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NA TIG Week: James Altschuld on Hybrid Vigor – It’s not just Needs Assessment or Asset/Capacity Building

I’m James Altschuld, Professor Emeritus of Ohio State University. I’ve written a lot over the years about needs assessment.  Today’s posting is about having hybrid vigor in how we approach our work.  It’s not just needs assessment or asset/capacity building, it’s both!

My premise is that there are two contrasting stances.  One is building from strengths, resources, and assets (positives).  The other is from a negative (something is missing) needs perspective.  And yet these stances are eternally interdependent, and share enough common ground that we should commonly assess both.

Lessons Learned From Experience:


  1. Mind the philosophies, they are different, use unique methods, and the improvement plans could be quite distinct.  One is the glass half full and the other half empty; and the reality is that the glass is both half-full and half-empty.
  1. Hybrid asset/capacity building and needs assessment approaches are now appearing in the literature (health, community development, governmental activities, and related areas).  I’ve found examples of implementation in Scotland, Indonesia, Spain, Minnesota, and elsewhere.
  1. Hybrid assessments always begin from assets to avoid a possible negative taint of needs.
  1. Hybrids require more cost, time, facilitation, coordination, and management than traditional needs assessment.
  1. The voice of the people (the bottom up) is much more prominent in asset/capacity building and hence in hybrid applications.
  1. For intractable problems (health, violence, etc.) hybrids are thought to be better than either needs assessment or asset/capacity building by themselves

Some Implementation Ideas

  1. Use two working groups so that needs and assets can be looked at independently, not contaminated by the other before comparing what is found for each.
  1. Expect hybrids to take longer to complete, just build in more time.

Rad Resources:

Coming in Fall 2014, Ryan Watkins and I have edited an issue of New Directions in Evaluation dedicated to Needs Assessment.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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