John L. McKnight is Professor of Education and Social Policy and Co-Director, the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. His research is on social service delivery systems, health policy, community organizations, neighborhood policy, and institutional racism. He now directs research projects focused on asset-based neighborhood development and methods of community building by incorporating marginalized people.
John P. Kretzmann, Sociology and Urban Affairs PhD from Northwestern University is Co-Director, the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and Research Associate, Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. He works to develop community-oriented public policy at the national, state and local levels.
This paper advocates for the capacity-focused model, which allows a community “to assemble its assets and capacities into new combinations, new structures of opportunity, new sources of income and control, and new possibilities for production” (3). The needs-based model, by contrast, maps community pathologies and encourages clientelism; no one can build on such things. The capacity-focused alternative focuses on the skills and assets of a low-income neighborhood and its residents. Two reasons for the capacity-focused model: (1) evidence shows communities improve only when the residents are personally invested (which is why top-down and outside-in are less successful), and (2) we have little reason to think that major firms will move into these neighborhoods and act as jobs flagships, and even less reason to believe more money will flow from federal coffers.
Not all assets are equally available for mapping. The easiest, primary building blocks are located in communities and controlled by residents themselves. The two categories are: (1) individual capacities, captured by the Capacity Inventory, including individual talents, personal income, gifts of “labeled” people, individual local businesses, and home-based enterprises; and (2) associational and organizational capacities, subsuming citizens associations, associations of businesses, financial institutions, cultural organizations, communications organizations, and religious organizations.
Secondary building blocks are those located in the community but governed elsewhere. Neighborhood acts conduct surveys and design strategies to bolster the productive use of these relationships. There are three categories: (1) private and non-profit institutions such as higher education, hospitals, social service agencies; (2) public institutions and services including public schools, fire departments, police, libraries, parks; and (3) physical resources, including vacant land, houses, commercial and industrial structures, and energy and waste resources.
Finally, the least accessible potential building blocks are those located and controlled outside the community. We need to transition public expenditures from maintenance-focused initiatives to local development investments. Welfare expenditures, public capital improvement expenditures, and public information are such investments.
Key to capacity mapping practice is establishing: (1) which organizations in the area can be the best Asset Development Organizations, the Saul Alinsky-esque multi-issue organization or the CDC; (2) what kind of “community-wide research, planning, and decision-making processes can most democratically and effectively advance this rebuilding process in our neighborhood” (18); and (3) how we might solidify networks to share our assets with outside resources. “The task of the Asset Development Organization…involves both drawing the map and using it” (20).