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What Is Asset-Based Community Development?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Kenneth W. Michael Wills

Sustainable development within communities is traditionally approached by focusing on problems and needs within the community and trying to find solutions. Asset-based community development, however, takse a different approach. Instead, the focus is on the unrecognized strengths and assets available to the community and utilizing them efficiently to mobilize and strengthen it. The objective is to bring together associations, individuals and institutions in an effort to build their assets collectively. Through these efforts, the community is in a better position to recognize and respond to economic opportunities.

As a first step, considerable effort is undertaken to identify assets within the community. This happens at the individual-level, association-level and institutional-level independently and involves a meticulous process. Once assets are appropriately identified they are aligned with individuals and organizations that have an interest in or a need for them. Rather than focusing on what the community needs, asset-based community development begins with assets and resources already available, marking a major shift from traditional welfare-based approaches.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Emphasis is based on local associations in which the community galvanizes around. These associations and positions are the driving force in asset-based community development. Tracking all the community’s assets, they provide the interconnections between all participants who have assets or need assets, but through a process that multiplies the effectiveness of the assets. Leaders in asset-based community development take a hands-off approach, allowing associations to take up the role, thus creating an environment where development is community-driven. Therefore, the foundational principles of the approach are rooted in participatory development whereby active participation creates empowerment, rather than disempowerment.

Five key assets are usually identified in asset-based community development. Identifiable assets include individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets and social connections. Residents within the community possess skills, gifts and assets that are put to use, while associations provide a platform for people with common interests.Institutions, such as businesses, governments and schools, offer valuable resources and are leveraged to help identify and capitalize on resources. Physical assets like property, space and capital are identified, while connections are strongly encouraged through socialization within the community, often through the local associations.

Social capital is a strong focal point in asset-based community development. For the purpose of increasing the potential for community production, emphasis is placed on establishing networks, and rules, thereby creating trust. Through building these networks, an environment of good will and obligation is created, driving the community into collective actions. Thus, asset-based community development is often thought of as the practical application of social capital.

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