This excerpt from the Community Organising Guide provides an introduction to community mapping, a key step in community organising.
Organising a community is like having an intimate relationship with the most complicated partner you can imagine. For the relationship to work, you need to tune in, perceive and attend to your community’s moods, needs and passions. And to be ready for action! Communities are dynamic, and can change unexpectedly from time to time in ways that impact directly on the prospects of winning your campaign.
Like a long-distance relationship, organising a community that you don’t live in can present some added challenges. Unlike a resident organiser, you’re unlikely to have the intimacy and subtle understandings that develop when you spend time with folks every day. Equally, though, there can be advantages of being an ‘outsider’. You start with a clean slate, without being hung-up on a history of community division or factionalism, and you’ll bring a fresh perspective.
Community organisers need to continually analyse their communities. What’s going on that has implications for our issue and campaign? Which groups do we need to be connecting with? How is power being exercised?
There are processes we can use for the different stages in the life cycle of a community organising campaign: entering and mapping a community, assessing community network relationships and preparing to exit or leave a community.
Community mapping is about learning and understanding the larger community you are entering and engaging. It is more than charting demographics. It is about understanding who has power and influence in the community in general, in key institutions and organisations. Knowing your community helps you to be respectful, thoughtful, and effective.
Our challenge as community organisers is to connect the interests of community members and groups with our campaign. Only if the community sees our campaign as their campaign and in their interest will they act with passion to build the power needed to realise our shared agenda. We build constituency from this place of shared interest. Just because we have identified certain resources does not mean that we will have access to them. Commitment follows self-interest. The deeper the interest, the deeper the commitment and the more likely the capacity (or resources) will be brought to our shared action.
Mapping is cyclic and iterative. First we begin to map our community based on what we already know, then we gather more information and analyse that information before readjusting our map, and starting the cycle over again.
For more information about Community Organising and a comprehensive collection of planning tools and training resources see the Community Organising People Power Manual.