Power and Resource Mapping Exercise: Tools for designing a plan of action

Resource mapping and power mapping are collaborative activities that a group might use to analyze a problem and design a plan of action. Both activities involve pulling information together from many sources — including the library, the Internet, public records, interviews, and the personal knowledge of participants. As the term “mapping” implies, the process often involves presenting information visually, using charts, diagrams, photographs, neighborhood or community maps, and other media. The maps let people see information from new perspectives, discuss it, and notice underlying patterns.

Resource Mapping

Resource mapping involves two steps: gathering information about social, economic, or political problems and identifying community resources to address them. A group might use resource mapping to look at a wide range of issues, like the consortium described on page 19, and then decide what to tackle first. Or, if a group has already selected a problem, resource mapping can be used in a more targeted way. For example, an organizing group whose members wanted to do something about high arrest rates of young men in African-American and Latino neighborhoods might take several steps:

  • Gather information about the problem by collecting data on the problem on “no-knock raids,” curfew violations, and other arrests; getting US Census information about neighborhood demographics; and checking police department arrest policies
  • Create a map showing the neighborhoods of the city, with the percentage of minority households; chart the number and location of arrests onto the map
  • Look at patterns, including “hot spots” where the problem is especially acute and places where the problem is less severe despite similar demographics; brainstorm explanations that might explain those patterns
  • Locate resources to address the problem, including community groups and congregations, political leaders, schools and afterschool programs, maybe even police precincts that seem to have better practices

Power Mapping

Power mapping also involves gathering and mapping information, but the real point is to figure out who has power to change the situation and make a plan of action. To extend the example at left, the group concerned about high arrest rates might use power mapping to build on what they learned from resource mapping. One way to start is to name the problem as specifically as possible, then work outward to identify institutions and people with influence over some aspect of the problem, and draw lines to show connections among them, following roughly these steps: 

  • Name the problem and the institutions involved: in the example described at left, that might include the police department, mayor, and city council, which have formal authority, and religious and community institutions, which could help press for a solution 
  • List key people associated with each of the institutions — whether you know them or not; then list everyone you know who is associated with those key people; draw lines showing the connections
  • Look carefully at the map and identify power relationships; think about who has decision-making authority and who has influence; list allies, opponents, and people in the middle
  • Make a plan to get your problem on the radar; figure out who can contact people on the map; decide what to say; discuss direct action and other means of applying pressure; assign tasks and choose target dates for getting them done

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