A Community Needs Assessment Guide Cyfar

A community needs assessment guide cyfar

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A Community Needs
Assessment Guide
A Brief Guide on How to Conduct a
Needs Assessment
Prepared by
Aparna Sharma B.S, Mindy Lanum B.S., and Yolanda
Suarez-Balcazar Ph.D
Center for Urban Research and Learning and the Department of Psychology
Loyola University Chicago
September 2000
There are many individuals who contributed to the development of
this needs assessment guide. We would like to thank the staff at Youth
Service Project Inc. and the residents of Humboldt Park who collaborated
with the Loyola BP research team to conduct a needs assessment of their
community. From the Loyola BP research team, we would like to thank
Lucia Orellana-Damacela, Nelson Portillo, Sean Hill, Adam Carrico, Emily
Keeker, and Leah Kinney. We are also very grateful to Freddy Calixto,
Michelle Williams, Grace Hou, and Robert Houston, our BP Community
Fellows for their time and valued feedback on this guide

Table of Contents
What is a Community Needs Assessment? 1
I. The Planning and Organizing Phase 2
A. Information gathering 2
B. Learn about the organization and the program 3
C. Identify goals and objectives for the needs assessment 3
II. The Needs Assessment Methodology 4
A. Getting Ready 4
B. Developing a Needs Assessment Survey 5
C. Creating a Needs Assessment Survey 8
III. The Needs Assessment Survey Data Collection 10
A. Obtaining a representation of your community 10
B. Providing incentives 11
C. Flyers advertising the public forums 12
D. Getting ready to conduct the surveys 12
E. Administering the door-to-door survey 13
IV. Summarizing and Disseminating the Needs Assessment
Survey Results 14
A. Summarizing the data 14
B. The public forums 14
V. Writing the Final Report 17
Appendices 18
A Community Needs Assessment Guide
What is a Community Needs Assessment?
The goal of a needs assessment is to identify the assets of a community and determine
potential concerns that it faces. A straightforward way to estimate the needs of a community is to
simply ask residents their opinions about the development of services within the community, their
satisfaction with services, and what particular services are needed. Their opinions can be used in
building an agenda aimed at community change that can build the capacity of community-based
organizations that are designed to provide its resident’s services and development opportunities

The following is a brief guide on how to conduct a needs assessment for your own organization in
partnership with an academic unit or other organizations. This guide is an adaptation of the
Concerns Report Method developed by Fawcett, Suarez, Johnson, Whang-Ramos, Seekins, and
Bradford (1987) and Suarez, Balcazar, and Keys (1999) “Self help guide: Community needs
assessment and action planning”

How to Conduct a Community Needs Assessment
The following is a “how to” guide that briefly details the steps of the Concerns Report
Method beginning with the planning phases and ending with implementation of action
committees and the utilization of findings from the needs assessment. Ideally, a needs assessment
is done in collaboration with local community-based organizations, advocacy groups and/or a
university unit. This needs assessment guide is intended to facilitate the work of community
leaders, agency staff, and university practitioners in identifying the concerns and strengths of a
community and to develop initiatives to address the needs brought forth by the assessment
process. The needs assessment methodology is divided into four phases that were adapted from
Fawcett et al (1987); Balcazar, Keys, Kaplan, and Suarez-Balcazar (1998); and Suarez-Balcazar
and Orellana (1999). The needs assessment process begins with the planning and organizing
phase, data collection, summarizing and disseminating the needs assessment survey results, and
sharing the results through public forums to facilitate action planning. The adaptation below is a
template that has been used for a variety of community topics. Adaptations of the method have
been conducted to address health issues (Fawcett et al) and disability issues (Suarez, Balcazar,
and Keys, 1999)

I. The Planning and Organizing Phase
The planning phase begins with establishing a partnership between those
organizations that are likely to be involved in the needs assessment. During this first
phase, partners who are working together should have the opportunity to get to know
each other and develop specific goals and objectives for the needs assessment process

