There are a variety of reasons to perform a needs assessment:
1) Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses within a community, and creating or improving services based on this assessment. This type of needs assessment is primarily structured around how to best obtain information, opinions, and input from the community; and then how to effectively convert this information into action. This process may be broken into targeted questions which can direct the overall project. For example, the individuals or organization doing the assessment might ask themselves:
- What is the specific purpose of the needs assessment?
- How does this fit into my organization’s mission statement?
- What goals are we trying to achieve with this assessment?
- Who is the target population(s)?
- What do we currently know about the needs and assets in the community?
- Who should be included in this process (stakeholders)?
- What are the best methods for collecting the data we need, and making sure it is representative of the target population?
- How will the data from the community be used (e.g. to set a new agenda, support a new program, guide changes in service delivery or policies)?
- What is the timeline for the needs assessment?
2) A needs assessment constructed around a known problem or potential problem facing the community (e.g. childhood obesity, poor access to health prevention services, lack of safe community spaces to gather/play, etc.) With a particular need already identified, this type of assessment centers around engaging the community and governing entities, stakeholders, businesses, advocacy groups and organizations which are potentially affected, and/or can contribute to improving the community need. Potential questions a group leading this type of needs assessment might ask themselves include:
- What do we know about the community and its residents?
- What do we know about the identified need/problem in this community?
- Who are the relevant stakeholders, both those affected by the problem and those who might contribute to a solution. How will we engage them?
- What programs and organizations already exist that are addressing this problem?
- How will we communicate expectations, goals, and approach regarding the needs assessment with other partners?
- Who are the potential end-users of the agenda/solution generated by the needs assessment?
- Who will lead any interventions that result from the needs assessment?
3) An internal needs assessment within an organization which serves the community at large, is dedicated to a particular population in the community, or is currently addressing a need within the community (e.g. a clinic, hospital or health system; a non-for-profit organization, community group, etc.). This type of assessment aims to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of the organization’s activities. Potential questions the organization might ask of itself include:
- What is the organizational culture and philosophy?
- What is our current understanding about the needs and assets of the community/population served?
- Is our understanding of the needs and assets in the community accurate?
- How do the identified needs fit within our organization’s mission/purpose?
- What reach and outcomes have we accomplished with our current interventions?
- Are these intervention approaches evidence-based?
- Are there new approaches we should be considering?
- What current resources does the organization and its programs offer to address the target needs?
- What aspects of our organization are excelling?
- Are there particular programs or areas of the organization that would most benefit from extra investment in improvement efforts?
- Who are our current, and potential, stakeholders?
- Do we have within our organization the skills, experiences, and connections that will enable us to address the identified needs effectively?