Community: central to the work that we do at Building Caring Communities (BCC)! We whole-heartedly believe that as communities realize and celebrate their strengths and resources, they become more welcoming, self-sufficient and empowered to address issues that lead to an improvement of their members’ lives.
Community Asset Mapping is one approach to building resilient communities, developed by John Kretzmann and John McKnight, of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, and is outlined in their guidebook Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilising a Community’s Assets. 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 its residents
- stressing local determination, investment, creativity, and control.
Each community has assets to be preserved and enhanced. These assets can be used by residents 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 process may also be used as the foundation for many other processes, such as strategic planning, community mobilization and community economic development.
The first step in community asset mapping is to work with community members to develop a plan for documenting the community’s assets. Kretzmann and McKnight outlined community assets as falling into several distinct categories. These are sometimes outlined with slight variations but generally include:
Individuals: The collective skills, knowledge, talents, and experience of local residents.
Community groups and associations: Which may not necessarily operate via visible storefronts and may vary in terms of their formal organization but which nonetheless often provide benefits far beyond their mandate.
Businesses and the local commercial economy: These include retail merchants, distribution and manufacturing operations, branches of non-local corporations, banks, mobile vendors, pop-up/seasonal markets, etc.
Institutions: Including schools, churches, libraries, hospitals, etc. that operate within the community.
Municipal resources: Such as police, fire, parks and recreation services.
Other social services and community organizations not captured by the above categories.
Physical structures: Such as the town square, heritage buildings, landmarks, etc. that make the community distinct.
Natural resources: Such as rivers, lakes, beaches, public parks, gardens, and other green space.
Building Caring Communities (BCC) has conducted individual “gift mapping” exercises, inspired by John McKnight, where participants are asked to think of their own gifts of the head (things one knows about), of the hands (things one can do), and of the heart (things one cares deeply about). This falls within the “individuals” category above. For a broader community asset map, it is helpful to think of the other categories Kretzmann and McKnight outline.
One activity BCC has created is the unofficially dubbed “Map and Wheel” exercise. This activity injects an element of fun and whimsy into the mapping exercise and provides incentive for participants of all ages to give some thought to the places they love in their community. Two items are used, one being a large map of the local community and the other being a spinning wheel that has a variety of questions on the panels about the places in the community. Questions may include, “what’s the most romantic place?” or “where is your favorite tree?” or “where is the best place to sit and read a book?” or “where can you get great fries?”. The possibilities are abundant and can be tailored to the goals of any event, community organization and neighbourhood! Each time someone spins the wheel, they read the question and then mark their answer on the map. This is done via coloured post-it notes to differentiate the various answer categories. After the exercise is complete, a wonderful artifact remains – namely a map of the local area filled with markers indicating the places that are considered important by those who live, work, and play there.
This is, of course, not the only way to create a community asset map. It may be done in various ways such as via paper or online survey, interview format, or in an open forum with a group. A deeper dive into the identified assets might include conversations about why they are important to the community, what they provide for people in the area, and then identifying the individual locals associated with some or all of the assets (e.g. the local butcher shop is run by a butcher who is a community asset related to but distinct from the butcher shop itself; the butcher may also play the cello, have a telescope, be certified in wilderness first aid).
Community is made up of many circles of community, each with its own assets and resources to excavate and celebrate. What would it look like if every home conducted an asset inventory or mapping exercise, and then blended this with their neighbours and then their greater community? Are you inspired? Vancouver Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grant’s application is due on April 4, 2016! This unique program helps build community and strengthen connections right where people live – learn more here: http://neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca/ . Our wheel can be made available if you want to try this at a block party or community event, and we are more than happy to show you how to make a map and offer guidance and tips! Please, be in touch: