In April of 2012 I became president of our condo board, where I had served as a director for about 5 years. We had some returning board members, some new members and we had also recent changed to a new management company.
One of the issues we had with the previous condominium management company was that projects were either not completed or they took a very long time to get done. This new company seems to get tasks completed more quickly, but nevertheless, there was growing discontent that “nothing is happening” or “things are not moving fast enough”.
Using an asset-based approach to community development (ABCD), I conducted a brief appreciative assessment and presented it to the board as a report at our last meeting. They were able to see how far we had come in a few short months. One board member said that it should be sent out to all the residents as a newsletter. I am in the process of preparing that now. The technique was so simple and successful, I wanted to share it with you.
If you work with a volunteer group who is feeling, here are the steps to prepare your own ABCD evaluation of your work:
Step 1: Take an inventory of what your group has achieved
Review old meeting agendas and minutes. Review your e-mail history. Think of yourself panning for gold. Let’s face it, community work is muddy at best. Finding the little nuggets tucked into all the mud takes a bit of time and patience, but it is worth it.
As you find a significant task that has been completed add it to your list. I didn’t minor items such as light bulbs being replaced. Instead, I focused on more significant projects or tasks that we would be proud to tell our owners that we had achieved.
Step 2: Categorize your group’s achievements
For our condo board, I used these categories:
- Policy and governance achievements
- Major projects completed
- Major projects initiated
- Repairs completed
- Additional achievements
Step 3: Organize your achievements under each category heading
I used numbered lists. The minimum I had in any category was four. The most I had was nine.
In total, we had 23 noteworthy achievements in a six-month period. Pretty impressive for a group of six volunteers, don’t you think?
When we work with condo boards, volunteer or community groups the feeling that goals are not being accomplished fast enough is more common than many of us would like to admit.
Taking an inventory of recent achievements helps you to stay accountable to those you serve. It also helps volunteers see how their contributions make a difference. Even when progress is slow, it still counts. Sometimes, it is not as slow as our perceptions might have us believe.
This type of strength-based evaluation works well with a disgruntled group who fails to recognize how far they have come in a short period of time. It is easy to focus on needs, gaps and challenges. An asset-based approaches seeks first to identify what is working well and use that as as starting point to build on. Don’t get me wrong. We still have a very long “to do” list and we have some problems that we need to solve. Sometimes, when you stop focusing obsessively on the problems and take an inventory of what is going right (as opposed to everything that is wrong), motivation levels increase, focus is renewed and people begin to enjoy their volunteer service again. That is all the more reason to take a step back and assess what we have actually done to meet the goals we set and make our community better.
This technique would work well for a team of staff, volunteers or any group who comes together to work towards a common goal.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.