October 1997 No. 6
Asset-Based Community Development
by Jerry Hembd and Gerry Campbell*
We're all familiar with this common test of how we see the world. Is the glass half-filled with water half empty or is it half full. How people view a situation influences the paths they choose for their lives and the types of actions and solutions they are likely to consider along the way. John Kretzmann and John McKnight, of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, have identified the two analogous paths for community development. They see the community development world as needs driven versus capacity focused. (1) They suggest communities won't likely be rebuilt by focusing on needs, problems, and deficiencies. They assert that community building starts with the process of locating assets, skills, and capacities. They advocate shifting away from a traditional deficiency orientation to an asset-based or capacity orientation. They encourage us to look at the potentials or opportunities rather than the problems.
The process of asset-based community development is defined by three simple, interrelated characteristics: (1) it is asset based and starts with what is available rather than what is absent, (2) it is internally focused and concentrates first on local agenda building and problem-solving capacities, and (3) it is relationship driven and constantly builds relationships between and among local residents, associations, and institutions. Asset "mapping" is the hands-on tool used in this process.
The specific characteristics of asset mapping depend on whether the focus is releasing individual capacities, releasing the power of local associations and organizations, and/or capturing local institutions for community building. It is similarly meant to be community-specific rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a means of locating available local assets, connecting them to multiply their power and effectiveness, and harnessing local institutions not yet available for community development purposes. It is therefore not a simple identification process but one aimed at mobilizing local capacities.
There are four basic steps in the process of asset mapping to discover potential partnerships and resources for community building. First, make a thorough "capacity inventory" of all the various skills and assets of the group with whom you are working. Keep asking the question, what can local citizens contribute to community building? This could include skills people have learned at home, in the community or at their workplace. It could include community skills based on participation and willingness to participate in community work. It could include enterprising interests and experience, and personal information.
Next, compile an inventory of the key assets and resources of the community represented by local individuals, associations, organizations, and institutions. These assets fall into four categories: (a) citizens associations and not-for-profit organizations of all types; (b) publicly funded institutions such as hospitals, parks, libraries, and schools; (c) the private sector, including small businesses, banks, and local branches of larger corporations; and, (d) local residents and special interest groups of labeled people such as "seniors," "youth," and "disabled." These community groups are the potential partners for the group with whom you are working.
Then use the information obtained from these inventories to build strong, concrete, and mutually beneficial partnerships between the group with whom you are working and the other individuals, organizations, and associations that exist within the community. This can be done through strengthening existing partnerships, through identifying a more complete network of actual partnerships that might exist if the group you are working with became a dynamic community asset, and through making this group the leader of a web of practical, mutually beneficial local relationships.
Finally, on the basis of these partnerships and participation of the group you are working with, begin to build new relationships with resources that exist outside of the community. Programs of combined action that the new partnerships make possible can be a base to attract new outside resources and funding into the community. Successful community development efforts which focus attention on capacities and assets often concentrate on one or two local assets as a base for generating new relationships. school, church, or community organization??. The challenge for community developers is to expand this to a comprehensive asset-based strategy to bring the entire community into regeneration. Such an approach would include at least five basic steps.
Step 1--Mapping Assets. The starting point is a commitment to mapping the entire community's assets. This would need to be an ongoing process so that community builders could have a continually updated "map" of resources.
Step 2--Building Relationships. Building strong relationships among the community's assets for problem-solving purposes is the next step. The community becomes stronger and more self-reliant with each partnership and linkage.
Step 3--Mobilizing for Economic Development and Information Sharing. The community's assets need to be mobilized for the purposes of developing its local economy and strengthening its ability to shape and exchange information.
Step 4--Convening the Community to Develop a Vision and a Plan. The community uses a consensus-building process that includes a group as broadly representative as possible to build a vision and to combine planning with problem solving.
Step 5--Leveraging Outside Resources to Support Locally Driven Development. This step comes last, after the community has mobilized its internal assets, and uses internal capacity as a basis for building external relationships and attracting outside resources.
(1) This overview is based on their publication, Building Communities From the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1993. Its popularity has led to additional video and workbook resources. Related information is available on their Web page, http://www.cpn.org/ABCDI/ABCDI.html.
*Jerry Hembd was a research associate at the Center for Community Economic Development, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Madison, Wisconsin. Gerry Campbell is an Extension specialist in the Center and Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at UW-Madison. He also serves as editor of the Leaders, Groups and Community newsletter.