The first step in this process is information gathering and is followed by learning more
about the organization sponsoring the needs assessment and identification of goals and
objectives. The steps outlined below form the planning and organizing phase of a needs
assessment. These steps need to be completed prior to moving on to the next phase

A. Information gathering
Get to know your Needs Assessment Committee
Have several introductory meetings between organization staff and other partners
(e.g. grassroots groups or university researchers)

During these meetings…!
♦ Identify the relevant stakeholders. This includes stakeholders of the program being
assessed, the program staff, the funders, and the consumers of the program

♦ Learn more about the community the organization serves and its residents

♦ Review already existing material developed by the program staff and look at any
archival information pertaining to the development or history of the program

♦ Share your expectations and approach regarding the needs assessment with the other

♦ Discuss and identify potential users of the agenda likely to be generated by the needs
assessment process

B. Learn about the organization and the program that is being
Partners outside the sponsoring agency need to:
!Learn about the organizational culture and its philosophy by interviewing staff, including
!!the executive director, review any existing material, touring the community and learning
!!more about the target population that the organization serves

!Conduct a literature review to see what the recent research has to offer (e.g

!!methodology), review relevant archival information and what previous needs
assessments by the organization have found?
!Where is the program in terms of implementation and development of service delivery?
!What current resources do the organization and its programs offer?
!Identify and learn about the program that would most benefit from a needs assessment

C. Identify goals and objectives for the needs assessment
!Identify your strategy: In this case, our strategy is to conduct a needs
assessment of a community
!Define goals for the needs assessment
!Discuss roles and expectations for each partner
!What is the specific purpose of the needs assessment? How will the data be
used; to set a new agenda, support a new program, or support new changes in
service delivery or policies
!What is the timeline for the needs assessment?
!Identify the target population, how will a sample from the population be
II. The Needs Assessment Methodology
This will help your committee identify what needs to be done to collect the data

A. Getting Ready
!Identify the participants whom you want to survey

!Identify your needs assessment strategy

!Determine the types of measures that you will use to collect your information –
this will include using focus groups, developing and using a needs assessment
survey, and information gathered at community public forums

!How will the data be collected? For example, door-to-door surveys are often used
!!in needs assessments
!How will the information be analyzed?
!How will the information be summarized and presented in a final report?
• It is necessary that all of the information above be incorporated into the “selecting
methodology phase” meetings in order to insure that you have a strong foundation
to support the needs assessment findings

• Before developing a needs assessment survey to administer to community
residents, you need to address some key preliminary issues

♦ You must define the population you are targeting so that you can determine
whom the needs assessment will be focused on (e.g. community residents,
small business owners, teachers within a certain school district, or all people
within certain geographic boundaries)

♦ The current resources within the community should also be acknowledged

The needs assessment should not just focus on the concerns or weaknesses of
the community but should also recognize the strengths and existing resources
of a community. This can be done in the next several phases by allowing
community members to voice their opinions on the strengths of their
community and this can be subsequently included as items in the needs
assessment survey. In addition, community strengths can also be used in the
needs assessment process (e.g. grassroots organizations could assist with dat
collection or sponsor a public forum

B. Developing a Needs Assessment Survey
Several needs assessment strategies have been suggested in the literature

The model adapted from the Concerns Report Method involves qualitative
and quantitative components and includes the following phases: The use of
focus groups, creating a needs assessment survey, collecting and analyzing
data, community public forums, writing the final report and planning action
committees. The focus of this methodology is to create an agenda based on
the perceived needs and concerns of community residents
There are several phases when developing a needs assessment survey that must be
followed in order to accurately represent the concerns and strengths of a community

These include organizing a focus group and developing a needs assessment survey

1. The Focus Groups
Using small informal groups to discuss and reflect on issues surrounding their community
is a way to start compiling a list of issues that will be included on the needs assessment

