Needs Assessment TIG Week: The Needs Assessment and Asset/Capacity Building Hybrid Model by Hsin-Ling (Sonya) Hung

Hi, I am Hsin-Ling (Sonya) Hung, Director of Evaluation and Assessment at the Center on Health Disparities, Virginia Commonwealth University. I will briefly summarize key points of the needs assessment (NA) and asset/capacity building (A/CB) hybrid model.

NA and A/CB are two different, oppositional schools of thought. In 2014 Altschuld and colleagues noted a new hybrid model, which combines NA and A/CB, but cautioned about the time and cost needed for its implementation. Projects and organizations with resource constraints might have difficulty in adopting the hybrid but could take advantage of it on a small scale.

Needs Assessment

NA has been criticized for its heavy focus on discrepancies and the perspective that something is wrong, missing, or lacking.  The emphasis is on negatives. While this stance might not sit well with some, NA is a logical framework for identifying, prioritizing needs, finding solution strategies for them, and allotting resources (money, personnel, time, etc.) for resolving problems.  The goal is improvement. NA could be useful for new initiatives to meet unmet needs or overcome barriers to success.

Hot Tips:

  • Measured discrepancy between two conditions (current/what is vs ideal/what should be) is key for needs identification. Means difference analysis (MDA) is one mechanism for finding gaps and prioritizing.
  • Surveys, double-scale or multiple scale ones, are commonly used for identifying needs. The trustworthiness of the data collected from them may be questionable (Altschuld and colleagues forthcoming article).
  • The Kansas University Community Toolbox provides resource for community NA.
Asset/Capacity Building

A/CB is rooted in community development and organizational/community strengths are the foundation for growth and change.  It focuses on positives, not needs/weaknesses! This asset stance affirms community ownership of the problem resolution process and ensures that all community/organizational members are active, involved voices in decision-making. It begins with the identification of assets/resources, social structure, people, and existing programs and explores the strengths and capacity of organizations, communities, and participants.

Hot Tips:

  • Appreciative inquiry, positivist psychology, development economics, and empowerment evaluation are methods compatible with A/CB thinking.
  • Asset inventory or mapping is commonly used in asset-based community development.
  • The Community Toolbox has a chapter about identifying community assets and resources.
The Hybrid Model

The model is a synthesis of NA and A/CB.  It utilizes overlapping but independent methods and is a bridge between needs and strengths.  Altschuld in 2014 proposed an eight-step procedure for its implementation.  Multiple mixed methods are recommended for data collection. An interesting recent study by Osborne used the 8-step hybrid framework via a qualitative approach.  

Hot Tips:

  • SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), Listening Session, Public Forum, Inventory, Interviews (individual/group), and Surveys are ways to obtain information about needs and assets.
  • The Ohio State University Extension has a document highlighting their A/CB approach to NA in community work.

Rad Resources:

Altschuld, J.W. (2014). Bridging the gap between asset/capacity building and needs assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Altschuld, J. W., Hung, H.-L., & Lee, Y.-F. (2014). Needs Assessment and Asset/Capacity Building: A Promising Development in Practice. In J. W. Altschuld & R. Watkins (Eds.), Needs Assessment: Trends and a View Toward the Future. New Directions for Evaluation, 144, 89–103. DOI: 10.1002/ev.20105.

Altschuld, J.W., Hung, H.-L, Lee, Y.-F. (in press).  What Is and What Should Be Needs Assessment Scales: Factors Affecting the Trustworthiness of Results. American Journal of Evaluation


The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “Needs Assessment TIG Week: The Needs Assessment and Asset/Capacity Building Hybrid Model by Hsin-Ling (Sonya) Hung”

  1. Hello Ms. Hung. My name is Tyson and I am currently in the middle of completing a Professional Master of Education degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario Canada. I am complete a course called “Program Inquiry and Evaluation.” While working on one particular assignment I discovered Appreciative Inquiry. I can identify with its assets focus and people centredness For our continuous project creating a personal evaluation design, I decided to focus my design around a program for newcomers to the town I live in. The organization runs many various programs. The Newcomer Settlement Services program is very assets focused and places people directly in the centre of the program. Using Appreciative Inquiry as the evaluation type made sense.

    I appreciate the fact that you placed a distinction between Needs Assessment and Asset/Capacity Building. I also appreciate that you mention that Needs Assessment has a place in evaluation, regardless of its focus on the negative. One question I have is, since NA focuses on the negative, on its own, would NA have a place in evaluation of all programs or are there some in which NA would not be an appropriate choice? Same question for AI. Would AI have a place in all programs? Since it is a discover what is working, find out why it’s working then do “more of it”, type of evaluation, would it leave out important information since it does not place emphasis on the negative or what is missing?

    For me, I found that AI was the appropriate choice for the program I chose due to its emphasis on people and assets. To use a Needs Assessment seemed a rather shallow choice. However, with the hybrid of NA and A/CB, it would perhaps be a way of striking a balance of needs and assets. This may have been a better option for my program. Would it be your personal opinion that the hybrid, since it posses the “best of both worlds”, be the best evaluation type for all programs?

    Thank you for your post. It was both enlightening and educational.

    Best Regards,
    Tyson

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