Module 4 - Asset Based Community Engagement

Comparison Between Asset and Deficit Based Approaches

The focus on the assets of communities—rather than its needs, deficits, or problems—represents an important shift in mindset and practice for people who work with communities on issues of importance (Green & Haines, 2011, pg. 7)

Comparison Between the Approaches
Asset Based Deficit Based
Strengths Driven Needs Driven
Opportunity focus Problems focused
Internally focused Externally focused
What is present that we can build upon? What is missing that we must go find?
May lead to new, unexpected responses to community wishes? May lead to downward spiral of burnout, depression, or dysfunction?


Sometimes, people begin their work with communities by "needs assessments" that identify problems and focus on the weaknesses of communities. Unfortunately, this perspective has a way of reinforcing the idea that "the problem" should be the focus of attention. This continual focus on "the problem" may lead to individuals feeling as if all they have are problems or communities believing that all they have are deficits. As a result of this negative mindset, a widespread belief may start to settle in about the individuals, organization, or community being depressed, burned out, dysfunctional, just filled with problems—all of which makes the initial situation even worse. It also makes it difficult to get motivated to make positive changes.

In contrast, an asset based approach fosters hope by shifting the focus from "what's wrong with us" to "what's right with us." It assumes that, even though there may be problems, sometimes very serious ones, there are also untapped resources and capacities inherent in every individual, organization, or community which can be put into use to improve current conditions. Discovering and affirming these underutilized assets and untapped potential are hallmarks of an asset based approach to community work.

"We don't have enough money to do that."

Overall, the teachers and the principal thought the idea of the nature trail was a great one. But, in the end, Mrs. Poole was told that even though there was suitable land on the school's property, there was not enough money to develop the trail. The school had so few resources already, it would be impossible to create the trail. There just wasn't enough money to do anything new.

Disappointed by this, Mrs. Poole met with Derrick to break the news to him. After a disheartening conversation, Derrick went back to his apartment and told his roommate Alex all about this great idea that just wasn't going to be possible. Alex challenged him in a conversation that went like this:

I don't see what the problem is. You have access to the land, right?


You have teachers who want a nature trail, right?


You have a principal who likes the idea, right?


You have kids who are already excited about doing things outdoors and want more chances to go outside and learn, right?


So, what's holding you back?

Well, when you put it like that...I'm not sure what the hold-up is either.



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