The Occupy movement has spread to 2,512 cities worldwide, and its support networks stretch far beyond physical occupations. That it has grown so quickly without specific demands or hierarchical leadership is testament to the creative genius of its organisers. They understand a key lesson from web platform development of the past 10 years: provide an overarching framework yet let users define how they engage; in an era of collective individualism disinterest often arises from over-engineered outcomes. For Occupy, this has meant a ‘horizontal’ approach to leadership and the provision of a largely blank canvas for people to air grievances within a framework of broader discontent with ‘the 1%’. Specific demands, from identified leaders, could have left the movement open to co-option, rejection, or character assassination, all recipes for fizzle.
Understandably though, a contemporary return to ‘big fix’ thinking compounded by media frustration with ‘supposedly leaderless structures’, has seen increasing calls for Occupiers to present alternatives. However, the broader truth is that the world is yet to uncover a genuinely brilliant alternative to growth-based economics and its inherent creation of greater inequality.
Could 2012 be the year real alternatives emerge? I think so. Keep an eye on the Solidarity Economy, the Blue Economy, and the Steady State Economy, amongst other proposals. Indeed our own work at the Post Growth Institute is encouraged by the attention being given to prosperity without growth, property beyond growth, innovation without growth, and managing without growth.
In the meantime, with winter having arrived in most of the Northern hemisphere, I have a suggestion for how the Occupy movements can create greater internal resilience whilst simultaneously building for a huge 2012; how to take the movement’s peer-to-peer nature one step further. It involves employing a simple technique called ‘asset mapping’. In the case below – appropriate for any number of participants – this involves mapping the passions, knowledge and skills that Occupy participants already possess. I have successfully trialled this method with face-to-face gatherings, but the template can be easily customised for an online process or expanded to explore campaign, organisational or team-specific resources. It is essentially a form of real-time crowdsourcing, except in this case every bit of data is of potential, perpetual value to all involved.
Facilitating Asset Mapping
First up, here is one example of an outcome from this process, so that you know what it is to which you might be working!
The 10 Steps
1. Gather the following materials: nine colourful post-it notes for every participant (e.g. 225 for 25 people), a pack of colourful sticky dots for every 10 participants, three big sheets of butcher’s paper for every 25 participants, and enough marker pens/pens for the group.
Tips: To produce the most visually appealing of asset maps, go for a range of colours (of the lighter kind) when selecting post-it notes. For pens, note that there is an ideal tip thickness that allows for legible writing and reading from a distance. Also, if needed, you can substitute words or symbols for sticky dots.
2. Assemble your group in a way that allows participants to partner-up and ensure each has a something with which to write, a total of nine post-it notes, and access to sticky dots for a little later on.
Tips: I have found this exercise works well around tables where people can write on the post-it notes most easily. Ideally, participants will have a mix of colours with their post-it notes, but as long as there is diversity amongst the group it does not really matter (i.e., it is o.k. for a participant to have all the same colour or groups of colour with their post-it notes, as long as there is diversity in the room and across the asset map categories – ‘Heart’, ‘Head’ and ‘Hand’).
3. Explain to the group the asset mapping process (i.e. the remaining six steps)
Tips: If you would like to introduce asset-based thinking to the group, you can read a quick introduction here. In addition to outlining the process I would suggest explaining the desired outcomes to the group, as well as how long the process should take (I have found 90 minutes plenty for a group of up to 100). I suggest highlighting that participants need only share that with which they are comfortable, and that a gift shared with one’s partner does not have to be recorded on a post-it note (i.e. there is no obligation to place anything on the butcher’s paper later on, but that the final maps are accessible to all participants, irrespective of whether they contributed specific gifts). Perhaps also highlight that this is, in part, a trust building exercise undertaken on the basis that every person’s shared offerings are respected and not open to exploitation.
4. Ask everyone to write the words ‘Heart’, ‘Head’ and ‘Hands’ in the top left of the post-it notes, using one term per post-it note, and three post-it notes for each category.
