NA TIG Week: Jim Altschuld on Tips for Asset-based Thinking when Doing Needs Assessments

Hi, I’m Jim Altschuld, an emeritus faculty member at the Ohio State University in the school of educational policy and leadership. Today I’m sharing some tips on asset-based thinking when doing needs assessments.

First, for some premises to note:

  • Needs, discrepancies between current and desirable conditions, are problems, issues, or difficulties to be resolved.
  • Assets are resources (strengths) that can be used to improve what we do and programs to be delivered.
  • Needs and assets are related, yet different, philosophies through which people view, plan, and eventually evaluate efforts.
  • Most individuals employ/favor one or the other when beginning an endeavor and those lenses color viewpoints.
  • But, consider using both at the same time in an unbiased manner to optimally develop solutions to problems.

And now for some Hot Tips:

Divide and Conquer

To avoid one philosophy from dominating, divide assessors into teams to independently investigate needs and assets.

Creatively Review Findings

Have those that identified needs review the findings for assets and vice versa for the ones about needs.

Encourage Unique Ways to Think about Assets

Consider assets and how they might be employed not just as solutions for needs, but in distinct ways that capitalize upon them. (Be open to such thinking)

Recognize the Hidden Dimension of Assets

Volunteerism, help in patient care, in-kind community service contributions, the skills and abilities of individuals, etc. may be hard to measure but nevertheless is an important asset and serves an invaluable function. Without them the fabric of our society would be much less rich.

Be Instrumental when Resolving Needs and/or Utilizing Assets

The best solutions for underlying problems are those that would be helpful in dealing several problems at the same time (the instrumental concept).  

Examples Illustrating Principles in the Tips:

Use of Public Libraries

Need:      enhancing out of school computer learning for grades K-3

Solution: design programs for children that could be adapted to help elderly populations in getting connected to the internet

Fostering Volunteerism through Recreational Businesses

Need: government services will be cut due to reduced budgets

Solution: recreational businesses offer chits for what they provide to incentivize volunteers to cover some service gaps

Community to the Rescue

Need: tiny start-up business is redoing inside of small building and owners find they don’t have the skills to do parts of the work

Solution: ask the community to participate in exchange for small vouchers ($10) to be redeemed when business opens (community eagerly jumps in, vouchers redeemed, business takes off with sense of community ownership).


Rad Resource: Learn more from my book, Bridging the Gap Between Asset/Capacity Building and 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “NA TIG Week: Jim Altschuld on Tips for Asset-based Thinking when Doing Needs Assessments”

  1. Sindhura Mahendran

    Hi Jim,

    I searched up this blog post because of my interest in needs assessment in a community. As a service learning coordinator at my school, I am always interested in how our students engage with our community partners. The relationships we have with our NGO’s are long lasting and meaningful. Because our community partners are so open to having us work with them, we want to make sure our students are equipped with the tools to do a needs assessment before they propose an action plan for the year. I recently attended a workshop for Service Learning where we touched on conducting needs assessments in our community prior to taking action. The workshop leader even emphasized looking at the assets and needs of a group. It was great to see this article on this blog space that addresses the need for assets and needs in such evaluations.

    I really enjoyed your hot tips because after leaving the workshop, I felt a little overwhelmed as to how to introduce needs and asset based assessments to my students. Your practical tips are just what I needed to read to help me organize my own lessons. Dividing students up into two groups to investigate assets and needs is a great way to reduce bias. Having them review each other’s work is also a great way to share what they’ve learned but also have someone look over their investigation.

    While our students are not quite at the level of evaluating a program to offer solutions for more effective programming (this is something I am considering introducing to the older students), they will use what they’ve investigated to better help the NGO they are working with.

    Have you ever had high school students conduct needs-based assessment considering assets before?

    Thank you for emphasizing the importance of evaluating both needs and assets in this article.

    – Sindhura

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