Survey of Interests, Needs, and Skills (INs)

in Asset-Based Community Development

Here’s a tool you might be able to use to get a better appreciation of the interests, skills, and needs of your constituents, and to help them connect with one another, and with other local resources. You can download the pdf by clicking on the image below. You can also edit and download the form, in spreadsheet format, here (some formatting was lost in the file translation).

The form was designed for residents of multi-family subsidized housing communities. We didn’t use some of items from the original Capacity Inventory (Kretzmann & McKnight 1993), but kept them in a separate tab (Skills, column J), so you can just copy & paste as needed.

Most respondents completed the form in under eight minutes, with some, who answered the open-ended questions at the end of the survey, taking up to 15 minutes.

Matt Singh (a fellow founder of the Idealist Silicon Valley group) and I developed the form, which we derived (with thanks) from several sources:

We’d appreciate your feedback. And as we roll this out to more residents, we’ll need online/offline tools to make it easier for them to match their interests, needs, and skills with those of their neighbors. Any ideas?

Neighborhood-based community building handbooks recommended by Jim Diers

in Asset-Based Community Development

“Few people in this country know as much about community building as Jim Diers,” said  Fred Kent, President of Project for Public Spaces (PPS). From 1988 to 2002, Jim led Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods which is “widely known as the most innovative effort in the U.S. to empower local residents” (John P. Kretzmann, Co-director or the Asset-Based Community Development Institute).

Jim’s been dragged all over the world by people and orgs keen to learn from his real-world experience as a community builder. He’s currently on a tour through Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, and the US. (It’s not really a book tour, but a lot of the discussions revolve around the ideas and practices detailed in his must-read book Neighbor Power.) Yet he somehow found time to answer my request.

In my own experience as a community organizer, I’ve found that it’s so much easier to get things moving when people don’t have to first invent the wheel. So I like workbooks. Our Blocks recently featured one workbook,which I thought was the best I’d seen so far. I asked Jim if others came to mind. He said he’d give it more thought when he had more time, but off the top of his head:

  1. The Organizer’s Workbook, published by the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center -  a roadmap to discovering, organizing and engaging your neighborhood. (This is the workbook we’d previously featured, as noted above. Incidentally, I corresponded this week with INRC Executive Director Anne-Marie Taylor, who said she’d “love to hear how folks outside of Indianapolis are utilizing this Workbook”.)
  2. The Great Neighborhood Book, by Jay Walljasper, published by PPS. (In the Great Minds Think Alike category, this book was also recommended to us by UMass Professor Emeritus Bill Berkowitz, Development Partner at the Community Tool Box.)

Not a workbook, but something Jim brought up in relation to my plans to do community-building work in the Philippines: From Clients to Citizens – Deepening the Practice of Asset-Based and Citizen-Led Development (pdf) – Conversations from the ABCD Forum, July 8 – 10, 2009. Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Edited by Alison Mathie and Deborah Puntenney. December 2009. The Coady International Institute published this under a CC-ANSA license, very nice of them.

Thanks for your recommendations Jim.

Other recent articles on Jim Diers by friends of Our Blocks: Jim Diers on citizen action by Kevin Harris at Neighborhoods; Getting back to Government Is Us at Socialreporter (which includes a beer-powered interview by David Wilcox). You can also find Jim’s talks on The Youtubes, three of which (so far) we’ve added to our Videos collection. Not recent but still fresh, this hour-long conversation on KUOW (note: turns out there’s a difference between mating calls and meeting calls).

KaBOOM! – Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play

in Asset-Based Community Development

Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College. He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology; published articles on innovative teaching methods and alternative approaches to education; and is author of Psychology (Worth Publishers), an introductory college textbook now in its 5th edition.

Peter Gray

In Empowering Neighborhoods and Restoring Play, Psychology Today columnist Peter Gray asked his readers to help him develop a proposal to build a neighborhood play and learning center “that could serve as a model that communities everywhere might emulate”. I said I’d help, and after putting in a few hours, recommended that he check out KaBOOM!, a nonprofit founded by Darell Hammond, who studied under John Kretzmann, Director of the Assets Based Community Development Institute (ABCD Insitute) at Northwestern University.

A 2008 study authored by Deborah Puntenney found that “when implemented appropriately, the KaBOOM! Community-Build process creates a lasting impact on the communities it partners with, both in terms of building capacity, enhancing community pride and cultivating leadership, as well as enhancing the play experience of neighborhood children.” Dr. Puntenney’s researchers conducted site visits and telephone interviews with 110 playspace builders, and reported that:

  • Nearly 100% believe that their KaBOOM! playground positively impacted the quality and quantity of children’s play
  • 94% believe that their playground project helped strengthen relationships among neighborhood residents and among community partners
  • 91% said that the KaBOOM! Community Build model and tools work

The KaBOOM! model (Road Map) comprises eight steps:

  1. KaBOOM! Road MapResearch – Why play matters, the “community-build model,” benefits of a community build model, play equipment appropriate for specific ages, abilities, and types of play, playground safety hazards in old equipment, make the case for a new, community-built playground.
  2. Conceive – Create a project vision and mission statement, form a planning committee, choose a playground site, choose a surfacing and equipment vendor, estimate the project budget, establish a project timeline, create a fundraising strategy.
  3. Organize – Organize and hold the first playspace meeting, start fundraising, finalize planning committee teams, determine the necessary site preparation, create a project website.
  4. Design – Holding a Design Day, working with an equipment vendor to select a design, press materials and media involvement, accelerating youth involvement through the Design Day and service learning projects.
  5. Coordinate – Recruiting Build Day volunteers and captains, creating a contingency plan for bad weather and emergencies, mapping the build site and the Build Day “matrix,” creating a maintenance plan with the landowner and staff, leveling the site and removing old equipment.
  6. Energize – Planning final fundraisers, writing and sending out a media advisory to notify local newspapers, radio, and TV stations, ordering side project materials, confirming delivery schedule for equipment and surfacing, training build day captains.
  7. Build – Equipment and surfacing delivery, organizing materials one to two days before the Build Day, motivating volunteers, rehearsing the ribbon cutting ceremony, taking pictures of the site and securing the area.
  8. Maintain – Sending official thanks you’s, starting your maintenance program, hosting a final planning meeting, supervising, playing and enjoying, RALLY!-ing for play.

