Identifying Assets

As follow-on to a Blog I wrote a couple weeks ago on Assets we want to follow on with how to identify assets in a neighborhood.

Communities can no longer be thought of as complex masses of needs and problems, but rather diverse and potent webs of gifts and assets. Each community has a unique set of skills and capacities to channel for community development. ABCD categorizes asset inventories into five groups:
Individuals: At the center of the approach are residents of the community that have gifts and skills. Everyone has assets and gifts. Individual gifts and assets need to be recognized and identified. In community development you cannot do anything with people’s needs, only their assets. Deficits or needs are only useful to institutions.
Associations: Small informal groups of people, such as clubs, working with a common interest as volunteers are called associations and are critical to community mobilization. They don’t control anything; they are just coming together around a common interest by their individual choice.
Institutions: Paid groups of people who generally are professionals who are structurally organized are called institutions. They include government agencies and private business, as well as schools, etc. They can all be valuable resources. The assets of these institutions help the community capture valuable resources and establish a sense of civic responsibility.

Individual Assets
The most important assets are found in the people in the neighborhood. The assets are found by asking a series of questions that gets people talking and sharing about themselves. They are:
• What do you like about your neighborhood?
• What would you like to see different in your neighborhood?
• What groups are you involved in, within your neighborhood?
• What do you like to do:
o With your hands
o What do you feel passionate about
o What knowledge do you have that you might be willing to share with others
• What would you like to learn if training were available in your neighborhood?
• How can we pray for you?
Persons Name and Address_______________________

Associations and Institutions
While associations and institutions are both important to ABCD, they are different. Consider the following comparison of the characteristics of institutions and associations:

How Governed: Power by consent
How Decisions Made: Choice of members
Who Designed: Designed for and by each other
Who Decides What To Do: Members
Who Runs: Citizen volunteers
Who Are Beneficiaries: Citizen members
Function: Freedom
What Drives: Capacity of members
Amount of Control: Very little

How Governed: Controlled environment
How Decisions Made: Involuntary; powered by $
Who Designed: Designed for production
Who Decides What to Do: Needs a client or customer
Who Runs: Service/ not a servant
Who are the Beneficiaries: Consumer/client
Function: Produces services
What Drives: Drive to meet need
Amount of Control: Tight hierarchical control

Example Associations: Civic Events, Fitness Groups, Block Watch, Ethnic Associations, Church neighborhood groups

Example Institutions: Police & Fire Departments, Schools, Non-Profit Agencies, Clinics, Churches, Libraries

The gifts of institutions are important, but they must be steered in support of what the citizens want and need, not what the institution wants and needs. Typically poor communities are inundated with social service organizations that exist to do a particular job or provide a particular service, but they need a client. In regard to which does really work with it is the associations because they represent the neighborhood people not institutions which are mae up of professionals.

In the past community developers were taught to do Mapping of Needs which has four disadvantages:
• The emphasis is on professional helpers who are the primary identifiers of needs and providers of solutions.
• Using a Needs Map fragments the community because it breaks the community up based on professionally determined categories because professionals are specialists instead of generalists.
• Both citizens and service providers often internalize the needs map as negative truths about the community thereby becoming a self fulfilling prophesy.
• People who are good at describing their community as broken often get promoted as leaders by outsiders.

While doing asset mapping starts with counting up what is there, identifying what the community already has that can contribute to solving problems and realizing goals. Who and what do we have and what can they do? Key principals are:
• People in every community care about something that they are willing to do something about
• Discover assets by building relationships
• Keep citizens at the center
• Mobilizing the building blocks (assets) of the community

Therefore if you want to see transformation focus on assets and possibilities not needs or problems.

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