developed by John McNight, Jody Kretzmann and colleagues at Northwestern University. It begins with a critique of the standard, more social service agency orientation to community development.

The way we see things before are usually through problem based approach. We try to identify the problems and the needs of the communities. This standard approach begins with the fundamental belief that the community is broken. It creates problem lists, needs assessments, identifies inadequacies. This has been going on for several decades.

In contrast, the Asset Based approach demands a major paradigm shift.  “This approach begins with what the community has. Its fundamental premise is that all communities have capacities, gifts, skills which, if identified, mobilized and applied can bring about significant economic and social change. Focusing on needs fails to harness the wisdom and strengths of community members – boxes them in and reinforces a client – fix me – mentality. Focusing on assets empowers individuals and communities”. (CCPH Summer Service-Learning Institute ~ June 2005)

Furthermore, Kretzmann and McKnight (1993) defined assets as the “gifts, skills and capacities” of “individuals, associations and institutions” within a community (p. 25). Melvin Oliver (2001), the former vice president of the Ford Foundation, further elaborated on the importance of asset building:

An “asset” in this paradigm is a special kind of resource that an individual, organization, or entire community can use to reduce or prevent poverty and injustice. An asset is usually a “stock” that can be drawn upon, built upon, or developed, as well as a resource that can be shared or transferred across generations. . . . As the poor gain access to assets, they are more likely to take control of important aspects of their lives, to plan for their future and deal with economic uncertainty, to support their children’s educational achievements, and to work to ensure that the lives of the next generations are better than their own. (p. xii)

What is good in this approach is that it looks into the community assets, rather than the needs, represents a significant shift in how community development practitioners have approached their work in recent years. In the past, most NGOs and donor agencies began their efforts by conducting a needs assessment that examined the problems and weaknesses of the community (Johnson, Meiller, Miller, & Summers, 1987). Then, the community feels bad about the whole situation, then the system of dependency begins.

How many community projects are project-based? After the donor agency spent millions of dollars, mostly in their admin cost, the project dies when the intervention ends. Thus, the community is not really empowered but left dependent.

If we try to have a paradigm shift, we can see that needs assessment and problem identification can help mobilize communities to address local issues. The tendency, however, is for the people in the community to look to others for help, especially to professionals and so called experts. By relying on professionals and others, communities become more dependent on outside resources and often lose control over the development process. In response to these tendencies, Kretzmann and McKnight (1993) emphasized the importance of looking to community assets as a way to identify strengths and resources that can contribute to a strategic planning process.

I remember one time, when I worked in a United Nations agency to build MNLF conflict affected areas. When we went in the communities, we conducted needs assessment, rapid rural appraisal and other profiling methods. Then we do a SWOT analysis with the community. We prepared a strategic plan and log frame, only to realize the MNLF community is more equip in planning and addressing their own needs. We also realized that the log frame and all reports are not helpful for the communities but it was there to satisfy the requirement of the donor agency.

A friend of mine who has intensive experience in community development said that, “I remember when I was doing the farming system development plan in Sitangkay in 2001, as usual asking about their problems. One Sama (Muslim ethno-linguistic group) asked me, why was I creating problems for them when they do not see any problem?

Most of us think that we are actually facilitating community development. But in reality, we think too much and we tend to prescribe what is good in the community. Thus, instead of working as facilitator, we become “facipulator”?

Maybe the problem starts with our educational system. Take for example in conducting a research. We usually do this by identifying the problem. Then we work on that.

In the field of medicine, it is the same thing. Western paradigm before are based in combating the diseases, thus we have so many antibiotics. But Asian way of medicine is more advance. It looks into the whole system of our health.

How many NGOs, CSOs, and so called peace advocates claiming to be the representative of the people, the poor, the marginalized? But in reality, they are actually part and parcel of the problem with this kind of problem based approach.