“First, we see what we have — individually, as neighbors and in this place
of ours. Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new
connections and relationships among and between what we have.
Third, we know that these connections happen when we individually or
collectively act to make the connections — they don’t just happen by themselves.”
~John McKnight “Community Capacities and Community Necessities”
“Community building strategies should respond to important features of the local context, not just generic principles about being inclusive or building productive relationships… Because meaningful change requires leverage that “multiplies” the force of your strategy, a savvy scan of the local context is vital as an input. Relationships are time consuming to build and sustain, some are more important than others for accomplishing particular objectives, and strategies grounded in a realistic assessment of organized interests and patterns of influence are more likely to pay off. Beyond generic trend spotting, a variety of tools for mapping the local civic structure are available—but not yet widely or systematically used to build better civic strategies in community development.”
~ Xavier de Souza Briggs “Networks, Power, and a Dual Agenda: New Lessons and Strategies for Old Community Building Dilemmas”
“Maps are more than pieces of paper. They are the stories, conversations, lives and songs lived out in a place and are inseparable from the political and cultural contexts in which they are used”
~ Warren, 2004 qtd. in http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/guides/participatory-mapping
Last week I wrote about the need for deep listening in community-building work and how storytelling-as-process is all about listening. In this post I explore another critical lesson: the more we do in our communities to understand who we are and how we connect with one another, the more effective our actions to build capacity, foster participation, and affect change from within. Common sense, yes? But in our excitement to bring about positive, urgently needed change, we often leap into dialogue or action and overlook the crucial ongoing foundational work that is, after all, also action. And then things can stall. Or break down. Or leave some folks behind or out. Or we burn out. Or we waste community potential and squander promise.
For storytelling projects to build lasting trust, to reveal community values and to help move it to action, we need to understand as much about our community as possible. For community building to be truly inclusive, truly participatory, we work together to identify the inhabitants/members/constituents, not merely by name and address, but also by affiliation and connection to others through formal and informal groups and associations, neighborhoods and workplace. We take another step by getting to know our connections through identity as revealed by expertise, experience and interest. We explore where people gather, why and when. We discover such things as who loves to fish. Who collects mementos of the region. Who grew up here, left and then returned. Who gathers at the local barber shop. Who likes to take photos. Knits. Cares about the old stone buildings in town. Caretakes the wisdom from past generations. We come to understand the vital links, both strong and weak, that tie us to one another and to this place. And in so doing, we make it possible to work together to build a strong, healthy future for our community.
And so to do storytelling well in community-change work, we do more than share our stories, more than capture and archive them. A crucial piece of the storytelling-for-change puzzle doesn’t, at first glance, have anything to do with storytelling. It has to do, rather, with visuals more than words, with drawing and arranging and then naming. It has to do with maps and mapping.
The participatory community mapping movement grasps the power of community members making their own maps of place and space. We’re naturally eager to place our stories within the context of geography: and digital tools make it easy to embed our stories into maps of place and maps into our stories (such as in Cleveland Historical-one of many examples of historical narrative & mapping using tours and mobile apps– Biddeford Maine’s Heartspots or MapSkip or the Center for Digital Storytelling’s Placemeant Project in Ukiah, California)–examples of stories incorporated into digital maps abound). Or we can sit together and make maps with pen and paper, as Crayon your Community does. Indeed, I use geographic maps in many of my storytelling exercises– participants draw maps, or locate story hotspots on maps, or create future-vision maps.
But there’s another sort of mapping essential to community-building. With sticky notes on walls, and with computers, we map relationships, identities, networks, capacity, assets, third places and sacred spaces: what people care about in the community and how they interact in it and with each other. We use simple maps community members draw and assemble by hand–of the ways they use local resources, say, and their connections–both formal and informal–within the community and to resources beyond the community. We use digital mapping and social network analysis tools to help uncover patterns, connections, dislocations, opportunities and challenges we had not noticed or clearly understood.
This sort of mapping is being used to study almost every aspect of the world. What’s fairly unusual is participatory mapping of these relationships– mapping our community connections together as part of the participatory change process.
The group process of relationship mapping helps us to build trust and a shared understanding of one another–sitting next to one another, comparing maps or our perception and experience of those maps and what they represent and reveal– can shake us from our ruts of thinking. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, in his new book, Thinking, Fast & Slow (Slate has a fine review) reminds us of the near impossibility of escaping our own biases by ourselves: “It’s easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” We fall victim to “our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainly of the world we live in.” We rely far too much on first impressions and “place too much faith in [our] intuitions,” Kahneman writes. With these human tendencies in mind, we can embark on collaborative processes across a community that reveal a variety of viewpoints, experiences, and perceptions, and yes, biases. Weaving mapping into the connective tissue of storytelling, dialogue and art-centered approaches grounds the conversation, the vision, the planning in the complex reality of what actually exists in our community and who we are.
Mapping does even more–
Mapping builds enthusiasm for a project as it provides almost immediately a powerful view of a community. Early project mapping and analysis reveal gaps in a community’s knowledge of the pressing issues or of an organizing committee’s understanding of the full community as well as groups and individuals underrepresented in the project formation.
Mapping saves time by locating stories, storytellers and story catchers, and story-sharing opportunities. By identifying and synthesizing the interests and allegiances within the community, mapping points to story themes located in place or micro-community or issue. Mapping informal groups by interest, such as knitters or gardeners or hunters, can bring people into the project who might not otherwise participate.
