Asset Mapping to be listed in Guinness Book of Records!

I recently found myself in a warehouse in Schiedam, near Rotterdam, several inches deep in sand.

It was a place to learn how to make brick-paved roads, except the warehouse was full of beach balls, inflatable rings, large umbrellas, bunting and a camper van serving drinks. No road building this time, but instead the annual Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) day in the Nederlands. This was about bringing together residents, local services, organisations and more to share our work and explore many aspects of community building.

I’ve joined this group previously following an invitation from Birgit, one of the organisers of the day, who spent six weeks at Barnwood Trust shadowing our community building team three years ago. This year I was able to share some of our work in Gloucestershire and of course learn a lot from so many passionate and committed people. One of the inspiring sessions was an Asset Mapping challenge that involved close to 100 people.

Schiedam Asset Mapping World Record Attempt

Asset Mapping is the process of finding out what strengths people have to offer in their community –  focusing on what communities have (their assets) as opposed to what they don’t have (their needs).  From my experience, asset mapping can help a community grow in confidence and skills to address the issues it feels are important. When we talk of assets we generally mean the individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets, and connections in a community, but there is much more that could be considered. Cormac Russell, for example, recently highlighted invisible gifts like the informal ways communities sustain themselves and how different cultures get along and understand each other (i). There are many other ways that we can start to see the assets in our neighbourhoods (ii).

Asset mapping is not about pulling together data, but rather a ‘discovery phase’. The map follows conversations in communities and starts to discover what people care enough about to act upon. It is more the process of discovering together than trying to create a list of local resources. In other words, it is about resident to resident relationship building and not something that organisations do to or for communities. An organisation ‘mapping’ assets in an area may well be useful for the work of that organisation, but this misses the wonderful opportunity for a community to uncover their own assets, make connections and build more life-changing belonging in their neighbourhood.

In a blog (iii) Cormac Russell and Shaun Burnett offer a note of caution about the term ‘asset mapping’. They write: “…it is pertinent to be reminded that ‘the map is not the territory’. It’s also important to remember there is no one map in diverse and inclusive communities, but rather a mosaic, yet to be connected. While the community asset map can potentially counter the institutional map of needs and deficits, it can also confuse and frustrate attempts at genuine citizen-led, place based action.” So, it should be used to start the conversation, rather than to define an area.

It is impossible for us to know all the assets that exist in communities; such personal and community assets are largely invisible, not just to professionals, but also to all of us residents. Yet by uncovering and shining a light on our assets it can create a wonderful energy that challenges head on the idea that our main assets are only to be found in local services and institutions.

John McKnight, who developed ABCD, often shares a story of a visit he made to the West of Ireland (iv). John wanted to go fishing and so went into a local store and asked the shopkeeper: “do you sell bait?”.  The shopkeeper asked “when you say ‘bait’, what do you mean exactly?”. “Well like worms”, John replied. The shopkeeper replied: “Well turn around the way you came, and see those white washed stones, well I think if you lifted up one of those, you’d find all the bait you need.”

Of course discovering the worms, or uncovering the assets, is just the start, next we needed ‘to hook our bait, cast the line and catch some fish’. Or in terms of ABCD, ‘discover, connect and mobilise’.

Bearing all this in mind, it was a joy to see the community come together at the ‘beach’ in Schiedam to build on their relationships. This was the first time a group had tried to get registered in the Guinness Book of Records for Asset Mapping (v). There was much excitement in the warehouse as participants were given 15 minutes to uncover assets, as well as much laughter, enthusiasm, connection and sharing.

The group produced 672 assets that were grouped together and will be shared, but more importantly relationships were strengthened and the idea that communities have most of what they need among themselves was reinforced. Already, some of the people that attended the session are planning to meet up and new ideas are being born.

Is your community up for becoming a Guinness Book of Records winner? Can you beat the Schiedam total? 

To find out more about groups that have come together around Gloucestershire, visit our stories pages.

Notes & references:

(i)  Cormac Russell: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/abcd-practice/4-invisible-assets-waiting-to-be-discovered/

(ii)  Other possibilities might include Bruce Anderson, who has developed work around discovering gifts, talks of reframing ‘problems’ as ‘passages’ or ‘gifts of passage’ – the abilities that result from going through difficult events (passages) in our lives: https://www.coregift.org/we-are-all-gifted/  And Parker Palmer who reminds us that someone’s presence in our lives can also be a gift: “Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.” See: https://onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/

(iii) See:  http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/term-asset-map-put-room-101/

(iv) John McKnight telling the story: https://youtu.be/veRV9bNSJaE

(v) The Guinness Book of Records result will be listed in the coming weeks on the Records website.For assets in this film see: https://wijzijnabcd.nl/m/deelnemers   For more about this record in Dutch see: https://wijzijnabcd.nl/m/uitgelicht/geslaagd-wereldrecord-asset-mapping-in-schiedam More about ABCD in Nederlands: https://wijzijnabcd.nl/