Asset-based approaches for health improvement

We are carrying out a programme of work to consider, appraise and generate evidence in relation to asset-based approaches for health improvement in a Scottish context. 

The language of ‘assets’ is being used more widely in the public health literature as increasing emphasis is placed on prevention and the need to work differently to tackle persistent inequalities. New thinking is emerging, as emphasised in reports of the Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns, and the Christie Commission. Health assets and asset-based working have come into sharper focus as being potentially important in improving health and in reducing health inequalities. 

Asset-based approaches are concerned with identifying the protective factors that support health and wellbeing. It is argued that they offer the potential to enhance both the quality and longevity of life through focusing on the resources that promote the self-esteem and coping abilities of individuals and communities.

Asset-based approaches emphasise the need to redress the balance between meeting needs and nurturing the strengths and resources of people and communities. They are ways of valuing and building on the skills, successes and strengths of individuals and communities, which focus on the positive capacity of individuals and communities rather than solely on their needs, deficits and problems. These assets can act as the foundation from which to build a positive future. The identification and mobilisation of an individual’s or a community’s assets can help them overcome some of the challenges they face. 

A dialogue around redressing the balance between creating good health and wellbeing and identifying risk, preventing illness and reducing premature death is ongoing. The evidence base for asset-based approaches continues to evolve, however the published evidence on the impact of asset-based approaches on health remains limited to date. 

Briefing papers

There is a need to strengthen the evidence base to demonstrate the processes that underpin these approaches, and the types and scale of effects that can be achieved.  

To provide support to the development of the evidence base we have published a suite of briefing papers on asset-based approaches:

Asset-based approaches in community settings

Assets in action infographic

Alongside the briefing papers, and to illustrate asset-based approaches for health improvement in action, we published Assets in Action: Illustrating asset-based approaches for health improvement. This piece of research profiles the work of 19 community based projects with the aim of illustrating how asset-based approaches are currently being applied in Scotland in community settings. The case studies highlight the key characteristics of asset-based working and demonstrate the strengths and challenges of the approach for individuals, the wider community and project staff. 

The individual case studies can be also viewed on our Understanding Glasgow website.

Asset-based approaches in health and care service settings

Across Scotland, national and local delivery organisations, both statutory and community-led, are reported to be developing asset-based approaches in practice as a means to improve health and tackle deep-rooted social problems. From a services perspective, an asset-based approach fundamentally changes the way organisations and the people within them think about the way they deliver their services, work with, and provide support to their service users and their families. 

Building on our learning about asset-based working in a community setting, we are now undertaking new research to explore and illustrate the features, characteristics, challenges and potential of asset-based working within health and care service settings. 

Animating Assets

We are also working in partnership with Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) to test asset-based approaches to improving community health and wellbeing using an action research approach. For more information about this research and learning programme please visit our Animating Assets page. 

It is hoped that this programme of work and activities will provide further context and contribute to the evidence base on asset-based approaches and help stimulate and support policy makers, practitioners and researchers to think differently about how they might minimise the risks of widening health inequalities and approach the goal of improving the health of individuals, communities and populations in more empowering, sustainable and holistic ways. 


For further information please contact Jennifer McLean.