Assets-based approach

As currently used within health and other discourses in Scotland this term has no fixed meaning. It is sometimes used in the vaguest sense to refer to something akin to ‘being positive’ or ‘focussing on what resources people have to address their own issues’.

The term and the approach are contested.

Notions of asset-based approaches have been around for several decades – originating in community development in the USA and popularised in the Reaganite 1980s when cuts to community development resources were ideologically justified by a ‘focus on assets’.

For some, ‘focussing on assets’ means ignoring the power dynamics within society and the potential role of the state in addressing these when they cause inequalities like health inequalities. For some people, the focus on assets ignores issues around class and poverty and other social determinants of health. (see Adverse Childhood Experiences for a similar argument)

Despite numerous productions of‘good practice’, there is an absence of evidence that a‘focus on assets’ or an asset-based approach improves health or addresses health inequalities. However, some workers are energised by an approach that itemises assets rather than measuring need, despite the lack of evidence that this is effective.

There is criticism that an asset-based approaches ignores or takes insufficient account of the power dynamics between, for example, professionals, elected representatives and members of the public and particularly people who are marginalised or members of marginalised groups. It is argued that while the discourse around asset-based approaches involves reference to empowerment, this is of a limited kind taking no or insufficient account of people’s rights and entitlement.

There is also frustration, amongst advocates and critics, that an asset-based approach is still regarded as ‘new’ or something that people do not understand, decades after it was first introduced. For some people, this suggests there are flaws in the analysis that brought forth the approach in the first place; for others this shows that services and service staff are in fact part of the problem or an obstacle to addressing issues.

Explore further:

Rippon, Simon & Hopkins, Trevor. (2015) Head, hands and heart: asset-based ap- proaches in health care; A review of the conceptual evidence and case studies of asset-based approaches in health, care and wellbeing

MacLeod, Mary & Emejulu, Akwugo. (2014). Neoliberalism With a Community Face? A Critical Analysis of Asset-Based Community Development in Scotland. Journal of Community Practice. 22. 430-450. 10.1080/10705422.2014.959147