The truth is that identifying strengths is just as important as identifying needs. However, I propose that strengths should be identified first and given just as much support as needs. Let's begin to turn the term "needs assessment" on it's head. My stance is supported by the fact that many times, a community already embodies their own ability to fill the identified need despite popular opinion. Sometimes, these strengths need a little push to emerge and act. This is where outside organizations should come in. Our job is most effective when we act as conveners, liaisons and assistants of communities. Before we begin this conversation, I ask that you let the below quote sink in.
"When we do change to people, they experience it as violence, but when people do change for themselves, they experience it as liberation"- Roseabeth M. Kanter ( Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School)
When people are able to say "I built that!" or " I organized that!" they feel empowered. For people to "do change for themselves" they must be able to tap into their own capacities. How can communities ever feel sure or become aware of their capacities if what they are lacking is getting all the attention?
The diagnosing of communities can be harmful. We should instead be encouraging a community to play to its strengths. As the speaker in the Ted Talk explained, it is not empowering to teach communities that change cannot come from within. Power must be given to communities to make decisions for themselves with the support and resources of organizations.
Asset Based Community Development has become a burgeoning model for community work. This strengths-based approach uses an assets assessment instead of a needs assessment. Currently, Storefront is involved in a workgroup that is aimed at organizing and building capacity for new and small grassroots organizations. These organizations are focused on ending violence in their community. The below graphic explains how identifying and connecting community assets(in this case grassroots organizations) results in the identification of gaps between assets. These gaps are community needs. In this way, community needs are able to be identified without centering our work around them. Focusing on needs can be discouraging, daunting and sometimes quite unproductive. Needs do not exist in a vacuum. They are a result of gaps within or between services.
If we can strengthen these organizations individually and collectively then they can become more equipped to close need gaps. This process also trims down a lot of work that would have involved finding assets, services and building trust.
I challenge you to become more strengths based in your approach to community work. I dare you to believe that each community has at least one asset that can be used.
If you'd like to chat more please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Examining why community engagement is the basis for an effective intervention
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A summary of ways to evaluate community interventions and practice.