People put a lot of work into compiling an assets map. They meet with others, discover their gifts, passions knowledge and interests. They locate the physical infrastructure assets around them, list the organisations and institutions, often uncover some fantastic local stories and culture and ready for things to happen but then get stuck.
They have spent hours meeting, interviewing and recording. They may have listed their findings as an inventory or as a visual map or any number of other ways. They may even have invested in fancy software to display and interrogate the map’s information but then become stuck.
How do they go about connecting and mobilising these assets to create the change they are wanting for their community?
If they were fortunate they may have found some initial people with common interests and passions who have already started on interesting projects or connected people who can teach others some of the things they are passionate about. These organic happenings are exciting and important but then sometimes people get stuck. They know that unless they can continue to connect and mobilise the assets in their map all they have is a list or, at best a directory.
So, what do they do?
Let me tell you a story about one community and how they moved from this point to successfully create change for their community.
Sanctuary Point is on the shores of St George’s Basin (close to Jervis Bay). In 2011 it had a population of 6,609 and was one of a number of suburbs in the area. In many ways it would be described as a low socio economic area. High unemployment (some of this being generational), a large population of seniors and a low number of people with qualifications. But it did have residents who wanted to see change. They loved where they lived and wanted to see things improve.
At the same time things had been changing at the local Council. I was working in the role of Coordinator Community Development. I had been in this role for a few years. During this time I had strategically moved the team focus away from being an events based and information focussed team into one operating from an Assets Based Community Development (ABCD) focus. Also, the Strategic Planning unit was ready to trial the development and implementation of a Place Making Plan. Sanctuary Point seemed to be a good place to trial this approach. This meant that Council was in a position to hear what the community was saying.
After strong representation from community members around community safety concerns a public meeting was convened In June 2011. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what positive outcomes could be achieved by the community working together to build a safer community. The meeting was addressed by Police, Council and community members. The meeting then adjourned into small group discussion and then regrouped to form a committee to oversee development of ideas raised.
A council staff member was appointed to work with the committee of residents until the committee felt ready to steer their way without council support. The staff member appointed was an experienced ABCD practitioner, had the gift of patience and was a listener. After mapping assets the group struggled to connect the assets. A focus on crime rates distracted them from acting to create a safer place through building social capital. This focus and having a history of needs assessments and services delivering programs they had become disconnected from the idea that they had the resources and assets at their fingertips to create a safe place. In many ways they saw themselves as a community with deficits. They became side tracked into issues such as public liability insurance and how meetings should be run.
It took a long time of listening with Council responding to what was heard, such as supplying paint for volunteers to remove graffiti or that it really wasn’t about crime but making the area a safe place (the good old days).
Council heard their concerns about how they perceived Council didn’t maintain the suburb as well as other suburbs. Keeping residents informed as to what council was doing helped to ease their concern. Also, council developed a place making plan with the residents. This plan outlined what council would do to maintain and upgrade infrastructure.
In many ways it was never about crime but the communities anxiety was around concern for the upkeep of the area, incivility represented by graffiti and safe activities for children. A return to how they remembered the place to be some years ago. Council hearing this and responding to concerns went a long way to make it possible for community members to respond by being partners with the council and acting on the things they cared about or were concerned about. And what they cared most about was their town and their community.
The real turning point was the group setting on shared goals of an event to promote the strengths of the area for them to start to move to a place where they could stand alone. This event, Spring into Sanctuary Point – an expo of everything good in the area, brought the group together and they have continued to promote the area and build on their assets. Of course the story is more complex than this brief outline.
The point I am making is that the group had started with the intention of building on what was strong in their community. They made an inventory of assets and what they would like to see achieved but then became stuck and sidetracked. It was frustrating for them and for those working alongside them. I was very tempted to close the project down early but the worker was adamant that there was a way to mobilise the community. She continued to work with them and continued to listen and discern what they really wanted. What they were concerned about and what they cared enough about to do something about. This was a time of learning for both the community and for the council. Mike Green calls this type of discussion a Learning Conversation. And that was what it was. Because we took the time to listen we were able to work alongside the group to build their confidence and capacity to connect and mobilise their assets. I cannot underestimate the importance of staying the course, being patient, listening and then working with the community to achieve what they wanted and not just what the Council wanted.
The Importance Of Learning Conversations in Activating Community to Connect Assets
The community had come to council because they care about their community and were concerned where it was heading. They wanted change but didn’t know how to achieve it. Council had the resource of a staff member who had the gift of patience and a willingness to hear what they were saying. This listening or learning conversation was , to quote Mike Green “…the way to make care visible.” (When People Care Enough to Act p.55). These conversations were how care and concern and a willingness to act were tied to the assets available and identified by the community. Mike and his colleagues go into greater detail about how learning conversations work to mobilise assets. If you want to find out more track down “When People Care Enough to Act”
For me, the lesson from this experience is that we can move from a point of stagnation where an asset map is a mere directory to a point of community activation by leaving our own agenda at the door, listening genuinely to what people care about, what they are concerned about, what would move them to action and then connect them to the assets to help them succeed.
By the way the Sanctuary Point Community Pride group is still very active and working to support their community.