Community mapping(42) or needs assessment(43) or social reconnaissance(44) is identified in many studies as a crucial step in the process of forming community partnerships.(45) One element of community mapping is defining the community in terms of its location, general characteristics, and relevant demographic features of residents.(46) Several studies noted the value of starting within a relatively small area or an area that contained a small number of residents in order to create more breadth of action, a more manageable scale of relationships, and increased motivation, flexibility, and adaptiveness.(47)
Gathering data on the incidence and prevalence of health concerns and risk factors is another element of community mapping. There are three components of this information: epidemiology-the extent, distribution, and nature of the problem; etiology-the origins of the problem; and assessment-the effectiveness of various solutions.(48) Surveying the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of various sectors of the community and partnership members relevant to the group's mission is a third element of community mapping. Awareness of community politics is also important.(49) This process also includes documenting community resources and services currently available; inventorying assets and resources that might be useful; and documenting needs, barriers and alternatives. The perspective of community residents on service delivery, barriers to service, community resources and needs is important. Once all of this information is gathered, it is essential to disseminate it to community residents and leaders.
Community mapping has obvious value in establishing a base of information for creating and adjusting implementation strategies and for measuring success. In addition, the process has other important effects: it can facilitate recruiting and involving residents actively in planning; provide information that mobilizes residents and agencies; and provide a place to test and refine delivery strategies.(50) Several sources noted the difficulty and complexity of this information-gathering effort and recommended technical assistance to achieve the best results.(51)