Community asset mapping is a positive approach to building strong communities, developed by John Kretzmann and John McKnight, of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The Community Asset Mapping process outlined by Kretzmann and McKnight in their guidebook Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Towards Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets describes in detail a process to mobilize a community to use its assets to develop a plan to solve its problems and improve residents’ quality of life.
Traditional methods of community work tend to focus on a community’s deficits; i.e. their needs and problems. Often, one of the first steps of a community worker is to undertake a needs assessment of the community, which usually focuses on issues :such as unemployment, poverty, crime and illiteracy, while ignoring the assets that exist in the community. Working from a “needs” perspective generally leads to external funds and services being sought to help the community. While these may indeed have positive benefits to community residents, often the result is a fragmented patchwork of services. Many of the services may not be appropriate to the culture and dynamics of that particular community, and do not contribute to building the capacity of the community or empower individuals to be self-sufficient. In a nutshell, “needs-based” assessments tend to lead to community dependence rather than community development.
Kretzmann and McKnight propose that community developers start with a “clear commitment to discovering a community’s capacities and assets”. (Kretzmann and McKnight 1993, p.1). The asset-based approach does not remove the need for outside resources, but makes their use more effective by:
• starting with what is present in the community
• concentrating on the agenda-building and problem-solving capacity of the residents
• stressing local determination, investment, creativity, and control
Each community has assets to be preserved and enhanced. Residents can use these assets as the foundation from which to build a positive future. Beyond developing a simple inventory, this ‘mapping’ process is designed to promote connections or relationships between individuals, between individuals and organizations, and between organizations and organizations. Combining community assets creates a synergy that exponentially increases the capacity of the community to meet the needs of its residents. The information collected through this asset-mapping process may also be used as the foundation for many other processes, such as strategic planning, community mobilization and community economic development.
Community assets include:
• Skills, knowledge, talents and experience of local residents
• Community associations, many of which provide benefits far beyond their mandate
• Schools, churches, libraries and other institutions that operate within the community
• Municipal services such as police, fire, parks and recreation services
• Other social services and community organizations
• Physical structures; e.g. town square, heritage buildings
• Natural resources; e.g. river, trees, green space
The first step in community asset mapping is to work with community members to develop a plan for documenting the community’s assets.
Getting started with mapping –
(a) Mapping Individual Capacity
Different methods can be used for creating an individual capacity inventory. Personal interviews will yield more in-depth information bust is very costly. Other possibilities are
• Mailing out a survey
• Dropping off surveys door-to-door
• Have surveys available at convenient locations for people to pick up and return
• Telephone calls
• Meet people in groups
Kretzmann and McKnight’s guide provides a template for an individual capacity inventory to identify a wide array of skills and experience of residents that are able to contribute to the community. It is critical that the capacity inventory is not seen as a study of neighborhood residents, but as a community development tool. It should be designed and presented in a way that will encourage residents to view themselves as having valuable assets that they could contribute to the community and to connect people that that can help each other. The plan will also need to identify the human and financial resources required to complete the asset map. Once the plan is in place, an individual capacity assessment is conducted, followed by an inventory of other community assets. Once the assets are identified, they are analyzed to find their “points of connection”, forming the basis of a community mobilization process.
(b) Mapping Groups, Organizations and Institutions
The Community Tool Box provides a simple set of guidelines for taking an inventory of all the groups (associations, organizations, and institutions) that exist in the community. One method is to simply make a list. Here are some of their suggestions for getting starting:
1. Get out a pad and start writing. Begin with what you know. Write down anything that comes to mind. You can always correct your list later.
2. Use other sources of information to add to your list. These can include:
• The yellow pages are a free, comprehensive, and often excellent source.
• Town directories, published for your community alone.
• Lists of businesses, probably available from the chamber of commerce.
• Lists of organizations – check your library or town hall.
• The local newspaper, newsletters and other print sources
• Bulletin boards. Physical bulletin boards, for sure; and also community-calendar type listings that might be found on local cable television.
• Your friends and colleagues. They may know about other lists available or of groups, organizations, and community assets that are not on anybody else’s lists.
3. Learn more about each organization you have identified. You can inquire about available staffing, space, equipment, expertise, and willingness to help and get involved in a variety of ways. This will take more time but may be well worth it.
4. Refine and revise your list. You can put it on a computer, if you haven’t done so already. You can also break your list down in several different ways: alphabetically, geographically, by type of function, by size, by public/private membership or governance, or however you want.
(c) Creating a Map
“Mapping” involves identifying relationships, whether to the geographic landscape, to other organizations or to other community features. Maps are good visual aids: when you can see the data right in front of you, your understanding and insight is often increased. There are several ways to go about mapping community assets:
One mapping method is to find a large street map of your community, with few other markings. (Your local Planning Department may help here.) Then just mark with a dot, or tag, or push-pin (maybe color-coded by type) the geographic location of the groups and organizations you have found. The patterns that emerge may surprise you. You may see, for example, that certain locations have different numbers or types of associations. Those areas where few associations exist may be good targets for community development later on.
This type of mapping can also be done by computer, with an appropriate software program. These programs are more sophisticated than paper-and-pushpin mapping, as you can create “overlays,” visually placing one category of map over another, for a more comprehensive view of the community.
You can also just diagram your resources in a way that clearly show the linkages among different categories of assets.
(d) Using community assets
While there is value just in raising awareness of what exists in your community, the real value of asset mapping is realized when these assets are put to work for the benefit of the community. Some ideas from the Community Tool Box are:
• You can publish the assets identified and make them available to all community members. In doing so, you will stimulate public asset knowledge and use. It may also attract new businesses and other opportunities to your community, thus using existing assets to create new ones.
• You can use your knowledge of assets to tackle a new community project — because now you may have more resources to work on that project than you originally thought.
• You can find new ways to bring groups and organizations together, to learn about each other’s assets — and perhaps to work collaboratively on projects such as the one above.
• You can publicize these assets, and attract new businesses and other opportunities to your community. In both this example, and the ones just above, (This is what makes community work exciting!)
• You can set up structured programs for asset exchange, which can range from individual skill swaps to institutional cost-sharing.
• You can establish a process by which community assets keep getting reviewed, perhaps on a regular basis.
While Kretzmann and McKnight propose conducting a full community asset map, many have found using a scaled-down approach to mapping particular types of assets to be helpful.
Here’s a preliminary inventory of community capacities as described by local yellow pages, city/county planning departments, the chamber of commerce, and volunteer placement agencies. In this example, assets are organized by sector. List the name, address, and phone number of a contact person who can give you more information on who and what you find.
GRASSROOTS OR CITIZENS’ ASSOCIATIONS
• All local neighborhood organizations
• Community centers
• Seniors’ groups
• Local officials, politicians, and leaders
• Local public schools, universities, and community colleges
• Public hospitals or clinics
• Any publicly funded or private educational institution
• State or federal agencies
• Municipal libraries
• Police officers and other emergency personnel
• Parks and municipal pools or golf courses
• Housing organizations
• Food kitchens and emergency housing shelters
• Halfway houses, substance abuse homes, domestic violence shelters
• Clinics and counseling centers
• Advocacy groups for environment, safety, drug abuse reduction, et cetera
• Chamber of commerce
• Businessmen’s/businesswomen’s associations
• Local businesses
• Senior citizens
• Local musicians
• Local artists
• Immigrant populations
• Those receiving public assistance, food stamps, Medicaid or Medicare
Kretzmann, John P. and John L. McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Towards Finding and Mobilising a Communit’s Assets. ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL. 1993, p. 347.