23 June 2004

What is Asset Mapping?

I first heard of this in Japan a couple of years ago. A friend who ran a community development initiative in Boston’s Chinatown, was off to Gifu, the butt of all jokes and an industrial city struggling with the long recession and a loss of manufacturing jobs.

It took a while, but I finally had a chance to search around for a decent definition.

Community asset mapping sounds like a good way to begin analyzing and building political power within a community using design and graphics.

From a Michigan State University Best Practices Brief (468 Kb PDF):

“Community Asset Mapping is a capacity-focused way of redeveloping devastated communities. This positive approach is proposed as a substitute for the traditional deficits focus on a community’s needs and problems. Using problems to formulate human service interventions targets resources to service providers rather than residents, fragments efforts to provide solutions, places reliance on outside resources and outside experts, and leads to a maintenance and survival mentality rather than to community development.

Asset MappingInstead, they propose the development of policies and activities based on an understanding, or ‘map,’ of the community’s resources — individual capacities and abilities, and organizational resources with the potential for promoting personal and community development. This ‘mapping’ is designed to promote connections or relationships between individuals, between individuals and organizations, and between organizations and organizations.

The asset-based approach does not remove the need for outside resources, but makes their use more effective.

The community assets approach

  • starts with what is present in the community
  • concentrates on the agenda-building and problem-solving capacity of the residents
  • stresses local determination, investment, creativity, and control

In this context, spatial mapping may or may not be used. Within any given neighborhood or community, most assets as defined by Kretzmann and McKnight, [who developed the asset mapping approach to development,] do not have a spatial quality. Community Asset Mapping has very little to do with spatial mapping... and much more to do with a community survey and the mobilizing of individuals and organizations to make connections and build capacity. The information obtained through the survey process must be organized and accessed in an inventory format. It can be computerized as a data base inventory. Computerized mapping can be used, showing the location of assets on a geographic map, as well as the attributes attached to each asset.

The Community Asset Mapping process as outlined by Kretzmann and McKnight is intended to initiate a process that will fully mobilize a community to use its assets around a vision and a plan to solve its own problems. Their guidebook provides considerable detail about how this might be accomplished, with numerous examples of the types of connections that can be developed.“

Some forms of mapping include:

Mapping Public Capital

Such as

  • social gatherings that enable people to learn about what is happening in the community
  • organized spaces for interaction where people can learn about, discuss, and act on community challenges
  • catalytic organizations that spur discussion on community challenges and marshall a community’s resource to move ahead;
  • safe havens for decision makers to meet for unofficial candid discussions.

From this the community, can fill in gaps and identify action points and obstacles to overcome.

Cultural Mapping

Documenting cultural resources in the community — examining long-term customs, behaviors, and activities that have meaning to individuals and to the community. Information for cultural mapping is gathered by face-to-face interviews. Communities can use cultural mapping as a tool for self-awareness to promote understanding of the diversity within a community and to protect and conserve traditions, customs, and resources.

Community Relationship Mapping

Ecomapping was initially developed as an effective way for a therapist to identify relationships within a family. The mapping of inter-organizational linkages is a form of ecomapping designed to show the relationships that one organization has with other organizations within the community. Relationships with other organizations may relate to funding, referrals, access to resources, joint service planning, collaborative projects with contributed staff or funds, etc. Ecomapping may be undertaken to clarify the place of an organization in the community spectrum, to identify gaps in linkages, to indicate the multiple relationships between organizations, etc.

From the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, regarding the Mapping Community Assets Workbook:

“‘From a community development perspective, it helps to think of our communities in terms of their wealth—in people, things, services, and resources that they possess,’ says author Dr. Diane Dorfman. ‘To build from what you have requires asking different kinds of questions to learn different kinds of things about where you live.’

Learning how to ask what communities have to offer begins a process of building and developing. It brings knowledge, skills, and capacities out into the open, where they can work together to everyone’s benefit. As the web of assets grows, so does the potential for the community.

An asset map is an inventory of the strengths and gifts of the people who make up a community. Asset mapping reveals the assets of the entire community and highlights the interconnections among them, which in turn reveals how to access those assets.

The workbook’s engaging, lively style invites active participation on practically every page. Through a series of questions and exercises, readers first learn to uncover their personal assets, both tangible and intangible, material and nonmaterial. Then they expand to take stock of their community, listing all of its special features. Readers also learn how to design a questionnaire to uncover the hidden assets in their community, those from people or places that are not familiar.

‘Connections to people can also become connections to resource-filled institutions. Likewise, a connection to an organization or institution may actually conceal a personal relationship,’ notes Dorfman.

Here’s an annotated resource list on community asset mapping, and a page on asset mapping with youth.

Still there’s something curious about that Michigan State University’s ‘Capable Communities’ center. Why are they offering this particular public service? Is that university campus, like so many in the U.S., surrounded by pockets of poverty? With this image in mind, it occurs to me that Community Asset Mapping is rather “inward” focused. This is the point, I know, but it does not interrogate or confront external actors or institutions, economic or public policies that also give shape to the community. This is, perhaps, a different map. Building a stronger community, however, builds a solid foundation for challenging the status quo.