Why is it crucial to carry out a needs assessment?
Assessments are a vital element of the project cycle: they provide information on the basis of which the majority of an organisation’s decisions are made. A well carried out needs assessment is crucial to implementing successful projects. A thorough needs assessment will contribute to programme planning, monitoring and evaluation, as well as project accountability and is a key step in the project planning life cycle.
In essence, a needs assessment seeks to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses within a community and create or improve services based on the identified weaknesses. At an organisational level, it aims to set expectations with the organisation’s stakeholders about what outcomes the intervention is likely to achieve, and identifying possible barriers to intervention effectiveness.
What are the ways in which a needs assessment can be carried out?
In order to carry out a needs assessment, the following data collection techniques can be adopted:
Community/social survey: Surveys can be used to gather community demographics where a large number of people may be involved, and also in which multiple variables such as socio-economic status, education levels and employment are being measured in relation to the planned intervention. Large scale surveys involving many people can reveal useful information, while smaller surveys may be less generalizable and used only in the context within which they are conducted.
Community mapping: An organisation may be wanting to implement a service that they think will be of benefit to the community. The problem they may face is where and how to place the service at a particular point in the community, and whether that service is likely to be used. By carrying out a community mapping exercise, the researcher would need to involve community members and draw a map of their locality, taking into account the places they visit the most and how often they go there. This will give an indication of where to locate a service so that it is conveniently placed and accessible to community participants whom it is intended to serve.
Seasonal calendar: A seasonal calendar allows the researcher to look at seasonal trends that may affect the intervention to be carried out in the community. Seasonal trends may reveal the migration pattern, availability of labour, availability of food / weather conditions which may affect students’ performance at school and so on. Seasonal calendars may allow the practitioner to take into account things that may not have been considered as part of the intervention but which will greatly improve the quality of the intervention and living conditions for the community members. In order to use the seasonal calendar as a data collection tool, the researcher needs to get community members to list out activities they perform throughout the year. These may be related to work, festivals, migration patterns etc.
Focus group sessions: Focus groups are sessions in which community members can answer questions about different aspects of the intervention in the form of planned discussions. This is a good opportunity to actually find out about the needs and concerns of the community. It aids in addressing service gaps and how the planned intervention will help in achieving the desired outcomes
What are the questions a needs assessment survey seeks to gain answers to?
Figure out whether the intervention needed in that particular location or with the chosen community
Identify relevant stakeholders affected by the problem or stakeholders of the program/or solution being addressed
Learn more about the community and its residents
Understand the problem to be addressed in detail
Identify other solutions that may work in order to improve the intervention
Discuss and identify potential users of the agenda/solution likely to be generated by the needs assessment process.