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Rekindling Democracy

Finally, a book that offers a practical yet well researched guide for practitioners seeking to hone the way they show up in citizen space. Rekindling Democracy, A Professional’s Guide To Working In Citizen Space, convincingly argues that industrialized countries are suffering through a democratic inversion; where the doctor is assumed to be the primary producer of health; the teacher of education; the police officer of safety, and the politician of democracy.

Through just the right blend of storytelling, research and original ideas Russell asserts instead that in a functioning democracy, the role of the professionals ought to be defined as that which happens after the important work of citizens is done. The primary role of the 21st century practitioner therefore is not a deliverer of top-down services, but a precipitator of more active citizenship and community building. And then he goes about showing us how to do so effectively.

What people have said about the book

Cormac Russell nos ofrece un diario de a bordo reflexivo, partiendo de sus experiencias a lo largo de 25 años de trabajo en más de 35 países, y de las descripciones que ofrece el Desarrollo Comunitario Basado en Activos (ABCD, por sus siglas en inglés). El título del libro no engaña, es una verdadera Guía de Profesionales para Trabajar en Espacios Ciudadanos…En definitiva, este libro contiene información especialmente útil para profesionales interesados en ABCD y en la práctica participativa en general, dando pistas sobre cómo orientarnos y posicionarnos en este espacio ciudadano afectado por fuerzas profesionales e institucionales complejas.

Daniel Millor Vela en Gaceta Sanitaria.

Se puede leer más aquí.


The author focuses on rebuilding democracy from the asset-based community development (ABCD) perspective. ABCD builds on what is already present within a community; citizens are collectively being responsible for one another’s well-being. The five principles of the ABCD approach are that actions are citizen-led, relationship-oriented, asset-based, place-based, and inclusion-focused. By using their primary assets first, communities become confident that when an issue arises, they can look inward for the solution instead of being “supine, deficient, passive clients of institutional, top-down change” (23).

However, Russell posits that “power to the people” campaigns are “not always the best tool for a given job” (130). He believes that a better approach is “power from the people” (130), which reinforces ABCD practices. A community decides whether the assets they have can fix the issue, then go from there. Power comes from them instead of being given to them. Russell proposes that in order for citizen-centered democracy to prosper, a new approach must be implemented: “We must nurture a new space for bottom-up, citizen-led action for the things that are done collectively . . . BY citizens acting as co-creators, mutual makers, and coproducers with their neighbours” (155). In this BY space, ABCD practices are implemented and things are done by communities for communities in a bottom-up approach. Here, citizen-centered democracy grows.

With this approach in mind, the author provides seven community-building principles, which are meant to support citizen-led work in the BY space. The principles are: Find a Local Host; Start by Making the Invisible Visible; Don’t Be Helpful, Be Interested; Effective Community Building Goes at the Speed of Trust; Start With What’s Strong to Address What’s Wrong; The Vital Role of Connectors; The Optimum Population Size of a Neighbourhood Is 3000-5000
Residents; and The Focus Is on Growing a Culture of Community, Not Converting People to Asset-Based Community Development.

A citizen-centered democracy that works from the bottom-up with ABCD practices must be built upon the relationship between institutions and communities, where citizens decide what help they need in a participatory setting and there are proportional responses given to each particular situation instead of an all-or-nothing approach.


Abstracted by Camryn Wilson.

Shared with permission from Kettering Foundation. Appeared originally in Kettering Foundation, Dayton Days Research Memo, December 2020.

A challenging but rewarding read which will resonate with progressive thinkers in the Health & Safety community.

Click here for full review

Safeguard Magazine – New Zealand’s leading publication on workplace health and safety

There is growing recognition that Asset-Based Community Development offers a real alternative to the bankruptcy of top-down service provision. This timely and compelling exposition by one of its leading exponents shows exactly why.

David Brindle – The Guardian

An astonishing and ambitious book that delves deeply into questions of communities and the people who can bring them to life

David Best – Sheffield Hallam University

In this book, we have the privilege to walk alongside Cormac whose phenomenal experience leads us to a pathway where every neighbour can become a Fire Soul. What good fortune that you have found this book for it will light and lighten your life

John McKnight, co-founder Asset Based Community Development Institute

This book condenses worlds of wisdom on what really matters and outlines the kind of citizen revolution we need. It offers radical perspectives on democracy, economics, society and the value of human life. If citizenship is your goal then this book will provide encouragement, stories and ideas that you can take with you as we work together to restore community to the centre of our lives.

Simon Duffy – Centre for Welfare Reform

An easy-to-read manual for community builders, bursting with inspiration and exemplary stories. Describes attractive reasons for optimism. In addition to the many useful tools and tips, we especially need patience in strengthening our dynamic and multi-cultural society. A must-read for politicians and their advisers, who take modernization of democracy seriously.

Kees van Engelenhoven – Utrecht City Government

I read this book in one sitting and felt as inspired as I always am with what Cormac has to say.  This book will allow me to stay challenged, to reflect, to share and to reposition my thoughts and actions as I continue to strive to do the right thing in the right way.  The seven essential functions of a rekindled community, Cormac reminds us, cannot be found in the board room, but on our streets.

Emma Hodges – St Giles Hospice

As individuals trying to respond to the many challenges our communities face, we can often lose sight of how much greater our impact can be when we work together than when we dream alone. This book lights the blue touch-paper of possibility, giving you the firepower you need to reimagine and refashion the place you live, packed with inspiring yet deeply recognizable stories of people creating change.

Rob Hopkins – Transition Towns Network

Cormac Russell is a bright light in the field of community development. I consider him the global leader in applying the work of Asset Based Community Development to the real work of rebuilding communities. In his book “Rekindling Democracy” he provides many chapters of fresh thinking inspiring us to reconsider institutional approaches to caring for one another. His book is just the right balance between creative thinking, critique and useful constructs for actually doing the work of re-building community. This is a must-read for anyone interested in bettering their community and more importantly restoring the very essence of our democracy.

Paul Born – Tamarack Institute

Attending a Cormac Russell presentation always leaves me wanting more. More stories, more lessons and more revelations. Rekindling Democracy is that more. It’s the complete Cormac. A guide to rethinking, refreshing and reversing the current course of our democracies, in favour of nurturing the caring actions of so-called ordinary citizens.

Al Etmanski – author & social entrepreneur

About the Author

Cormac is Managing Director of Nurture Development and a faculty member of the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University, Chicago.

Over the last 20 years, Cormac has worked in over 30 countries around the world. He has trained communities, agencies, NGOs and governments in ABCD and other strengths-based approaches in Kenya, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

He is passionate about the proliferation of community-driven change and citizen-centred democracy and has supported hundreds of communities to make ABCD visible through what he calls ABCD Neighbourhood Learning Sites.

His motto, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, is: ‘When it comes to Community Building, well done is better than well said’.


By Julia Unwin, DBE, FAcSS
Former chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust Chair of Civil Society Futures

“Rekindling Democracy is a book that needed to be written. At a time when the words “community,” “neighborhood,” and increasingly “place” are thrown around with casual abandon, a book that brings focus and a rigorous conceptual framework to these words is hugely welcome. But this book is more than simply a necessary corrective to loose and careless thinking. It is a manifesto for a different sort of society and a more relational, more human way of doing business …”

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Become a Fire Soul

If you’ve read “Rekindling Democracy”, you might be thinking “what next?”

Our ambition is for every reader to go on to become a “Fire Soul” in their community too.

If you were inspired to action by this book, we’d love to connect, share your story. If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch and we can provide some further guidance!

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