• The focus group consists of people who share a common situation to some
degree. For instance, you may want to organize a focus group in which
the participants are similar to each other (e.g. a youth-only focus group)
since the primary goal of the discussion is to allow a free flowing
exchange of ideas and opinions. If there appears to be a great difference
between members within a focus group discussion, the participants may
become intimidated and limit their input. We suggest holding a few focus
groups; one with community leaders, this includes local politicians,
business owners, block club leaders and community activists; another
focus group would consist of the adult residents of the community; and the
other consisting of youth residents of the community

2. How to Prepare for a Focus Group
!Prepare an invitation list for each focus group, including their name,
phone number, and address. There should be no more than 8-10 people for
each focus group

!Set up a date, time (usually 2 hours), and location for the focus group

!Call each potential participant and personally request him/her to attend the
focus group. Briefly describe the purpose of the focus group and let them
know that refreshments will be served

!Choose your facilitator, this person will lead the discussion. We
recommend choosing someone from the partnership who can be regarded
as an “outsider” so that the participants don’t feel threatened by an agency
presence (e.g. a university partner)

!Arrange for someone who can take notes and be in charge of audio-taping
the discussion

!Make food arrangements for the focus group sessions

!Send out a flyer/invitation to each invitee along with a brief explanation of
the purpose of the focus group and the needs assessment

!Reminder phone calls need to be made the evening prior to the focus

!When focus group members arrive, have them sign in and put a name-tag
on. Allow 15 minutes for participants to introduce themselves and mingle

A Few Reminders
For the facilitators of the focus groups, it is a good idea to have a list of issues
that are important to the agency staff to make sure that important topics are
discussed within these focus groups. These areas should reflect themes of
interest to the agency such as; safety at schools, access and affordability of
medical services, housing, transportation, city work, business opportunities,
activities for youth, and other service agencies. These are determined in part,
by the focus or goal of the needs assessment

Once the focus group participants have settled down…
• Introduce yourself as the facilitator
• Have the participants introduce themselves
• Briefly describe the needs assessment process, why it’s being done, and
the role of the focus groups. Also let them know that you will be tape
recording the discussion and that their opinions will be kept confidential

If anyone has any problems with you tape-recording the proceedings, they
should let you know right away

• Answer any questions from the participants
3. Conducting the focus group
When the focus of the needs assessment is to identify community strengths
and concerns, we recommend the following questions to guide the
• What do you think are some of the strengths of this community? With what
aspects of your community are you satisfied? Be careful to keep the discussion
on track. You will find that some of the participants want to immediately talk
about their concerns

• What do you think are some of the concerns of this community? You
might want use the checklist to make sure that some important topics are
covered (e.g. health, education, safety). If towards the end of this part of the
discussion, no one has brought up a certain topic, introduce it into the discussion

• What do you value about your community? What aspects of your
community do you consider important? This is asking the participants what
makes them proud of their community (this isn’t necessarily the same as a
strength of a community but what the individuals value for themselves and their

For the Facilitator…
Here are some important points to remember…
!Although you are leading the discussion, stay in the background and let the
!!participants have their say
!Be sure that the group stays on topic
!Don’t let one person dominate the discussion, encourage those who haven’t talked to
express their opinions
!One way to show the group that you are listening is to paraphrase what they are
saying and ask them to confirm if it is accurate
!Be sure to note down the focus group details: time, place, location, number of
!!attendees etc

4. Ending the Focus Group
♦ Before ending the focus group, the facilitator should do a quick summary of what was
discussed and highlight some of the main points

!End the discussion by thanking everyone for participating and letting them know
what the next step will be (developing the survey). If they want more information on
how they could help, direct them to the program manager

!We recommend sending a thank you card to all of the participants as a gesture of your
appreciation and letting them know how to contact the agency if they want to
continue helping in this process. This is a good way of getting some volunteers to
help with the upcoming data collection

!Announce when the survey will be ready and recruit their help if residents express
interest in helping with the data collection and also invite them to upcoming the
public forum

