The one about Community Mapping

Google map showing Adur and Worthing

Understanding how we at Adur and Worthing show up in place and work with our communities is a central question for our Thrive work and key to how we want to organise ourselves in the future.  

Showing up in place for me is about the ability to be in a relationship with a community – something that as an institution has many barriers which needs addressing.  It means being able to listen authentically to what’s happening there, understanding who’s present, who’s not present, that we understand the issues, that, if we needed to turn up and do an information session, we’d know instinctively which location we should use and why, for example in some communities this would be the community centres, in others it would be the library and others it might be the pub.  Showing up is just the first step in getting into a more co-productive relationship and underpins any kind of asset based practice (some links here to definitions and background on ABCD).  Don’t underestimate the power simply of being present.

Showing up in place is having those connections and that ability to do also these things but also understanding that it’s a conversation with that community and it’s not simply showing up in place and setting out our stall, what we’re doing is showing up in place to be part of the co-production of how that community works and that we’re part of what’s happening there.  

You can’t show up in place and work with a community unless you know where they are and how they define their place.  This is critical online and offline.

Community asset mapping is not a new idea but it is a really important step that helps move towards that better understanding of how our communities define their places and boundaries and shift towards an asset based approached that has us working alongside our communities (its also not a new idea – have a look here for more thoughts on why being new us not always what we are after).    It will help us understand where we should be showing up but also help us understand how we should try and show up in order to build these relationships.  We’re in the process of commissioning some community asset mapping work to underpin our thinking about place and I will share the brief when its done but I wanted here to give some background around what it is and why we are doing this now.  The important thing is that after an initial phase of desk research we will be asking partners to co-create the data set with the communities – we see this as the first step towards greater levels of coproduction and we think this shared beginning of the asset mapping is important.

As regular readers will know this blog is also where I share some of the theoretical stuff that sits behind the work I do – for newcomers it may be time to adopt the brace position as we will be getting a academic any second now.

If you are up for it then this Open University paper gives a good over view of the different ways to approach asset mapping and also helpfully pulls out some of the different approaches and framing you can give it.  Its part of the Connected Communities research programme which has got loads of useful content.  The paper includes a discussion the different provenances of Community Asset mapping, discussing how it can be used to support Appreciative Enquiry as well as Asset based community development (ABCD) but goes on to describe how it can be used to support co-production more generally and specifically around planning and Urban design.   We’re approaching it from the point of view of ABCD but its useful to keep in mind the shared antecedents as in multi disciplinary work these do tend to matter – and in reality we will probably pull from each of these areas especially as we intend to develop a participatory research approach.

Before diving in its also helpful to discuss the different asset types being mapped.  This table from the Community Capital Framework is a useful list of asset types:

The framework fits well with our work at Adur and Worthing because of its inclusion of natural capital which works well with our strong focus on sustainability but with our initial community mapping work we will be looking more simply as:

  • Built assets;  be those community assets (such as libraries) or more communal assets such as local cafe’s or meeting places
  • Organisational assets;  Formal and informal organisations, forums or networks which are active in place
  • Social assets;  key connectors or active citizens who can help us uncover networks and relationships in place

There are a couple of nuances in here which build on the approaches in the literature;  one is that we are looking at socially minded business as well as traditional voluntary sector when we look at community assets and the other is that rather than social capital we are looking to meet people who can help us develop a social network analysis of place in the future.

It should also be said that these are the areas that we want to look at initially but there are a lot of potential frames and areas of focus for this work for example democratic engagement and decision making, health and well-being and of course planning and regeneration. We want to get the ball rolling but would expect that each community will chose the area(s) that they want to focus on.

More practically here are some examples of community asset mapping that are useful in terms of understanding the range of possibilites:

  • Emerging futures:  I like this example as its useful data for our own work, its being actually used and applied and ITS A MAP!!  Who doesn’t love an actual map…..
  • This example from Dr Helen Graham () in York is a favourite of mine – it falls into the urban design rather than ABCD but it nicely shows the intersection between the approaches as well as the way in which story telling can be used: My Future York
  • This example from Birmingham is a few years old but I followed it at the same as a great example of what you can do with tech in this context: Maplocal (2013)
  • And finally this example from Vale of Glamorgan which is really good in some ways but to be falls short as its designed simply as a data gathering exercise where I think the framing for community asset mapping means it can/should be so much more.

Community Asset Mapping can create a springboard for more effective coproduction between the different actors.  By discovering assets together you can better understand others view points and definitions of what is valuable but you are also doing the relationship building that is needed to underpin the shared work of coproduction for the future.

If that wasn’t enough there is also a data/digital ambition here.  We are part of piece of work, funded by MHCLG and LGDigital called Open Community.  To quote the project “OpenCommunity is the name of the project to bring digital thinking to the challenging problem of directory-based information.”  You can find out more here and I recommend a read of the discovery report.  Our ambition is that we take the work that is done via our community asset mapping to do two things:

  •  to use the research to create a directory using the Open Community standard
  •  -to work with communities to look at how best to maintain that as a living and active community asset.  I can’t be the only one who has attempted a community services directory only to have it virtually decay as the data gets more and more out of date – how do we design something that has a pull factor for data creation/curation as well as data consumption?  This feels like a really useful open data / coproduction question.

Going back to some final thoughts on the Community Asset Mapping:

We are intending the fact we want this to be a co-enquiry with communities as an early signal that this is not just totemic engagement but is also a vital way for our people to learn more about the communities we work with.  A shift to more asset based practice is rarely as much of a challenge for the community as it is for the people within the system who have previously seen themselves as the experts – the community asset mapping is a good first step on both sides

There are relationships between assets (in all definitions), power and agency that need to be constantly considered.  Asset based working risks being patronising if power imbalances are not recognised and not mistaken for inequalities – this thought needs unpacking so will follow up on this thought

Community Asset mapping is a method that comes with good credentials but its a method where how you do something matters as much as what you do.  Lots of people have done this; some have done it well and some have done it badly.  I’m hoping that having through about why we are doing will help us be the former.

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