Tips: So that they can be most easily read from a distance, consider suggesting that participants print their words, rather than use running writing.
Participants should now have a range of post-it notes in front of them, resembling the following (three of each):
5. Ask participants to first record up to nine gifts – ideally three each of the ‘heart’, ‘head’ and ‘hand’ – with each gift written clearly in the centre of the post-it note listing its relevant category (allow 15-20 minutes for this). Participants are then invited to share their gifts with a person next to them in whatever way they desire. Explain the gifts as follows:
- Heart: ‘I am passionate about…’
- Head: ‘I have some knowledge around…’
- Hands: ‘I know how to…’
Model the practice yourself to the group, e.g. “I am passionate about caring for animals, I have some knowledge around how to cut a mango properly and I know how to build a shed using timber and rope”.
Tips: Starting with the heart is the easiest way I have found for people to open up – everyone is passionate about something! Encourage participants to go beyond what they think people might expect them to say are their gifts – the more random the gift, the more likely it will be unique and therefore of even greater value to the group. That said, remind people that every gift is welcome in the space and that there is no obligation for people to share nine, or for that matter, any gifts. If participants seem lost, I encourage them to start with the exact sentences, i.e. “I am passionate about…”.
6. Ask participants to add a coloured dot in the top right hand corner of each post-it note relevant to the amount they are willing to share. Distinguish between a ‘full-time’, ‘part-time’ and ‘casual’ offering.
Tips: I use the traffic light colours for dots. Here red means ‘casual’, orange or yellow means ‘part-time’ and green means ‘full-time’ – you can obviously improvise, as long as you make it clear to all involved. Consider modelling an example of each, e.g. casual might mean you can contact me once a year or every so often, part-time means I’m open to weekly/monthly engagement around this, full-time means contact me at any reasonable hour! It also helps to put up a super-sized example of a completed post-it note, somewhere clearly visible to the group.
7. Ask participants to write their first name and best contact details along the bottom of the post-it note.
Tips: If relevant, remind people of the range of contacts from which they can select one to share, e.g. Twitter handle, email, phone number, Skype name or postal address. Let people know that they can write different contact details for different gifts.
8. Ask participants to add a ‘$’ sign to the left of the sticky dot if they would like to charge for the use of their gift.
Tips: Encourage people to be honest about whether they would like to charge and remind people that it will be up to those involved to negotiate costs when each exchange occurs
Participants should now have a range of post-it notes in front of them, resembling the following:
9. Ask participants to stick each post-it note on the relevant piece of butcher’s paper (each should be labelled either: ‘heart’, ‘head’ or ‘hands’) that will be on the ground or hanging vertically nearby. Offer people a good amount of time to review what goes up.
Tips: Best to have the butcher’s paper affixed to wall or pinboard in advance. Make sure the place where the assets will be displayed is accessible to a roving crowd. Trust that magic will now evolve. Encourage people to bathe in the beauty of their shared assets but also record immediately what offers they might like to follow-up!
Asset mapping at Gathering ’11
10. Crowd-source someone from the group who is willing to put all the assets into a spreadsheet and distribute to the group electronically or through a printed version.
Tips: The new databasing volunteer should have everyone’s contact details from the bottom of the post-it notes, but if participants have not listed an email address (and for those who chose not to share their gifts publicly) you may want to facilitate a means of sourcing these at this point. Check also if anyone does not wish to be contacted with a copy of the maps. And do not forget to remind the new volunteer to put people’s addresses in ‘blind carbon copy’ if using email!
Asset mapping offers a simple, fast and inexpensive way to resource a movement. Because it focuses on what already exists, it’s positive in nature and is great at unearthing latent potential. Mapping assets provides a tangible seedbed of opportunity when campaigning needs to be put on hold. Once in a database, it’s easily updated by people themselves and also presents a medium through which people can maintain meaningful connections – it’s actually collaborative living in action! Perhaps most importantly, its informal nature facilitates the strengthening of connections and trust beyond casual acquaintances. But then again, that’s a common trait to most things that are free and fun!