As our project team delves deeper into our partnership with Ukraine, one of the tools that has recently come into focus is that of “asset-mapping,” or as James F. Krile (2006) explains - a consideration of the community “and capturing information about the assets that exist there” (p. 23)
Perhaps one of the differences between traditional strategic planning and the recent buzz about “asset mapping” is the more deliberate reformulation of the question of “what do we need?” to “what have we got?” By turning around the traditional question of “what do we need," museum professionals can begin forge creative approaches to community problems through an emphasis on what they already have rather than by identifying missing resources they may need to cultivate.
In many ways, this strategic approach is particularly useful to the growing sector of world museum communities suffering in the wake of severe economic hardship (such as the Rose Art Museum in MA), or to institutions and communities that are weathering the effects of social and political conflict (such as the Syrian Mosaic Museum or the Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life in Ukraine). In the case of Syria and Ukraine, strategizing how to meet the needs or deficits of their community can sometimes feel far too overwhelming (in Syria, especially, basic needs like food and water for thousands of people are paramount). But by focusing on what “we’ve got,” we can begin to reformulate a positive platform for community based participatory research that may even prove to have a more immediate impact on museum operations (and the civic engagement we seek). Furthermore, this focus on external assets might better facilitate the ability of smaller groups to make bigger changes.
For example, in my team’s current research of the community of L’viv, we’ve already discovered a number of needs; the museum wants to facilitate more involvement from schools but lacks funding for sustained class-sized transportation; the L’viv community struggles with the declining value of their currency due to recent political conflicts in the east; and, they have a lack of meaningful participation and visitation from teen-aged visitors. As a small team of only three JHU students, meeting their needs directly by raising enough funds on our own for a sustainable transportation infrastructure (for example) might be a little out of our reach. Likewise, there’s little we can do to improve the value of Ukrainian currency (don't we wish!).
But by recasting the idea of “needs” and deficits to a focus on what we do have, we have suddenly identified small ways into these larger problems.
According to recent polls done by the museum, the city of L’viv already has a bevy of teacher and students that have articulated their willingness to be involved with the museum so while we may not be able to get them to us, perhaps we can find a low budget way to get us to them. And, while the currency value is down, local tourism is up as Ukrainian families choose to vacation locally to save money. And, since the conflict began, “what we have” is a resurgence of youth groups and “hipsters” interested in the very retro nostalgia of Ukrainian rural life that the institution has traditionally offered. So, in thinking about our role in terms of strategic planning, we have also begun to think about the ways we can work as facilitators of the assets and interests already in place - to be able to connect these assets and interests to an institution ready to receive them.
As Angela Blanchard pointed out in her 2011 TED talk, by focusing on assets instead of problems, we can sometimes change the story of need. Once we do that, we can truly begin to build within the community, especially in times of disaster.
Krile, L. (2006). Tool 1: Identifying Community Assets. The Community Leadership Handbook: Framing Ideas, Building Relationships, and Mobilizing Resources. Fieldstone Alliance, New York (pp. 22-41).