5. After the Focus Group
After the focus groups are complete, compile all of the answers to each of the three
questions in a list. When compiling these answers, they should be categorized into
different areas or dimensions that were part of the discussion (e.g. transportation,
daycare, health services). This represents the beginnings of your needs assessment
survey. Present these items to your needs assessment partnership and start discussing
how these will be incorporated into the survey. Have service providers, staff, board
members and relevant partners review the list and add items if appropriate

C. Creating the Needs Assessment Survey
Items on the survey are based on information provided in the several focus groups and is
also adapted from several other community needs assessment surveys. The survey
consists of 3 parts; a 30-35 item questionnaire, several open-ended questions regarding
concerns and strengths of the community, and a demographics page. We recommend that
agencies adapt this survey to fit their needs (See Appendix A for a copy of a needs
assessment survey). If there are any other relevant questions regarding the agencies own
services, they can be adapted into this survey

1. When Developing a Survey
!♦ Have members of the needs assessment partnership check each item for
! accuracy and completeness
!♦ Have various stakeholders check the wording of the items. Is it user-friendly?
! Is it clear and simple? This includes pilot testing the survey with a few
! participants

!♦ Make sure all key areas are covered (e.g. education, health, safety, housing
! etc.)
!♦ Make sure that you have accurate translations of the survey when needed
!!(see Appendix B for Spanish version)
!♦ Check the list of items yielded from the focus groups

!♦ Write affirmative simple statements

!♦ Make sure each item is asking only one question

!♦ Delete repeated items that are worded differently
!♦ The demographics page is placed at the end of the survey and it provides a
descriptive profile of the individual respondents

We also included several open-ended questions within the survey. This qualitative
component allows the respondent to voice their opinion and to add what they feel is
important in their community. These questions could include:
1. What are 3 things you like most about living in your community?
2. What are 3 things you would like to improve about your community?
3. What is an effective way to get residents involved in their community?
The survey consists of items that have 2 corresponding questions. Once question asks
about that person’s opinion on the importance of that issue and the other asks about
the person’s satisfaction regarding the community’s efforts to address the issue (taken
from Fawcett et al.). When respondents are asked to rate the satisfaction and
importance for each item, the strengths and concerns of the community can be
identified. The items that are rated high in importance and low in satisfaction
represent a concern in the community. Items that are rated high in importance and
high in satisfaction indicate a strength in the community

For example
How important is this How satisfied
To you… are you with…
Availability of good grocery stores 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Availability of affordable daycare centers 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
The above scale is:
Please circle the appropriate score using the following scale:
1 = completely unimportant 1 = completely unsatisfied
2 = unimportant 2 = unsatisfied
3 = important 3 = satisfied
4 = very important 4 = very satisfied

The needs assessment methodology is divided into four phases that were adapted from Fawcett et al (1987); Balcazar, Keys, Kaplan, and Suarez-Balcazar (1998); and Suarez-Balcazar

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a community needs assessment?

A community needs assessment identifies the strengths and resources available in the community to meet the needs of children, youth, and families. The assessment focuses on the capabilities of the community, including its citizens, agencies, and organizations. It provides a framework for developing and identifying services and solutions ...

What is the hardest part of a community needs assessment?

One of the hardest parts of a community needs assessment is narrowing your focus. If your assessment uncovers many issues in your community, you may be tempted to try to address all of them at once. However, you will only end up spreading yourself too thin, and wearing out your team and volunteers.

What are the different types of community assessment?

Or, assessments may be expanded to include focus group discussions, town meetings, interviews with stakeholders, and telephone or mailed surveys to partnership members and the community. Focuses on community assessment for health promotion programs.

What should i do with my assessment findings?

The type of action you will take should be deeply rooted in the findings of your assessment. Choose the key findings you want your program to focus on. Identify an intended activity or response for each key finding, all working toward addressing the need. Denote a champion responsible for carrying out each activity and establish clear deadlines.