Evaluators are often the key people identified to conduct a needs assessment. A needs assessment is identified in the situation that exists before the intervention is designed or implemented. Hopefully.  Currently, there is discussion in the field that rather than focusing on needs (i.e., what is missing, needed), there should be discussions of assets (i.e., what is available, strengths). My favorite go-to person on needs assessments is Jim Altschuld altschuld who has published a volume that talks about bridging the gap between the two. Bridging the Gap-altschuld. In it, he talks about the difference between the two. He says, “Need is a noun, a problem that should be attended to or resolved. It is a gap or discrepancy between the ‘what should be’ and the ‘what is’ conditions”. However, assets/capacity building (emphasis added) refer “…to building a culture in an organization or community so that it can grow and change in accord with its strengths…”

Recently, at a meeting looking at diversity, I suggested the focus be on assets rather than needs. The meeting’s facilitator jumped from looking at assets to conducting a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysisSWOT_en.svg.

I went looking for how Altschuld treats this topic (he doesn’t–at least it isn’t in the index).

So I wondered how these two approaches are related. Certainly, strengths could be equated with assets (although the Wikipedia page cited above says strengths are “characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others” which are not exactly the same thing as assets) and weaknesses could be equated to needs (although the Wikipedia page cited above says weaknesses are “characteristics that place the business or project at a disadvantage relative to others”).  I don’t think in terms of “others” when I conduct a needs assessment or an assets assessment that consequently builds capacity. So, how is the project (intervention) at a disadvantage? How is it at an advantage. I suppose that a current situation that “needs” something could be at a disadvantage when compared to others (interventions, projects, programs). Typically, the evaluator doesn’t have the time or other resources to explore how the situation is different/disadvantaged from others.

Where do the opportunities and threats fit? The Wikipedia citation says that opportunities are “elements that the project could exploit to its advantage” (are these not assets?) and threats are “elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project” (these could be needs,certainly).

Sounds to me like a SWOT is detailed approach that includes some of the same things that a needs and assets assessment includes. The biggest difference that I see is that SWOT  includes comparison “others”. What if there is not an “other”?  What if the project is in a controlled environment? Can this be a useful tool to an evaluator? What do you think?

my two cents.




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2 thoughts on “Assets and Needs

  1. Interesting perspective about “assets” vs “needs.”

    Often, in my practice, when clients wanted a Needs Assessment, they often detailed questions that focused more on identifying their gaps. We would give them that – in the context of their larger situation. Reflecting back on this, I realize that we described both the context for the evaluation as well as assets and strengths (i.e., their present status/level).

    I can see, however, that it would be very useful to be explicit about ASSETS when doing a Needs Assessment.

  2. Sue
    Are needs/assets different from SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)? I don’t know, yet it seems important. Or is this only a tool for the business minded? Are needs really weaknesses? Are assets really strengths? OR are needs opportunities and assets strengths. I don’t know; I have ideas about this though.

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