Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Assets vs Needs in Rural Development

Assets versus Needs in Rural Economic and Community Development

Uncover talents and skills within and build interdependencies or identify what is weak or missing and look outside for the solutions

by Michael L. Holton,

Much of traditional economic and community development in small rural communities has been based on needs rather than assets. Understanding the difference plays a pivotal role.

Needs assessment looks at what we have and what it should be. There’s nothing wrong with this, except it might be putting the cart before the horse. Starting with a needs assessment says to a community and its residents that they are fundamentally lacking and deficient. It makes us look for resources to address the need, making us consumers. This can create a sense of dependency.

Asset-based development relies on uncovering talents and skills found in the community right now. It is an internal model that focuses on effectiveness and builds interdependencies rather than dependencies. Asset-based development seeks to empower people rather than create a second class of citizens who seek answers through agencies outside of the community.

The question I am asked most often is why needs assessments are bad. They aren’t. We all have needs to address. People and communities do have deficiencies, but people and communities also have skills and untapped talent.

Community decisions are often made through a pyramid-shaped process that allows a top person or persons to make decisions and disseminate them to the general population. No interdependencies exist in this way of thinking. A preferred shape is that of intertwined circles, where relationships with each other are used in decision making.

We are involved with a community development project in Knox County, Nebraska. The strategy is to first identify the assets of the nine communities in the county. Once the identification of assets has been secured, both internally and externally, then the mapping process can begin. By developing an inventory of the assets, we will then be able to create a database of skills and talents that had previously gone untapped.

Is there a place for outside resources? Absolutely! Once assets have been identified, it is possible to then address needs in a productive manner. In this way we are hooking the cart to the horse to begin mobilizing rural communities for their future.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Ashley Bliss said…

    Hi there, this Asset Development model really interests me. Do you know of any online resources off the top of your head that address this model in practice? I would love to do some further reading. Thanks!

    You can email me at if you have any ideas.

  • At 4:46 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    Michael is out of the office today but I asked him to send some suggested readings on this topic and I will post them here as soon as i have them. thanks! john

    John Crabtree,
    Center for Rural Affairs
    Values. Worth. Action.


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