Challenges of Asset Based Community Engagement
Framing your community work using an asset based approach may be challenging because...
- People are used to thinking about what's missing and what's needed first, without
considering what is already available in the community to do community work. An asset
based approach, for many people, is unfamiliar and new. It may take some time to get
used to—both for you and for your community partners.
- Relying on outside experts for their technical expertise in community problem-solving
is familiar and easy. In an asset based approach, which relies on local knowledge
and resources, it may be uncomfortable for the experts to cede some of their power
to the community. It may also be uncomfortable for some community members to take
ownership and responsibility for identifying and mobilizing the resources they have
to contribute. This requires a sense of ownership and responsibility that may be unusual.
- Asset based community engagement has been criticized for being naïve, hopeful, or
too optimistic. Those who frame their community work using an asset perspective do
acknowledge that there are problems, sometimes very challenging ones. However, instead
of focusing mostly on the problems, they put their time and effort into identifying
and mobilizing assets and using them to address the community's issues.
- Some critics maintain that asset based community engagement fails to address significant
power differences in the community. Clearly, power, privilege, and influence do make
a difference in community work. To address this criticism, you and your community
partners can brainstorm the political assets available to you to help advance your
- The "localness" of asset based community development is another criticism. Some cite the overreliance on local resources and a lack of awareness of regional or global resources available for the community work as a weakness. To address this criticism, you and your community partners may decide to identify resources, capacities, and connections within the community and to purposefully explore what resources from outside of the community might be leveraged through community connections.
"We have many other things going for us."
When Mrs. Poole and Derrick met with the principal, they came with more than their initial idea—let's make a nature trail. They found that to be too easy for the principal to say no to.
Mrs. Poole and Derrick used a different strategy. They started the conversation by talking about the importance of the nature trail for students and their learning. They knew learning, particularly science learning, was one of the principal's main priorities.
Mrs. Poole then went on to say that she knew money for a nature trail was, indeed, a problem for the school. She wanted to make sure the principal knew that she had heard him. However, she did not let this part of the conversation go on for very long.
She interjected: "While we do not have money for this project, we have many other things going for us." Mrs. Poole and Derrick shared the list of resources they had come up with.
The principal seemed a little surprised at the list. He promised to give their proposal consideration and get back to them. Mrs. Poole and Derrick were pleased. They did not get an immediate NO this time. Perhaps focusing on assets did make a difference, after all!