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Primary purpose
Potential benefits
Who can use the tool?
What resources are needed?
Development, ownership and support
Social enterprise examples

Achieving Better Community Development (ABCD)

Primary purpose

Achieving Better Community Development (ABCD) is a general framework for planning, evaluating and learning from community development interventions. It encourages those involved in community development – whether as funders, policymakers, managers, practitioners, volunteers or community members, to be clear about what they are trying to achieve and how they should go about it. It also helps them to develop a theory of how community development happens and how to measure the changes along the way. It does not provide prescriptive measures or processes for an organisation to use, but sets out a broad framework.

The main principles the framework espouses are:

All stakeholders should participate.
Evaluation criteria and methods should reflect the motivations and objectives of all the participants.
Evaluation should be an integral element of community development, which continuously informs planning and action.
Attention should be given to evaluating the empowerment of communities and the changes in the quality of community life that result.
Community life should become more satisfying, sustainable and equitable.



Figure 1: The ABCD Model

ABCD identifies community development as an activity that confronts disadvantage, poverty and exclusion, and promotes values of active citizenship, learning, and community participation. The ABCD approach argues that evaluation is central to effective performance, and in community development activities, it should be conducted with communities themselves. In this way, a shared view about what change needs to take place and how that will occur can be developed.

The ABCD approach has three key ideas:

1. The cycle of change.
2. The pyramid of outcomes.
3. The steps to implementation.

Figure 1 sets out the key relationships in the ABCD model. Along the bottom are the four dimensions of community empowerment that the model states should be built into any community development activity, whether with groups of interest and identity, or with communities of place:

Personal empowerment: individual learning, knowledge, confidence and skill.
Positive action: specific work to identify and involve groups excluded by poverty, health, race, gender or disability, and to challenge established power structures.
Community organisation: includes general activity in the community, the range, quality and effectiveness of community-based groups and organisations, and the nature and quality of their relationships with each other and the wider world.
Participation and influence: through which change in the circumstances of community life is achieved.

The centre of the diagram represents the context in which change takes place.

Government and local government agencies, as well as companies and parts of the voluntary sector are responsible for policy, management and service delivery in social, economic and environmental development. Community development asks them to engage with communities in accordance with the dimensions of community empowerment, in order to work collaboratively towards the outcomes of ‘sustainability’, or long-term viability of the community; ‘liveability’, or community satisfaction; and ‘equitability’, or community safety.

Figure 1 offers a framework within which all stakeholders in the community development process can locate themselves, and identify the relationships which should be built to achieve change. Each of the boxes in the diagram is explained in more detail in the ABCD handbook, to give the organisation using the model more detailed understanding of its contents.

The model can then be used to develop a planning and evaluation framework for any community development intervention. It focuses on providing a general framework through which organisations can think about what community development means to them. The practical measures for involving stakeholders are left to the discretion of the organisation itself.

The key stages in this are:

Identifying the stakeholders: Who is involved? What (inputs) do they have to contribute? What to they expect to get out of the process? Are they likely to be constructive or obstructive?
Involving stakeholders in setting the vision: What is this project trying to achieve? What do we want to see happen?
Translating the vision into outcomes: by locating the vision in the broad framework described above and then breaking this down into definable elements.
Identifying indicators: against which progress on the elements can be measured.
Deciding who is going to collect information and how: there may be opportunities to involve the community itself.
Setting the baseline: collecting information about where things stand on the significant elements and indicators.


Potential benefits

ABCD encourages community development projects to increase effectiveness through stakeholder engagement and a community’s sense that it is part of a community regeneration process rather than something imposed on them ‘from above’.
It provides a flexible method that can be adapted to different forms of community development with different geographical contexts.
It is a general non-prescriptive framework that can be used informally in a bitesized format.

Potential limitations

The framework doesn’t involve external evaluation, certification or a mark.
Although it has been used in a wide range of areas, it may be less suitable for social enterprises not working in community development and in particular does not incorporate internal financial and economic strategies.
As with all participative forms of evaluation, there is a need for caution in labelling certain people or groups of people as ‘local’ or representative of ‘the community’. There is potential for the exclusion of voices of groups or individuals in the local community as well as the potential for local pressure groups dominating the evaluation.
The general, non-prescriptive nature of the framework may be problematic for organisations wanting a quality standard or more structured measurement guidance.


Who can use ABCD?

ABCD’s focus is community development but can be used in other areas. Its primary application is for monitoring and evaluation but ABCD has also been used in planning, skill development, needs assessment, visioning and in staff supervision.


What resources are needed?


Any individual within an organisation can lead an ABCD, though management or senior-level guidance would be useful.

Proficiencies or skills

Previous formal or informal experience in the collection and presentation of data for monitoring and evaluation would be useful. Knowledge of or a background in involving people in participation processes would also be to the organisation’s advantage when deciding how to facilitate the participative elements of the tool.

Staff time

The tool is flexible and can be used during one day to focus upon one part of the framework, or over several months involving the whole organisation, its stakeholders and significant staff time.

Courses, support, and information

The Scottish Community Development Centre has free information and summaries of the tool. The ABCD Handbook is available from the The Community Development Foundation (CDF) website for around £10 as well as the ABCD Trainers Resource Pack costing around £30 along with other relevant publications. Details of publications and a two-day residential training course for around £300 run across the UK can be found at

Details on consultancy and trainers can also be found via Scottish Community

Development Centre through the ABCD website


Development, ownership and support

ABCD was developed in Scotland and funded from 1997–2000. Designed to enhance the practical skills of community development workers and agencies in planning and evaluating projects, programmes and policies, the Scottish Community Development Centre (a partnership of the Community Development Foundation and the University of Glasgow) is responsible for its dissemination.

Social enterprise examples

According to the developers of ABCD, organisations that have used ABCD include those working in the following areas:

Children and young people
People with disabilities
Older people
Ethnic minorities
Environment/Local Agenda 21
Arts and culture.