Unpopular Opinion: Scale Down Your Asset-Mapping Project
The goal of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is to leverage a group’s collective strengths to engage in action that leads to change. ABCD reflects an inclusion-embracing worldview, and a type of strategic thinking that is rooted in uncovering capacities. It hints at process, but does not dictate procedure. It is, however, ultimately about outcomes much more than it is about process. For that reason, I am not a big fan of trying to create exhaustive (and exhausting) wide-scale, comprehensive databases attempting to inventory all the assets of a community, so that those assets might be called into service up at some future date.
As much as I love the passion and the ambition of the folks who want to go big right away, I would ask them to consider another strategy. In terms of getting things done, large-scale asset mapping efforts seem inefficient. By the time you finish, the inventory is already outdated. New assets are created every day; others atrophy. Larger projects also seem less likely it is to develop collaborative leadership. They are less about community ownership than they are about being a ‘project’ of one organization or agency. Grassroots community development doesn’t need org charts, it needs to-do lists. While you’re waiting for weeks or months for the database to get filled, the situation on the ground has not changed.
I prefer a different strategy to jump-start mobilizing the assets in your community. It looks something like this:
- Define what you want to change, or create in your community.
- Find a group of people who share your concerns. That might be five people; it might be 25 people. The number is not important. Bring as many of them as possible together in one spot. Have conversations that help you identify viable first steps, particularly those that will increase the number of personal relationships in your community.
- Map the assets of that initial group of people. Based on those assets, plan an achievable, short-term action with a discrete outcome.
- Implement your action.
- Encourage as many allies as possible who have good ideas to repeat 1-4.
This strategy promotes collaborative leadership, and entrepreneurial thinking. It fosters relationship-building. There’s no waiting around for some lead organization or a charismatic leader to come up with a plan to mobilize people. This difference in scale often means the difference between a more passive community outreach, and the more active community engagement (see more about the difference between the two here).
Perhaps most importantly, the ‘smaller’ approach serves as a demonstration project for people who may not be convinced that creating change is possible. Movements are rarely orchestrated. Small successes with tangible results will boost confidence, and create trust within the community. Suddenly, people who had never before seen themselves as advocates or leaders will be coming to you and asking, “How did you do that?” Then you might see things go big in a hurry.