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, email@example.com
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.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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