Shared Lives Plus CE0, Alex Fox describes ten features of an ‘asset-based area’ necessary for developing strong communities and sustainable public services. This will be of interest to council, clinical commissioning group commissioners and wider public professionals.
This new Think Local, Act Personal resource started as a blog post. Thanks to the TLAP team and its Building Community Capacity network, along with inspiration from local areas such as Wigan it has now become a how-to guide giving ten pointers towards becoming an Asset-Based Area.
In an age of austerity, increasing attention is paid to what councils and the NHS cannot do, making it vital to gain some clarity on what the organisations and people of each area can do. Every area and its citizens can achieve more when they combine their expertise, time, creativity and resources. Decades of practice and research shows that this happens when:
• Everyone shares an asset-based mindset: looking first for what individuals, families and communities can, or could do, with the right support, rather than focusing exclusively on needs and problems.
• Services and organisations are co-produced with the people whose lives they touch. This means that everyone involved identifies priorities, co-designs services and systems, and works together wherever possible to co-deliver the work that takes place.
Every area already has at least some organisations, professionals and local people who take those approaches, but for them to have a wider and deeper impact, whole systems and areas need to be aligned around an asset-based approach.
Many asset-based practitioners argue that people can lead that change only when acting as local citizens, not when acting in professional or service leadership roles. An asset-based public body does not have ‘customers’ (whose only responsibility is to pay taxes), rather it views everyone, including people with long term support needs, as citizens, with rights and responsibilities. Rather than ‘providers’, asset-based areas have partners, who share responsibility for system design and the best use of resources. An asset-based area is responsive to need, but always looks for capability and potential. It is confident in the things it can do, and the difference its people’s skills and expertise make, but it has the humility to recognise its limitations, namely to fix people or communities.
There are a wide range of asset-based models upon which to draw. Effective and sustainable models tend to:
• Draw on an evidence base and identified model that can be co-produced with local people, for example refer to NICE Guidance.9
• Build local capacity and expertise, rather than relying on outside support.
Most approaches start by mapping an area’s assets. Approaches to this include asset mapping and appreciative enquiry. The NHS Integrated Personalised Commissioning programme10 has published a relevant guide. Where possible, asset maps should be ‘open source’, with a wide range of local people able to update and use them. Co-production approaches include those outlined by Think Local Act Personal11 and Coalition for Collaborative Care.12 Support models which draw (to varying degrees) on asset-based thinking include:
• Asset-based approaches to community development e.g. ABCD; 13 Asset-based consulting.14
• Approaches that support people to become active contributing citizens, and to find non service solutions whatever their life experience or impairment e.g. Local Area Coordination.15
• Community enterprise development e.g. Community Catalysts.16
• Circles of support e.g. Community Circles;17 Circles Network.18
• Shared Lives: Local Shared Lives organisations. 19
• Homeshare: Local Homeshare organisations can be found here.20
• Time-banking: Time Banks.21
• Time credits e.g. Spice.22
• Dementia-friendly communities.23
• Co-produced social prescribing approaches.
• Wellbeing teams24
• Leadership for Empowered and Healthy Communities programme25 which supports leaders to grow and nurture capacity in communities to improve health and wellbeing
This is not an exhaustive list. Ultimately, all services can be offered in ways which aim to help people:
• To build and maintain family and social connections and relationships.
• To build their confidence, knowledge and resilience.
There are a number of ongoing debates around asset-based approaches. Definitions of ‘community’ range from being place-based to seeing communities of interest as more important. Communities and community development work can struggle to be inclusive of all groups, particularly minority groups and communities, and people with stigmatised health conditions.
Some asset-based thinking is very sceptical of the ability of organisations, particularly large organisations, to behave in a genuinely assetbased way and there are concerns that the language could be selectively appropriated to justify funding reductions for traditional services. Asset-based approaches require a significant investment of time and resources and whilst they may result in reduced demand for state services, they cannot be introduced successfully with that aim. Whilst it is vital that decision makers buy-in to asset-based thinking, ultimately it will be the buy-in and leadership of local people upon which success depends.