Module 4: Asset-Mapping

“Community development is a mutual process. It begins in everyday lives, understanding histories, cultures, and values, and listening to hopes and concerns. Any research into people’s lives locates the voices of those people expressing their own experience at its core, as the beginning of a process of empowerment and change … The community profile offers a strategy to gather this information together in a systematic way in partnership with the community. The critical connections that weave together through the profile provide a foundation for developing critical consciousness and practical projects. This is the basis of a critical approach to community development that weaves action and reflection, theory and practice, into a unity of praxis.”(1)--From Community Development: A Critical Approach

Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream
of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will
suddenly rain down on them—will rain down in buckets.  But
good luck doesn’t rain down yesterday, today, tomorrow, or
ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter
how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is
tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or
start the new year with a change of brooms.
The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The
nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits,
dying through life, screwed every which way.
Who are not, but could be.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the
police blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.(2) --“The Nobodies,” by Eduardo Galeano

Both of these excerpts are provided to illustrate the necessary intensity of creating a community profile—and the sort of a negative, dehumanizing perceptions and stereotypes that are generated or maintained if the right questions are not asked. How can developers avoid devaluing the culture and dignity of community members? How can the positive forces within a community be embraced and channeled toward something good? How can developers identify these positive forces? In the ABCD approach, several methods—all of which work to discover “the good”—can be used. In this module, we discuss asset-mapping.

Asset Mapping

Before describing the process of “asset mapping,” two different perspectives should be outlined. One perspective lends to the social service model, and the other lends to the community-building model. A “needs” perspective sees the target community as fundamentally deficient. Thinkers whose worldview is defined by this perspective see only the overwhelming examples of what needs to be fixed, rather than what is functioning well. This outlook of brokenness and insufficiency creates a need for service providers to control the terms of development. And when developers dictate the development path, community members either end up dissatisfied or dependent.(3)

If a developer were to create a neighborhood needs map of Chicago’s West Side (an area in which Kretzmann and McKnight have done quite a bit of community organizing), the map might pictorially show clusters of unemployment and truancy here, gangs and slum housing there, all mixed amongst broken families, child abuse, crime, graffiti, mental disability, illiteracy, welfare recipients, dropouts, and teenage pregnancy.

If an “asset” or “capacity-based” perspective is used instead, the developer can see past the poverty to the valuable yet untapped potential of the community. Thus, an asset map of Chicago’s West Side might look like this(4):

For a more thorough understanding of the differences between these two perspectives, please read pages 1-3 (stopping at “Mapping the Building Blocks for Regeneration”) here.

The ABCD approach is based on the assumption that producing strong community-based projects arises out of the ability to connect the community’s assets and the organization’s assets. Hence, this equation is used(5):

Connected to (+)
Produces (=)

To aid developers in enumerating the assets of their community of interest, ABCD suggests filling out a table like this(6):

Identify your community’s assets






How will these assets be connected to your project?

In examining the organization through which the developers are working, a table like this might be useful(7):

Identify your organization’s assets








How will these assets be connected to your project?

As is evident, asset mapping is much more operational and informative than needs mapping. A needs survey “is basically an effort to count up the emptiness in an individual or a neighborhood.” It “is not useful for community-building because it deals with people as potential clients and consumers.”(8) An asset survey, on the other hand, sees people as citizens and producers. To apply these concepts to real life, Kretzmann and McKnight offer this example:

“Think of a carpenter who has lost one leg in an accident years ago. Clearly, he has a deficiency. However, he also has a skill. If we know he has a missing leg, we cannot build our community with that information. If we know he has a capacity as a wood worker, that information can literally build our community.”(9)

To review the concepts learned in this module, please watch Segments 2 and 3 of Kretzmann and McKnight’s video training program: Mobilizing Community Assets, based on their book Building Communities from the Inside Out. These segments can be found here (scroll down on this “Resources” page of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute to the section with the video segments).

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(1) Campling, J., and Ledwith, M. “Community development: a critical approach.” (The Policy Press, 2005): 50-51.

(2) Farmer, P. Pathologies of Power. (University of California Press, 2005): 1.

(3) Kretzmann, J., and McKnight, J. “Introduction to Asset-Mapping.” (2003). Accessed on 8 June 2010.

(4) Kretzmann, J., McKnight, J., Dobrowolski, S., Puntenney, D. “Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity.” Asset-Based Community Development Institute (2005): 15. Accessed on 8 June 2010.

(5) Ibid, 3.

(6) Ibid, 17.

(7) Ibid, 21.

(8) Kretzmann, J., and McKnight, J. (2003), 1.

(9) Ibid.