The assets of individuals

Many times in trying to solve a problem, we start with a ‘needs assessment’. This will generally identify the problem that exists and will set about a way to finding a route for which to meet the identified needs. Using this approach means that there is a tendency to focus on the shortcomings of individuals, since it identifies the problems before the strengths.

A needs focus can sometimes make us feel overwhelmed, resigned, hopeless. Focusing on the positive – on people’s strengths can allow us to feel energised and hopeful, even.

Over the course of the project we’ve been speaking to people who have experienced mental health problems on a 1-1* basis – asking them what exisits in their lives that helps their well-being. We did this because we wanted to help them to map the assets that they had within themselves, and within their networks that might help them to keep well.

We did this using many of the same techniques described in previous posts for community asset mapping – but with a definite focus on the individual, their likes and dislikes, their friends and family and their situation overall. This links very much into the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) idea of creating a ‘wellness toolkit’.

I was quite weary of undertaking these exercises at first, because I was worried that people might not be able to see the positive things that they had in their life, and that going through the process might be upsetting. I was wrong.

Having conducted 10 of these discussions with a range of different people, the view is that people found it overwhelmingly positive. There was nothing new to the types of conversations that the practitioner and I were having with them, but mapping things out in a visual way that could be recorded and considered had some really encouraging effects.

Practitioners were able to tackle problems that they’d been discussing for quite some time in a new way and were able to identify factors/issues that they could work on with the individuals quite readily. Service users noted that the process was useful in really thinking about what is important and recording it so that it could be reflected upon at a later date when they were feeling less well (or indeed more well). They were also clear that the visual aspect of it was really good – to be able to literally see what they have (and how much they have) was really powerful.

Here are some examples of the maps we created (highlighting the different methods that we used):



This type of planning won’t be suitable for everyone, all of the time. For the use of the tool/process to be effective, it will need to be done when the person is feeling well.
What worked best was when there was a good relationship with the practitioner and the service user – it meant that people really thought through the process, rather than coming up with superficial answers.

It also worked well when we tried out these approaches in a group – people were able to spark ideas off of one another and to think about different areas of their lives by being prompted by their peers. Some people were quite overwhelmed by the experience, though, and it is important to ensure that people are comfortable and made aware of what the activity is and how it can help them.

All thoughts welcome.

*1-1 basis isn’t strictly true, because many of the discussions we had for the project were helpfully facilitated by trained practitioners. Many thanks to the staff who helped facilitate these discussions!

Let’s start at the beginning

This project is all about empowering people to think about all of the positive assets that they have in their lives and communities. It begins with the premise that, “you can’t know what you need, until you know what you have”.

In order to start finding out about what exists in the local area, the project work began mid-June with a workshop that aimed to introduce staff (mental health practitioners from the voluntary, private and public sectors) to asset mapping as a way of working.

Facilitated by SNOOK (, we spent time with the staff to share experience and practice across the different agencies, as well as exploring how this way of working is different from the techniques that they currently use to design services around the people that they support.

We worked together to have a go at asset mapping in two different ways. Firstly, to create a community map:

Then to explore the use of asset mapping for person-centred planning (where we worked together to create a person-centred map for me!):

Many of the participants thought that the asset mapping method could work well alongside the approaches that they are already using, although they did come up with applications that we’d never thought of! Ideas ranged from using the process as a useful way to reflect on progress with people using services, to seeing the world directly through the eyes of the user.

There were lots of things that people liked about the use of the tool. These included:

  • working well as an individual recording tool
  • good for training staff
  • provided a new way to access thoughts and feelings (which can be hard when you are obsessed with thoughts and feelings)
  • helping to unstick people and staff
  • capturing the conversation
  • thinking about different routes to get to a solution.
Some things that people weren’t so sure of, included:
  • it might paint quite a stark picture for some people
  • the need to make sure that the person/people are in the right place in the recovery journey to engage in the process
  • it can generally be quite hard to get people involved
  • hard to identify assets.

Staff could see how the process linked into work that they already do, but thought that it was different in the following ways:

  • it’s 3D
  • very visual
  • bespoke (different every time, depending on who is involved)
  • holistic
  • inclusive
  • fun

This workshop and feedback was really useful in terms of designing the next few sessions, which will bring together people using services and practitioners.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be talking to lots of people who use services, gathering their thoughts, ideas and experiences in the lead up to these sessions, where we’ll work on mapping out the local area in greater detail. We’re hoping to be able to determine the difference between individual assets that people use to support themselves, and the assets that exist locally – with a view to identifying the gaps and opportunities that exist.

Watch this space!

You can view the full range of pictures from this first event here: