Asset Mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS)

“No matter what community you are talking about, or how big or small the community might be in terms of population, community groups that begin taking a hard look at their community by first documenting all of its “problems” are already starting things off on the wrong foot.” (Beaulieu 2002:1)


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What is asset mapping?
Asset mapping is an approach to community development that focuses on the assets of a community rather than deficiencies. It stands in contrast to a needs assessment, which can be divisive and focus too much on the problems of a community. Assets include all of the positive attributes of a community, including characteristics of residents, formal institutions, and informal organizations. When a project begins with an assets map, the researcher/community will have a comprehensive list of what resources can be used to address needs that are documented in future research. The steps of doing an inventory include identifying assets through interviews with individuals, reviewing community directories or newspapers, contacting gathering places, and visiting with institutions. The final product of an asset map should include a collaborative vision for the future developed in conjunction with local stakeholders.

What is GIS?
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is software that can be used for data analysis involving a geographic component. It allows data to be presented in a spatial manner for better analysis of the physical layout of an area or community. Traditionally used in urban planning, development, and transportation applications, GIS has more recently been utilized by anthropologists and archaeologists to add a spatial component to their research.


  • Fosters power and ownership by engaging members of the community
  • Emphasizes how problems (and solutions) are interrelated
  • Analysis can be either high-tech or low-tech
  • Works on individual and community-wide levels
    • o What type of community work has this person been involved in? What would he or she be interested in doing? What type of skills does this person possess?
    • o What formal or informal religious organizations, political efforts, civic organizations, social activities, educational institutions, etc. exist in this community?


  • No fixed, consistent set of methods
  • Negative attitudes / lack of participation of marginalized populations
  • High-tech analysis requires use of specialized software


  • Use a detailed map to visualize locations of different assets
  • Add layers of analysis: individuals, informal resources, formal institutions, etc.
  • Identify each asset with a description—can be viewed by clicking on the asset
  • Software can be used to visualize clusters of resources or driving distances between community members and necessary resources
  • Data can be transferred to a PDF for ease of communication and access
  • Data can be turned into a smart phone app using FlexGIS

Method in Context

Asset Mapping Case Study: Urban Youths Go 3000 Miles: Engaging and Supporting Young Residents to Conduct Neighborhood Asset Mapping (2011)
by Alycia Santilli, MSW, Amy Carroll-Scott, PhD, MPH, Fiona Wong, MPH, and Jeannette Ickovics, PhD
  • › Chronic disease prevention initiative in New Haven, CT
  • › Utilized 7 local students to explore community assets and create a map
  • › Assets included community features that influence health—nutritious foods, parks, recreational facilities, public transportation, etc.
  • › Students mapped 492 assets using handheld computers
  • › Using local youth allowed easier entry into the community
  • Final product was a documentary about making a healthier community

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Online Resources

GIS Software Information:

United States Geological Survey GIS Primer:

Further Reading

Absolom, Odembo and Mwayaya, Daniel
(n.d.) Learning with the Community through Participatory Rural Appraisal. World Neighbors in Action: A Newsletter for Project Personnel, 24(1E):1-8.

Beaulieu, Bo
(2002). Mapping the Assets of the Community: A Framework for Building Local Capacities. Rural Health Institute. pdf

Dorfman, Diane
(1998). Mapping Community Assets Workbook. Portland: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Kerka, Sandra
(2003). Community Assets Mapping. Educational Resources Information Center: Trends and Issues Alert, 47:1-2

Kretzmann, J.P. and Mcknight, J.L. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out. Evanston, IL: Asset-Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University.

Santilli, Alycia, Amy Carroll-Scott, Fiona Wong, and Jeannette Ickovics
2011 Urban Youths Go 3000 Miles: Engaging and Supporting Young Residents to Conduct Neighborhood Asset Mapping. American Journal of Public Health 101(12):2207-2210.

Schuurman, Nadine
2004 GIS : a short introduction Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Sharpe, Patricia A., Greaney, Mary L., Lee, Peter R., and Royce, Sherer W. (2000). Assets-Oriented Community Assessment. Public Health Reports, 115:206-211.