NA TIG Week: Using Asset Mapping to Address the Complexity of Assessing Needs in Communities by Lisle Hites

Welcome to the Needs Assessment TIG’s week on AEA 365! I’m Lisle Hites, Chair of the Needs Assessment TIG, Associate Professor in Health Care Organization and Policy and Director of the Evaluation and Assessment Unit (EAU) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health. On behalf of all of us here at the Needs Assessment TIG, we hope you enjoy this week’s blog entries and to see you at some of our sessions at AEA 2018. Today’s posting is about the complexity of assessing needs in communities and offers a couple of lessons learned that might be of use.

For those of you who have ever tried to assess the needs of a community, especially those communities that are disadvantaged in terms of health, socioeconomic status (SES), etc., with so many apparent needs, researchers, unfortunately, often feel comfortable addressing whatever they want to while couching it as a priority need for the community. I am working on such an effort, here in Birmingham Alabama. Birmingham has 99 distinct neighborhoods, most, if not all of which, are medically underserved and between low and ultra-low on the SES spectrum.  Past needs assessments have uncovered a multitude of priorities that vary quite a bit between these tightly grouped urban areas. We have high levels of urban blight in some as indicated in part by abandoned houses, but very few in others. The more a neighborhood is blighted, the fewer resources residents want to put into it, deepening the blight. Many problems contribute to or result from this situation, most of which are identified needs in the eyes of the community and researchers. How then do we decide where and how to intervene?

Working from identified needs, we are involving the communities of interest in planning stages for an intervention. Even so this has resulted in little or no change in the community and they do not trust that this will be any different from previous efforts. Here’s where asset mapping can save the day. By simultaneously assessing needs and mapping assets, we are positioned to identify what is most needed and match that with where we can best impact that need and with what resources. Community, city, county, and even regional resources already exist. By systematically identifying what those resources are, where they are willing to go, what fits within their mission and scope, we can now better select where we can intervene with the most impact, leveraging existing resources to maximize outcomes.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Communities are complex organisms and propinquity does not necessarily mean generalizability of needs assessed.
  2. Community-focused Needs Assessments are a difficult sell without a path forward to improvement.
  3. Asset mapping can complement needs assessment to help form a continuous improvement cycle, each providing input for the next iteration of the other.

Rad Resources:

Altschuld, James W. Bridging the Gap Between Asset/Capacity Building and Needs Assessment. Sage Publications Inc., 2015.

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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