McCormack Speaks

Mapping Strengths and Gaps: A Hybrid Approach to Better Evaluation


Madhawa Palihapitiya, associate director of the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) at UMass Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, was invited to present a paper on the development of a hybrid needs assessment and asset mapping system at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) annual conference in Atlanta.

Needs assessment is a systematic study of a problem or deficit by incorporating data and opinions from varied sources to make effective decisions or recommendations about what should happen next. [1] However, the focus of asset mapping is to inventory the skills, talents, and networks already working on the issue in the community and to examine how to further mobilize or leverage these networks.

“While some attempts have been made to create a hybrid system,” Palihapitiya notes, “there still exists an ideological and practical difference in the use of these two approaches due to the fact that needs assessment focuses on community discrepancies, while asset mapping emphasizes existing community strengths.” Participating in the session Breaking the Mold: Novel approaches to needs assessment design and implementation, Palihapitiya’s presentation drew from the MOPC paper, Needs Assessment + Asset Mapping: A Hybrid Framework for Assessments in Complex Environments, which discusses a unique two-year hybrid process developed and implemented by MOPC to assess municipal conflict resolution needs and assets.

He also discussed how the inventory of existing assets/resources can be used for gaining political support for implementing solution strategies to address needs. Commenting on the research findings she helped direct, MOPC executive director Susan Jeghelian noted that “a hybrid process is critical for the resolution of complex issues which demand levels of expertise and resources that may exceed the current capacity of any single entity, whether governmental or non-governmental.”

David W. Cash, dean of the McCormack School, comments on the value of this MOPC research study. “This MOPC paper makes an important contribution to the evaluation field outlining how to deploy a hybrid model particularly when practitioners, policymakers, and funders plan ways to address complex problems.”


[1] Kaufman, R., & English, F. W. (1979). Needs assessment: Concept and application. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.


Madhawa PalihapitiyaMadhawa Palihapitiya heads the research and evaluation unit of the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. He also conducts fundraising and organizational development for the office and is a lecturer in the Conflict Resolution Programs.


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