Share Your Story/Idea
CMS Shortcuts
 Edit Page
 Edit in CMS
Explore the ‘how-to’ of asset-based community development- another building block of the Healthy Communities Approach.

Understanding your community is essential before starting to plan, and accomplishes 3 great things:

  • It generates a sense of community pride and ownership,
  • Offers insight into the impact your initiative will make and who it will affect most
  • Creates a holistic picture that leads to more informed priority-setting, including awareness of existing community resources.1,2,3

What is a community anyhow? Our first impression is usually a physical place. But there are many different ways to think of communities.

A community is "a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical or virtual/online settings, or both" 4

Find out about the 6 types of communities

Understanding community context

Similar to finding out who lives in your community, begin gathering background information on the big picture - your community context. Here are some ways to gather info:

  • Search your community online. Learn about its size, the economic drivers (e.g. industry, agriculture, technology, etc.), location, recreational aspects, physical features (built and natural), local government, age distribution, income level, and other demographic information.
  • Look up your community on Alberta Municipal Affairs.
  • Explore your community by bike or on foot with no particular intent; just meander and observe.
  • Pick-up a local paper, newsletter or Coffee News; check out posters, displays and bill boards.
  • Visit municipal buildings as an observer. Find a contact or just tour around to become more acquainted with this important local setting.
  • Visit your tourist centre.
  • Walk through grocery stores, a garden center, hardware outlet, or other retail establishments.
  • Strike up a casual conversation with folks you meet; ask them about their town or neighbourhood.

Once gathered, begin compiling your contextual information in a Community Profile.

Community and public health data can provide additional information for understanding your particular community context.

Conducting a community assessment

Helps identify existing areas of strength in your community and areas for improvement. Community health assessments measure aspects of the community’s environment, such as physical and social conditions, culture, economics, and social networks to build awareness of the connection between these broad factors and health behaviours.3   Whole community assessments assess a variety of sectors to understand the sum of a community’s parts.2,3

Look back on any previous assessments you may have already undertaken. When reviewing, keep in mind when the information was gathered - is it still relevant? Also, look at the type of information collected to ensure if it suits your team’s current purposes.  Always seek out new information to supplement existing knowledge.

Understanding your community is essential prior to planning for action. Start with a comprehensive overview of your community context; then undertake a community assessment for a closer look at where you live.

Healthy Places Action Tool

The Healthy Places Action Tool helps communities appreciate how much their social and physical environments support good health, which in turn contributes to the prevention of cancer and chronic conditions. This tool will assist you to:

  • Identify community strengths and areas for improvement
  • Get a snapshot of the communities health from information collected
  • Identify and understand the status of community health needs
  • Define improvement areas to guide action on policy, program and environmental changes that influence healthy living (i.e. increased access to physical activity, improved affordability of nutritious foods, reducing alcohol use and living tobacco free).

The Healthy Places Action Tool is in the final stages of completion. Watch this space for a link coming soon!

Asset-based community development approach

Every community has assets that can be enhanced and preserved5. Rather than a needs based approach that focusses on problems or deficits, an asset-based approach starts with uncovering a community’s strengths, then builds on existing positive factors. The process of identifying community assets is called mapping. This approach is also called asset-based community development (ABCD).

Learn more

The Tamarack Institute provides more information and resources to support Asset-Based Community Development.6

In this video, Cormac Russell, Managing director of Nurture Development, explains the philosophy that lies behind Asset Based Community Development (ABCD):


  • View References

    1. Horne, L., Bass, V., & Silva, S. (2013). Multisector coalitions build healthier communities through ACHIEVE initiative. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 19, 281-283.

    2. Stewart, M., Visker, J. D., & Cox, C. C. (2013). Community health policy assessment of a rural northeast missouri county using the centers for disease control and prevention's CHANGE tool. Health Promotion Perspectives, 3, 1-10.

    3. Kim, S., Adamson, K. C., Balfanz, D. R., Brownson, R. C., Wiecha, J. L., Shepard, D., & Alles, W. F. (2010). Development of the community healthy living index: A tool to foster healthy environments for the prevention of obesity and chronic disease.50, Supplement, S85.

    4. Health Planners Toolkit, Module 5, Health Systems Intelligence Report 2006, Community Engagement

    5. Ennis, G. & West, D. (2010). Exploring the potential of social network analysis in asset-based community development practice and research. Australian Social Work, 63(4): 404-4173

    6. Asset-Based Community Development