Last July we came up with the idea of looking at value in terms of a community project’s assets. These assets can be anything from the skills and time of volunteers, connections with groups and societies, spaces, infrastructure, cultural activities, to links in the local community. Our hypothesis was that the media interventions we will be co-designing with our community projects would improve people’s perception of their community assets.
We therefore proposed to map a community project’s assets before and after the media interventions in order to record any changes and therefore value added due to these interventions (e.g. new assets or better connectivity between assets). As well as being a research methodology for this project, we envisaged the asset maps to be useful artifacts in themselves helping our participating communities visualise and identify future opportunities. Little did we realise then challenge we had set ourselves!
But here we are 7 months later and we have run our first two asset mapping workshops and are finally feeling happy with the methodology we have developed. At this point I thought it might be useful to share the process we have gone through to get here . . . .
As a methodology, asset mapping emerged out of the principle of asset-based community development: the premise that communities will be better equipped to develop their project, if they can identify and mobilise the assets they already have. By recognizing their assets, a community can then focus on positive development, responding to, building and expanding upon existing their capabilities (which often go unrecognized), rather than focusing on what they lack or need (Mathie and Cunningham 2002, McKnight and Kretzmann 1996).
We began by searching for examples of how asset mapping has been developed in other projects. Firstly the community mapping process used by Australia Day provided us with a starting category of assets. This included categories such as Space and Locations, Community Services, Sources of Information, and Opportunities. The Carnegie report on Appreciating Assets highlighted the vital role of intangible assets. Tangible assets that we can see and feel around us are easier to recognize and consequently are often attributed more value when it can be argued that the intangible assets (experiences, stories, cultural traditions and skills) ultimately shape what can be achieved in a community. The RSA Connected Communities Report helped us think about a community’s social networks as assets and the questionnaire they produced as part of their research gave us ideas around the types of prompts we needed to incorporate into our mapping activity. We were also interested to read about how asset mapping has been used in healthcare projects such as the ‘I am My Community’ project which aimed to identify what assets make people happy and healthy in Sharrow and Firth Park. This project emphasised the role of asset mapping in identifying assets valued by community residents in relation to specific goals rather than just producing a long list of personal assets.
We ran a few different workshops to get some first ideas of what it would be important to include in the mapping activity and what processes of mapping people would respond to. In Goldsmiths Community Centre, we invited people to list on a sheet of people their personal assets; the assets they bring to the project; and how they would like to develop these assets in the future. In a separate workshop held at the Royal College of Art, representatives from 15 different community projects were invited to map, using stickers, the media (online and offline) that they use for their project.
We held an expert workshop with 24 people ranging from community enablers, community leaders, architects, academics, to local assembly co-ordinators. We asked them to respond to the question ‘What do you consider as an asset in a community or neighbourhood’ to which they listed, among many things, stories, belonging, neighbourliness and relationships as important.
It became clear that our asset mapping methodology must consider how to map both the tangible and intangible assets of a community project and to capture the relationships between these assets, e.g., how well a person knows someone, whether they use a service or live next door to something. We would then be able to see if and how these relationships had changed when we came to repeat the activity a year later. We also decided that our asset mapping should focus on a specific goal in relation to a community’s project. For example, in the case of our work with Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum the focus would be on how to reach and engage more local people with their neighbourhood plan. To this end we felt it important to include time for participants to think about ‘future potential assets’- prompting them to think about how they could use their existing assets better and what new assets they would like to link to.
With all these criteria in mind and faced with the practicalities of delivering a workshop that would not take up more than two and a half hours of people’s time, yet be an inclusive and engaging activity to attend we spent several weeks mocking up different formats for how the maps should look, what questions to ask and what props to use. I think at this stage we should also thank the patience of our colleagues on the Creative Citizen project, the Open University and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design for taking part in some of our early pilot sessions!
Our final asset mapping methodology runs in four stages:
We start with an icebreaker activity by way of introduction. Each participant is asked to pick a slip of paper from a bowl and read it out finishing the sentence, for example, ‘I am good at . . .’ or ‘People would pay me to . . .’ This helps to get participants thinking about their own skills as assets.
The second activity focuses on mapping a community project’s current assets. We use six categories of assets each represented by a different prop. These are Spaces (that they use including open spaces); Infrastructure (e.g. buses, wifi or access to resources); Media (that they use to tell people about something or find out about something from); Groups and Businesses (that they work with or receive services from); People (someone key to the project or someone with a particular skill); and Other (incorporates anything that does not fit in the other categories e.g. festivals, stories, history). For this activity a large sheet of paper is spread on a table. In the middle of the paper is the logo of the community’s project and around this are three concentric circles. Participants are then asked to choose a prop, label it and place it on the map explaining why they think it is an asset to the project. The closer to the centre of the paper they place it the more central they think it is to the project with props placed around the edge contributing less to the project. The group is also encouraged to discuss the value of each asset as it is placed on the paper.
The third activity aims to map potential assets. This can be as simple as moving those assets currently placed on the paper to a more central location or adding new assets to the map that the project doesn’t currently use or have connections with.
The last activity aims to understand how each participant relates to the assets placed on the map. One by one participants are invited to construct an A3 version of the map placing themselves at the center and the specific assets that they relate to in the surrounding circles.
Our two workshops have gone well. We have mapped a wide range of assets ranging from the personal to the group, the tangible to the intangible. We have been surprised by some of the assets considered important and impressed by the amount of ideas that have already emerged proving that asset mapping can be a very helpful first step in the process of co-creation. With two more asset mapping workshops still to come we are now beginning to experiment with ways to visualise the maps digitally so that we can compare the types of assets mapped and connections between them. This will also make it easier for us to share the information with our community projects. So keep an eye out for a future blog post on this!