Asset mapping is the practice of gathering and documenting all resources within a region and mapping them to understand better the strengths and weaknesses of that area (Figure 1). The goals for asset mapping vary on an array of factors (e.g., what organization commissioned the process). Community resource organizations– schools, health care providers, educational institutions, recreational facilities, and government agencies– are typically included in asset mapping. However, asset mapping can also be effective when broken down to focus on one part of a community, such as a regional behavioral health system. The primary difference between a community and a behavioral health asset mapping process is that the subjects in behavioral health asset mapping would typically be less expansive. There would be some overlap between a community and behavioral health asset map, but the latter would only include organizations contributing to the behavioral health system.
Figure 1: The Process of Asset Mapping
Behavioral health asset mapping is a valuable process for many reasons.
- The process provides all interested parties a view of all contributors to the whole system. This is important for two reasons. First, organizations may not be aware of all resources available to them in their community. For example, it may be helpful for an outpatient provider to incorporate peer support services for the people they see. However, they may not be aware of a peer organization they could partner with in their area. Second, organizations may be mindful of all contributors to the behavioral health system. Still, they may not understand how best to collaborate with them because they lack role clarity. Third Horizon Strategies (THS) has witnessed this in various projects with community-based behavioral health organizations nationwide. When collaboration and role clarity are lacking, organizations risk isolating themselves from other essential community partners, or they may be unnecessarily duplicating services. An effective behavioral health system derives value from system-wide education of roles. In this ideal scenario, contributors know how each organization can complement each other. This is particularly important in behavioral health because adequate funding is scarce nationwide. Resources must be used efficiently if community members are to be best served by the behavioral health system. Asset mapping can be a first step in helping to make the system more efficient.
- Behavioral health asset mapping helps identify gaps in the system. When government entities want to start new programs or release new grant opportunities, behavioral health asset mapping can be a useful step in understanding the landscape. For private organizations looking to expand, asset mapping is a great place to view all resources and where more services or resources are needed. THS recently put together a map of organizations that have grants from the state of Illinois for a client. As shown in Figure 2, the map documents various organization types within the behavioral health spectrum, from prevention to recovery. This is an example of how a government entity might use asset mapping to visualize where funding is being allocated.
Figure 2: Example of Behavioral Health Asset Mapping
- Asset mapping helps build relationships between community partners. Asset mapping is not simply a computer-based research task. Technology-driven research has a role; however, important supplementary knowledge can only be gathered by talking to organizations that are part of a behavioral health system. For local or state government agencies, relationships with behavioral health providers and community organizations are invaluable. Without on-the-ground research necessary in an asset mapping process, government officials may be unaware of the changes needed to help community members receive the best care possible.
Behavioral health asset mapping can be challenging. On the front end, it requires enough resources to collect data effectively. Then, once the map is finalized, the work is not finished. An effective asset mapping process involves regular upkeep. This will help keep the map up to date while keeping relationships with community partners active. Although it can be resource-heavy and challenging at times, behavioral health asset mapping is an effective tool for visualizing systems of care for increased collaboration, relationship building, and better decision-making. THS has a strong team of staff experienced in asset mapping for many different behavioral health-related organizations. Whether asset mapping is the primary focus of an engagement or part of a larger scope of work such as strategic planning, THS is ready to strengthen the system by visualizing community assets.