Discovering the Assets: Making the Invisible Visible Part 1

Discovering the Assets: Making the Invisible Visible Part 1

This post first appeared at Wendy McCaig’s website

“ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) is not our idea.  ABCD is like taking a picture of what is and then making it visible to others.”  John McKnight

Throughout the ABCD Festival in the UK, this theme of making the invisible visible kept emerging.

I first heard it from John McKnight, the founder of the ABCD movement.  McKnight described the discovery of community assets as a way of making the invisible assets found in every community visible, a process  also known as “asset-mapping.” McKnight said: “An asset is something that if invested wisely can go from very small into something big.”

John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann studied more than 300 neighborhoods and collected more than 3,000 community stories before publishing their findings in the book, “Building Communities From the Inside Out” more than 20 years ago. They found healthy communities using  one or more of five types of assets to strengthen the community.  McKnight summarizes these assets as:

  1. The gifts of individuals
  2. The power of associations
  3. The support of institutions
  4. The land and physical assets
  5. The systems of exchange

John McKnight invited us to add to the asset list.  He shared that others have added a sixth category:

  1. The heritage captured in story, music, art, and other forms of culture and tradition

Like McKnight, I believe the gifts of the individuals in the community are often the hardest to see.  McKnight shared these four asset-mapping questions that are helpful in making the invisible gifts of individuals visible:

  1. What is your most significant gift? A gift is something you are born with.
  2. What is your most significant skill? A skill is something you have learned.
  3. What is your most significant passion? A passion is something you care enough about that you have acted on it.
  4. What is something you know well enough that you could teach it to someone else?

At Embrace Richmond we summarize these questions into three which we call gifts of your head (something you know enough about you can teach others), gifts of your hands (skills, gifts, or talents you have learned or were born with), and gifts of your heart (something you care passionately about.)

By asking these questions we are able to discover and name the invisible gifts and dreams of our communities.

Like McKnight, we believe “Community is strongest when every person’s gifts are given.”

“There is no greater power than discovering what a community cares enough about to act upon.   Citizens are empowered by their strengths and passion, not by their deficits.” McKnight said.

This summer Embrace Richmond has given grants to seven local community partners to support community listening and asset -mapping initiatives that we call, Dream Catchers Projects.  Through these projects we have teamed high school youth with supportive adults (from the neighborhood or from a partnering organization) to discover the gifts of the community.   

Throughout this summer neighborhood youth across our city will be making the invisible visible!

Follow their journey on the Embrace Richmond Facebook and Twitter pages and on our Embrace Richmond website at

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