Mapping provides a nuanced, deep view into a community by revealing interactions within and between formal and informal groups, associations and institutions. It locates leaders, both those known and those unrecognized, and the people who connect groups, who have a long reach into the community. Anthropologist Karen Stephenson defines the roles of crucial people identified through network mapping:
“Hubs are the people who know the most people. They facilitate expansion of the network, trading (for example, the exchange of favors), and the rapid dissemination of information. Gatekeepers occupy a critical path. They are often the only bridge between an important part of the network and everyone else. They make a network stronger, in part by helping people focus and move things along. Pulse-takers are called on by other significant connectors, often for their judgment or insight, and they help the group maintain its integrity and perspective. They are invaluable in times of turmoil.”
The Pathways through Participation report from Involve.org identifies five crucial community roles revealed by mapping: Leaders, Catalysts, Initiators, Consolidators, Helpers, Organizers as well as the role of gathering spaces:
“The maps themselves and what the participants said about the maps proved to be particularly rich, complementing significantly the information gathered during the area profiling stage. The sites of participation identified helped the researchers to find some key places and spaces where participation happens locally, which helped them target certain sites and organizations to recruit interviewees.”
Maps can reveal gaps between groups and individuals that can be addressed as pointed out by Network Weaving.
The maps, if updated and analyzed continuously and in relation to one another, continue to highlight the reach of the project, the authentic engagement of the full community’s participation, as we build an effective evolving portrait of the project as it proceeds.
So why not dispense with storytelling altogether and just do extensive mapping and network analysis? We need maps, yes, but alone they provide an incomplete picture, for as Herman Melville wrote, “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” Stories fill in the gaps, provide the detailed images, the narrative, the full, nuanced picture. Storytelling can do its magic when it stands on the foundation of deep knowledge of the many ways a community is itself. Together, mapping and storytelling can weave a complex but clear picture of a community while forging new connections and building trust.
Useful Resources in Participatory Community Mapping
UMap: ” a clearinghouse of information on how to conduct community mapping with and for children and youth growing up in urban areas to promote social action and neighborhood change. Maps tell stories about places and people’s connections to those places. uMAP is a unique civic engagement model that allows communities to use maps to share what they know about where they live. uMAP brings youth and adults together in partnership to give voice to youth perceptions and improve the quality of life for all citizens.”
Ushahidi: ” We are a non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. “
Global Giving: Stories plus maps (Using Ushahidi)
M.I.T.’s Timenesia : “Many communities suffer from “timenesia”: a lack of awareness-of and interest-in their own past, present and future. They don’t showcase their rich past, aren’t aware of their neighbors different takes on their present, nor their hopes for their shared future. Timenesia.org’s goal is to overcome this problem by enabling communities to awareness, engagement and excitement via hyper-local guided tours featuring residents’ voices, pictures, and text about the past, present and future. ”
More and more studies examine the impact of network mapping and social network analysis on communities and networks. Here’s an example: LLC Social Network Analysis Project Final Report
“LLC, through its Community Seed Fund, recently supported four members of the Community (Bruce Hoppe, Meredith Emmett, Dianne Russell, and Odin Zackman) to test the usefulness of this methodology in different network contexts. The team produced a very informative summary about the outcomes of this project. One of the more interesting findings was that network maps can be a valuable tool for generating group reflection about itself. The study raised the question about which networks would find this a valuable tool and which might not. There is some indication that those networks that have a clear purpose, are more bounded and formalized, and that have outside funding, may be more motivated and interested in using network maps to deepen thttps://communityexpressions.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=366&action=editheir understanding of themselves as a network. Another interesting lesson learned is that the interpretation of network maps is full of complexities. There is no single interpretation of what the maps mean. This means that the maps can lead to many interesting conversations. The summary does a nice job of specifying and evaluating the outcomes of the three projects that were part of the study. It provides valuable guidance to others who may consider undertaking an SNA of their leadership networks. In addition, the report analyzes the three networks along 11 dimensions. These will be helpful to you if you are looking to better understand the networks you are part of regardless of whether you use SNA or not. While our understanding of networks is still very much evolving, SNA is a promising tool to help us “see” leadership networks.”
Media Engage’s Mapping Tools:” Mapping is a great way to identify local assets, networks and opportunities in your community. Using data and some free tools available on the internet, you can create a visual display of key community organizations, partners, and even related issues. For a taste of what mapping can do, check out our new tools created for The Takeaway radio stations.”
NetMap: “an interview-based mapping tool that helps people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes . By creating Influence Network Maps, individuals and groups can clarify their own view of a situation, foster discussion, and develop a strategic approach to their networking activities. More specifically, Net-Map helps players to determine what actors are involved in a given network, how they are linked, how influential they are, and what their goals are.”
Beth Kanter’s Description of Network Mapping for Nonprofits
Good Practices in Participatory Community Mapping (.pfd) Geographic mapping
Overview of Rural Participatory Appraisal–List of Tools, including network analysis and mapping tools
Mailana’s network mapping tool tool is super easy if you have excel or Google spreadsheets.
Many Eyes has an easy-to-use network mapping tool
https://crowdmap.com/mhi Easy, free
https://bubbl.us/ Mind-mapping tool that can be used for simple network maps.
Gliffy for drawing simple network maps
Tutorial on geographic mapping of assets using Google Earth: http://www.mediaengage.org/execute/mapping/index.cfm
Video of a Project in Venezuela to have the community members map their ancestral lands
HistoryPin: “Historypin local projects aim to start something that local people and partners continue for many years to come, building the record of local history on Historypin.com and bringng people together to enjoy it.”
Mapping Memories: Experiences of Refugee Youth in Montreal
It is more difficult to find good examples of participatory community network mapping outside of academic papers as often the information is sensitive. Here are a couple:
Asset Mapping through a Participatory Rural Appraisal: “The DCS (Design for Community) Lab at Srishti, put together a team of designers from different fields, to work with a community of potters in the south of India in order to help the indigenous artisans learn how to plan their production and business needs more efficiently.”