Community Asset Mapping: Know Thy Community
There are millions of Americans who developed their social consciences in the wake of the Trump Administration’s onslaught against the public interest. Before acting in your community you need to understand your community and what people need. It is also useful to understand what your community has.
A great way to crowdsource this data and get organizing experience is to start a community asset mapping project. A community asset map shows everything of use available in a community. Your map can include obvious assets such as a gas station, and more specific assets such as, “This gas station lets you make change.”
At the bottom of this article I will link a resource that covers the details of how to make an asset mapping project in your community. It includes how to run the meetings where you get the data and what software to use.
To find out what assets are in the community you bring local volunteers together to list all of the assets they know about. Then you see which assets show up a lot, and which suggestions are the most valuable. Then you can use mapping software to create an interactive tool that anybody in the community can use to find affordable food, plan a date, and volunteer… all in the same night.
A great meeting format for populating your map with useful data-points involves getting a ton of community members into a room, having tables around the room with prompts for the different categories of assets, and then having everyone move from table to table in changing groups. The prompts on the table will all be in the following format, “Where do you go to: School?” Or “Where do you go for: Arts and Recreation?”
Each group brainstorms assets relevant to the category on their table. They will give each asset an address and grade it A through F as a resource. At the end of the event the organizers will have dozens of lists of assets and their locations to work through. Another use for the map would be to work out what assets the community lacks. This would be especially pronounced in a food desert, a community without a grocery store nearby. But it could also point out that there are no high-quality parks around.
After culling the lists for duplicates and suggestions in error, the items will be loaded onto a digital map. The map can be made with The result will be a map that any tourist could use to live like a local in the region.
The practice, however, is not just useful for tourists. People from different sides of town and different social classes will notice different assets. The lives of everyone involved can be improved by sharing this information between the demographics. Those with a lot of free time and mobility might know the more beautiful and secluded parts of the land. Those with financial limitations might know how to get hold of things at the best value. Everyone benefits when that information is shared. Also, knowing what is not there could help potential entrepreneurs start their ventures.
In recap, if you are looking for an organizing project in your area then you can put together a community asset map. It is a great project that could also create opportunities in the area. Check out this “Participatory Asset Mapping” resource from Community Science to learn more about organizing a similar project.