If you're setting up a community group, you'll need to know a bit about the community. Here's how…
Your organisation wants to survive, to grow, and to serve. In order to do these things you need to be able to accurately describe who you are and be aware of your community's resources.
Too often we focus on what's wrong with our community, its deficits. Yet it's also possible to focus on our assets and strengths -- discovering what our community has. Why? Because those assets and strengths can be used to meet those same community needs; they can improve community life.
To accomplish this, we first have to find out what those assets are. So in this help sheet, we will learn how to identify community assets and resources.
Community resources, or community assets, are people, places, or organisations that can be used to help achieve your community goals. The benefit of going through this process of assessing all of your community assets is to provide a better framework within which your group can operate.
As well as identifying areas of strength it will also identify areas where you need to do more work or can grow into.
Your audit will bring together a database that is useful for you and perhaps other agencies, in which case you can use it to strengthen your alliances.
You don't have to come up with a typed list, or a report in a glossy cover; the important thing is that you have the relevant contact details in your mailing lists, and that where necessary you have set up arrangements to collaborate.
The most important thing in a resources assessment is to be flexible and open to new suggestions. You are looking for people who can help you, and one of the ways in which they can help you is to lead you in new directions towards things you hadn't thought of.
Listen to what people are saying, respond to their input, and be prepared to change. The best outcome for a resources audit is that new possibilities and new projects are taken up, and in that case it is the new activities that are the true record of the search project.
A community assets register can be used for purposes as diverse as:
- member recruitment
- strategic planning
- government compliance,
- building partnerships
- media briefings
- and proposal writing.
Describing your community
Whichever community you are working with and for, the first step in developing a community assets register is to accurately describe your community's role and support bases.
You will also need to know what organisations, what groups and what general trends share your space, or overlap with it, or border on to it.
Knowing your community can stop you wasting your time by pushing programs that don't fit with what the community wants or needs.
What sort of community are you?
You first need to decide how far your reach extends at this stage of your organisation's development. Are you area-based - covering a suburb, a town, a city, a state? Are you group - based - serving people in an interest group, wherever they live? Are you activity-based or issue-based - relying on the support of people who are interested in the same things you're interested in?
Whom do you serve?
It may help you as a starting point to write up a detailed description of how you see your community. Your headings might be something like:
- the geographic boundaries of the community
- the length of time the community has been in existence
- the general history of the community, the way priorities have changed over time
- the key people and leaders in the community
- demographics: ethnic makeup, male/female ratio, age, economic standing, education levels
- issues of most concern to the community
- community morale and involvement levels
Don't just note down facts, like numbers and costs and phone numbers - it can be just as important, to know about people's opinions, hunches, prejudices, unspoken assumptions, and allegiances.
Who or what else is of importance to your community?
Who are the stakeholders - people who are not actually a part of your community but think they have rights in the area? Who are your allies, the people you work closely with? Who is your competition, if any? Who, if anybody, regulates the area? Who are the community leaders? Who are the gatekeepers - the people who can encourage or discourage new developments?
Who else has lists? Can you copy them? If you can't copy other people's lists, can you use them - send out a flyer to another organisation's membership; put an advertisement in its newsletter?
Who are the leaders? Who are the people who are respected and followed? Politicians, ministers of religion, doctors, school principals, spokespeople for self-help groups, heads of clubs or societies, business leaders, social workers& each name you get will give you a couple more. Will they help you? What do you have to offer them in return?
Remember, every contact can direct you to a range of new possibilities. Use the following headings to list your community assets and potential obstacles:
What layers of government - national, state, regional or local government - are working in your area? How good are your links with them? How good are their information services? Do they have databases you can access? Are their government grants for which you can apply? For government grants see ourcommunity.com.au. Are there other government resources you can use or borrow?
Other non-profit organisations
You want to identify the bodies that can help you and the bodies you have to deal with. You will need to consult available local and general databases and you will probably need to look around on your own account for the pieces that have been missed.
Our Community has a very full list of Australian non-profit organisations, and can be very useful. Go to the Directory of Organisations and search by interest group or postcode.
In general, local government is the next stop for information on who and what is working in the region. The churches provide an alternative series of networks that you can hook in to, and also offer a range of physical resources - halls, meeting rooms, etc - to support your community activities.
Record all the organisations that have been working in your area and then list those that may not have been active up to now but might become involved in the future if you approach them.
You will also want to investigate the possibility of making common cause with local business and industry. As well as individual businesses in your area, there will be organisations such as Rotary or the Chamber of Commerce that will be able to give you an overview and help you to network and forge links.
Private business can provide assistance, sponsorship, or allies.
Keep a contact list of all the media sources in your area - the local paper, local radio station - as well as the larger state media organisations. Use them for a two-way information flow; reporters generally have a good feel for what's going on.
As well as knowing what is available now, you will also need to know what opportunities and constraints may be placed upon you by the circumstances of the community - the economic cycle, the rate of violence, how much people trust each other and want to get involved, and how all these things are developing over time. The best way to get this information is by asking people. As you develop your listings of community resources, use it to bring people together to discuss the situation. Use their conclusions to guide your organisation.
Maintaining the files
You will need to keep abreast of what is happening in your community, and you will need to have that information in a form that can be passed on from one office-bearer to another and will not simply be lost when somebody leaves. The initial community overview needs to be updated and modified as circumstances change, and as you change the circumstances through your initiatives.
Your mailing list is an asset, but it needs constant maintenance. Australians are a mobile people, and they move house to another suburb every few years, change their telephone numbers, and lose their e-mail addresses. This means that you have to keep your lists up to date, and that means you can't rest on your oars - you have to invest resources continually just to stay where you are, let alone grow.
A mailing list is an asset because it can be mined for support - people who may want to donate, or serve, or volunteer, or answer questions, or participate. Don't neglect it.
Remember, your most important and useful asset lies within your own membership list.
It is a vital resource, and one that must be maintained and serviced. Make sure you keep in touch with the people on it; give them something often enough to keep yourself in their mind.
You've collected and organised some very important information and at the same time now have a realistic picture of your true assets. You now have to ask whether you need to change the way you do things, develop new programs, or adjust the direction of the organisation. A good next step is to bring this to the notice of your board or management committee so that you can go over what you've got and reflect on what it's telling you. Clear off the agenda, open up the debate, and work directly on your strategic plan.
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