ABCD meets human-centred design – where’s the common ground?

ABCD meets human-centred design – where’s the common ground?


Asset based community development (ABCD) – a methodology for the sustainable development of communities based on their strengths and potentials. It involves assessing the resources, skills, and experience available in a community; organizing the community around issues that move its members into action; and then determining and taking appropriate action. This method uses the community’s own assets and resources as the basis for development; it empowers the people of the community by encouraging them to utilise what they already possess.


Human-centred design – an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge, and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance. ISO 9241-210:2010


The health and wellbeing theme of the 2018 Digital Festival was an opportunity to shine a light on the thriving digital health and care sector in Leeds. But whilst the digital sector is a key asset in our city, Leeds is also known for its thriving community sector and neighbourhood networks. The city’s Health and wellbeing strategy aims to build on both individual and community strengths in order to reduce health inequalities in Leeds. There is an opportunity (and a challenge) to align our digital ambitions with our asset based community aspirations to make Leeds a healthy and caring city for everyone.

However…. if we don’t consciously and intentionally take steps to locate digital as an enabler to enhance the assets of communities, then there is a risk that we inadvertently increase and compound inequality rather than alleviate it.

To illustrate this point, at most digital events I attend I hear lovely examples of 80 year old grandparents Skyping grandchildren with associated benefits for family cohesion; however, I rarely hear about the fact that the internet can be associated with fear and anxiety for an unemployed rough sleeper who is required to evidence they have spent up to 35 hours a week looking for jobs, most of which are advertised online – suddenly digital becomes a tool of stress and surveillance rather than one of self-actualisation and connection. The stories we tell matter. And if we only tell the lovely stories then we sideline the experiences of those who are more likely to experience the negative impacts of the web.

Our ABCD meets Digital festival event brought around 30 people together to consider this topic. We heard insights from Mick Ward from Leeds City Council, Roz Davies from the Good Things Foundation, Matt Edgar from NHS Digital and Howard Bradley from the community-led organisation LS14 Trust. Between them our speakers and event participants considered how ABCD can benefit from human-centred design methods and tools, and how human-centred design can be better informed by asset based approaches. We learnt about the limitations of human-centred design and the value of understanding context and working with communities so they can build on their assets with digital as an enabler (where it makes sense).

I’m not even going to attempt capture the richness of the conversation; however, a few key takeaways from our panel about how we blend ABCD with human-centred design were:

  • Intentionality – be aware of where power is located and actively seek to understand what matters to people, what their strengths are, and how to build on them
  • Mutual inquiry – buddy up decision makers and digital innovators with community activists so they can learn from each other
  • Reciprocity – share tools and techniques from both disciplines
  • Asset mapping – map assets within communities (nb. organisations should think about how they can be an asset to local communities)
  • Scout – find out what is happening elsewhere and learn.

So what next? I hope the event was just a starting point to get the conversation going. My vote is that we endeavour to learn through doing – a collaborative project between a local community and digital innovators. More than a hack day. More than generating user requirements. Spending time together to generate that spirit of shared inquiry and mutual reciprocity. It may generate something digital but then equally it may not. Asset based human-centred design – this is what I’d love my city to be known for.


  1. Electric woks or eating together? Time for human-centred designers to care about the community – Matt Edgar writes here | Public Sector Blogs - […] A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to be on a Leeds Digital Festival panel with Mick, Howard…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *