John Knight, the author, takes for the title of the article a reference to the Hippocratic Oath, which concludes with the primary mandate, "This above all, do no harm."
Medical research institutions and governmental bodies throughout the western world make major investments in personnel, research and regulation to determine which proposed or existing medical interventions will help more than hurt. This investment is based upon the assumption that almost every intrusive intervention will have some negative consequences regardless of its purported benefits.
His article is about how we haven't realised that so do non-medical interventions. He sets out to highlight what the risks are when human services based on paid experts and therapeutic models are introduced into communities without any consideration of the strengths that already exist there
He reminds us of the Mark Twain saying that "if your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails".
"All the problems of those who are vulnerable, exploited, excluded or labeled are not nails. They do not always "need" human services. More often, they may "need" justice, income, and community. Therefore, many people can be badly harmed by the use of the human service hammer."
He highlighted 4 risks:
· The labeling of the 'need' forces a focus on the what is missing rather than what is there on the basis of a glass half-empty as opposed to a glass half-full;
· The effect on public budgets – this is about funding service providers to meet needs rather than individuals and their communities to build on strengths;
· The impact on community and associational life – for example fundraising for rehabilitation providers to transport people out of their communities for daily activities rather than incorporating disabled people in local activities.
· Creating environments that contradict the potential positive effect of any one program. Essentially you aren't really a member of your community – you are a client of a range of services living in someone else's community.
This was hugely challenging for me to read, but started me thinking. The earthquakes had challenged me to think differently about resilience and I started to see a connection. So I looked up John Knight on the internet and found Asset Based Community Development.
I found a guy called Jim Diers on the same site and found myself invited to hear him speak here in Christchurch at the end of 2012.
He gave me a copy of his book Neighbour Power: Building Community the Seattle Way, which I read on the flight over to the States at the beginning of last year.
I called into Seattle on my way back and saw first-hand what community development based on empowered neighbourhoods looked like.
At that time I had no idea I would be Mayor of Christchurch, or that I would have the pleasure of introducing Jim Diers to you this morning.
We are very lucky to have him, because Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a news release earlier this year mourning his death.
"I'm very saddened by the death of Jim Diers," the Mayor said in the statement.
"He was an innovator in bringing communities together, and made a significant contribution to the foundation that makes Seattle special. His work with neighborhoods was passionate and progressive. His service to this city was unmeasurable."
Fortunately, news of his death was premature and he is with us today:
Jim has a passion for participatory democracy. He is a speaker, facilitator, author and activator assisting associations and agencies in support of caring, inclusive and powerful communities.
He was also the first director Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods serving from 1988 until 2002.
The message I have taken from his book is one that needs to be heard by both local and central government – don't do it for us; help us to do it for ourselves.