Assets-Oriented Community Assessment
S Y N 0 P S I S
Dr. Sharpe, Ms. Greaney, and Ms. Royce are with the Prevention Research Center at the
University of South Carolina School of Public
Health. Dr. Sharpe is Research Associate
Determining how to promote community health requires that community health workers first assess where the community stands. The authors maintain that Healthy Communities initiatives are better served by assetsoriented assessment methods than by standard "problem-focused" or "needs-based" approaches. An assets orientation allows community members to identify, support, and mobilize existing community resources to create a shared vision of change, and encourages greater creativity when community members do address problems and obstacles.
Professor. Ms. Greaney and Ms. Royce are
Research Assistants with the Center and doctoral candidates in the Department of Health Promotion and Education, School of Public Health. Mr. Lee is Senior Associate for Healthy Communities at the Medical
Wlifith the growing interest in community participation and selfi/il determination-both central to Healthy Communities princiVV ples-the standard "problem-focused" or "needs-based" approaches to community health have come under criticism. Problemfocused theories and planning models share a common focus on problem identification and have permeated government, the media, professional training of all sorts, as well as funding agencies and organizations.' Kretzmann and McKnight contend that deficiency-based approaches can have negative effects even when positive change is intended because they force community leaders to highlight their communities' worst side in order to attract resources.' Needs-focused perspectives may also unintentionally create one-dimensional images that characterize communities and the individuals within them based on disease risk profiles or social problem categories, such as "low income," "welfare mom," "the handicapped," or "high crime neighborhood." In contrast, the movement toward promoting 205
PUBLIC HEALTH REPORTS * FOCUS ON HEALTHY COMMUNITIES
greater community participation is grounded in theories, perspectives, and planning frameworks that focus on communities' strengths or give balanced attention to strengths and needs. Community asset assessment is a method for collecting information about a community. Assessing a community's assets means identifying, supporting, and mobilizing existing community resources and capacities for the purpose of creating and achieving a shared vision. In the process of doing a self-assessment, community members also identify probFor co lems and obstacles that must be
addressed in order to achieve their dream of a healthy community. An assets orientation does not imply ignoring problems and needs or throwing out rational, strategic planning; rather, a key distinction
between assets-based approaches and needs-based approaches is the rallying point for bringing citizens together. In both needs-focused and assets-focused approaches, hard realities must be faced. By involving community members in visual, intuitive, and
immunity assessment purposes, key informa]nts include people in both formal and inforirial leadership r(oles.
non-linear processes of self-assessment and discovery, assets-oriented approaches invite more creativity in assessment and planning than collection and perusal of statistical data alone can engender. HOW TO AsSESS A COMMUNITY'S ASSETS
Community health workers' choices of techniques for identifying community assets reflect multiple philosophical and practical influences. The techniques described below can be used to identify both needs and assets, even though the focus of this discussion is on assets as an emerging concept in community work. It should be noted that no particular technique for...