Needs and Assets

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Before you can begin the six steps of conducting a community assessment, it is important to understand the terms "community needs" and "community assets." The Work Group for Community Health and Development defines community needs as "the gap between what a situation is and what it should be." They define community assets as "those things that can be used to improve quality of life." Understanding these terms will help you get started on your quest to assess what your community needs and what its assets are.

Community needs are the gaps between what a situation is and what it should be.

One goal of a community assessment is to develop an informed understanding of the gaps or needs that exist within a community and their impacts upon the community’s members. Low high school graduation rates mean that there is need to find effective ways to keep kids in school. Senior citizens are living longer but that may mean that many need more assistance to pay for medical bills or prescription drugs.  In communities where pet owners want more park space but sports leagues want the same park space for playing fields, there is a need to balance competing interests. 

Community needs can affect a large or small number of a community’s members.  This may include families, individuals, youth, seniors, parents, businesses, community organizations, faith-based organizations – essentially, anyone who claims membership in the community.  If community needs affect a large number of community members, there will likely be more support for addressing the needs. 

Sometimes community needs are referred to as “community problems.” This reference should be avoided in community assessments.  Framing a “need” as a “problem” immediately establishes an “us versus them” relationship that prevents collaboration and community-building.

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Community assets are those things that can be used to improve quality of life.

Another goal of a community assessment is to develop a detailed analysis of community assets, or resources, that currently exist in the community and can be used to help meet community needs.  Community assets include organizations, people, partnerships, facilities, funding, policies, regulations, and a community’s collective experience. Any positive aspect of the community is an asset that can be leveraged to develop effective solutions.

Two approaches can be used to identify community assets: 

  1. Identify the assets that are already known for supporting the community need.  This includes community organizations and individuals that currently provide services to community members or have provided financial support to address the need.  Organizations that provide after-school programs to help youth graduate on time would be included in a community assessment focused on keeping kids in school.  Clinics that offer free medical services to low-income seniors should be identified in a community assessment of seniors who need medical financial assistance.
  2. Build upon the experiences of other communities to highlight resources that may be available. The community assessment can identify communities with similar demographics that have successfully addressed similar needs and can be used as a blueprint for identifying assets.