ABCD Institute > Institute Faculty > John L. McKnight

John McKnight

John McKnight is Co-Director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and Professor Emeritus of Communications Studies and Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. For more than four decades at the University his research focused on social service delivery systems, health policy, community organization, neighborhood policy and the incorporation of labeled people into community life.

McKnight’s current research focuses on developing new tools to enhance the productive powers of families, neighbors and neighborhoods. This includes:

  • Developing a method for identifying the voluntary clubs, organizations, faith groups, and associations in a neighborhood and fostering new productive relationships among them.
  • Identifying the specific gifts, skills, passions and teachable knowledge of residents at the block level and fostering new productive relationships between these individuals, their families and their children.
  • Developing a method for neighborhood planning that is based on resident ideas for local improvement and that mobilizes these residents’ productive capacities for implementing their own ideas.

As a result of a national study of local neighborhood initiatives, McKnight and his long-time colleague, Jody Kretzmann, created the Asset-Based Community Development strategy for community building. Together, they co-authored the basic guide to asset based community development, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Identifying and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. This book has become one of the nation’s best-selling guides to community development, and the methods it outlines are now utilized world-wide.

McKnight has also written two additional books – The Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits and, together with co-author Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.

Prior to joining Northwestern University in 1969, McKnight held positions as a Human Relations Officer with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, where he worked as a neighborhood organizer and helped create a program to end racial discrimination in Chicago hospitals. He then served as the Illinois director of the American Civil Liberties Union, organizing chapters throughout the State. After President Kennedy’s election, he joined the federal government in a new department that created the Affirmative Action Program. He then served as the Midwest Director of the United States Civil Rights Commission, where he worked with the civil rights movement in the last half of the 1960s.

McKnight has been active with many civil organizations. He co-founded the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, a unique health policy organization in Chicago. He also co-founded the Gamaliel Foundation, a national organization training neighborhood organizers. One of his trainees at the foundation was President Barack Obama. He is also a founding board member of National People's Action, a nationwide organization of activist civic groups.

His blog may be read at ​