The website’s toolkit provides resources (including samples) for every step on the map, including pre-planning, community involvement, volunteer recruitment, fundraisingconstruction, and maintenance.

KaBOOM! also provides free online training, and a Project Planner: a free website that aims to help you plan each step of your project, communicate with your team, recruit local volunteers, raise money, get free advice from the professional playground builders at KaBOOM!, and connect you to a community of people like you who are building playspaces around the country.

KaBOOM! Project PlannerClick here to read news articles on KaBOOM!

Capacity Inventory samples

in Asset-Based Community Development

Source: Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity | The Habitat Exchange.

A. From Greyrock Commons Co-Housing Community


    Things I know something about and would enjoy talking about with others, e.g., art, history, movies, birds.
    Things or skills I know how to do and would like to share with others, e.g., carpentry, sports, gardening, cooking.
    Things I care deeply about, e.g., protection of the environment, civic life, children.

capacity inventory

B. From the New Prospect Baptist Church


Gifts are abilities that we are born with. We may develop them, but no one has to teach them to us.

1. What positive qualities do people say you have?

2 Who are the people in your life that you give to? How did you give it to them?

3. When was the last time you shared with someone else? What was it?

4. What do you give that makes you feel good?


Sometimes we have talents that we’ve acquired in everyday life such as cooking and fixing things.

1. What do you enjoy doing?

2. If you could start a business, what would it be?

3. What do you like to do that people would pay you to do?

4. Have you ever made anything? Have you ever fixed anything?


Goals you hope to accomplish.

1. What are your dreams?

2. If you could snap your fingers and be doing anything, what would it be?

Building Communities From the Inside Out

in Asset-Based Community Development

Notes from Building Communities From the Inside Out, by John P. Kretzmann

  • In distressed communities across the United States, savvy organizers and leaders are rediscovering ancient wisdom about what builds strong communities.
  • Serious community builders have no choice but to return to basics, to the communities themselves to rediscover and mobilize the strengths, capacities, and assets within those communities.
  • Communities can only be built by focusing on the strengths and capacities of the citizens who call that community home.
  • Start by drawing an “Assets Map“, which includes: (1) the “gifts” of individual residents – their knowledge, skills, resources, values, and commitments; (2) those groups and organizations, sometimes called “associations,” in which local citizens come together to pursue a wide range of activities; (3) institutions located in virtually every community: schools, parks, libraries, police, human service agencies, community colleges, when those institutions can refocus at least part of their considerable resources on community building.

When all these local community assets – the gifts of individuals, the power of citizens’ associations, and the resources of local institutions – have been rediscovered, “mapped,” and mobilized in relation to each other and their potential to solve problems, then a community previously regarded as empty and deficient will appear on the large civic stage as capable and powerful. With this goal in mind, consider a few of the concrete tools and methods local communities are developing to rediscover and activate their assets.

Discovering and Using the Gifts of Individuals

  • Every community is built by the contributions of its residents.
  • The great organizer Saul Alinsky argued that it takes no more than five percent of the residents of any community to bring about significant change.
  • For purposes of building communities “from the inside out,” that number is inadequate.
  • Every person in this community is gifted, and every person in this community will contribute his/her gifts and resources.
  • To rediscover the gifts and resources of all community members, community groups have utilized some form of a “Capacity Inventory.” The inventory is simply a questionnaire aimed at uncovering a person’s skills, areas of knowledge and experience, commitments, and willingness to be involved in community building and/or economic development activities.
  • Among the many potential uses for the capacity inventory, the seven listed below seem to be most common. Each, of course, requires asking residents a different set of questions.

Seven Uses for a Capacity Inventory

  • Link skills to employers
  • Discover market opportunities
  • Develop local skills bank. Housed with block captains, in churches or local community organizations, a skills bank can facilitate neighbor-to-neighbor help, e.g. baby sitting, snow shoveling, carpentry, plumbing
  • Learning Exchange: “What would you like to teach?” and “What would you like to learn?” One community for over a decade operated a learning exchange that grew to a listing of more than 20,000 topics.
  • Discover new participants in community life. Questions about previous involvements and current interests uncover new contributors to community organizations.
  • Discover new cultural and artistic resources. Inquiries about cultural and artistic skills in a number of communities have uncovered visual artists, writers, musicians, theater people, and crafts people, most of whom are willing and ready to be involved in community and civic activities.

The questions that make up the inventory should reflect the uses that the organizing group wants to emphasize. A typical questionnaire might cover:

  • Skills information, including skills people have learned at home, in the community, or at the workplace. Usually people are asked to identify their “priority skills,” those about which they are most confident.
  • Community skills information, aimed at uncovering precious community experience and potential interests.
  • Enterprising interests and experience, aimed at uncovering past and present business experience.
  • Culture and arts skills.
  • Minimum personal information, for follow-up purposes.