Asset maps provide a wealth of information about a region’s strengths and resources that can assist in creating a foundation for solutions to economic development and diversification challenges. At its core, an asset map provides guidance to a region’s leadership and decision makers about ways to strengthen its competitive position in a global economy, through identification of resources that the region can leverage to support development initiatives. Asset maps can also become a catalyst for partnership among various leadership and regional stakeholders, especially if the information in the asset map is coordinated closely with social network mapping, as discussed below.
We have completed asset maps in many forms, some very simple and others quite comprehensive, depending on the goals and needs of the region. Typically asset maps provide a baseline of data and information of a regional economy, its workforce, education and innovative assets, as well as any other tangible assets that can be leveraged for development (e.g., research parks, technology, companies, faith-based organizations, etc.), or considered when undertaking planning initiatives. The information provided in an asset map also creates a common foundation of knowledge among all stakeholders and decision-makers.
Asset maps can and should inform areas of opportunity for development. Some specific components may include:
Once these assets are identified, the subsequent task of identifying the connectivity and network between these assets becomes a critical step, and in fact is a major focus of all subsequent planning efforts. For example, a new technology developed at a higher education research institution may further the world’s intellectual knowledge; however, the transformation of the technology into viable new products and services is achieved through a network of financing, business and workforce development and related partnerships. To this end, understanding the formal and informal linkages between regional assets is critical to developing a comprehensive understanding of the regional economic environment.
A social network is a set of individuals and organizations whose collective knowledge, positions and relationships create social capital greater than the summation of each individual’s capital. Therefore (and while the best networks do evolve organically), each network can be strategically managed for specific purposes. In the case of our practice, the purpose is ordinarily to align the efforts of private sector partners with public workforce, economic development and education managers and operators, each of whom represents resources as identified in the Asset Map, to achieve consensus-based goals.
Social network mapping is a tool for expanding and enhancing networks of all kinds, and therefore for tying together assets in pursuit of consensual goals. It identifies and helps to strengthen connections among existing network members, and can be used to identify potential leaders and individuals that should be brought into a network. Network mapping is conducted via an online survey that network members are invited to complete. Network members’ responses to survey questions are then converted into network maps and metrics, as well as data about various relationships among network members.
Organizations undertake network mapping in order to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in their networks. Strong networks are typically diverse, with members that are well-connected to one another and actively engaged in the network’s mission and activities. In contrast, weaker networks often exhibit less diversity, fewer connections among members, and an over-reliance upon a small number of network members for leadership and engagement support. Network mapping helps organizations focus on ways to strengthen their networks, foster collaboration around shared ideas of interest, and enhance desired impacts.