Community Needs Assessment:
It's amazing what ordinary people can do if they
set out without preconceived notions.
Taking the Pulse of Your Community
Why conduct a needs assessment survey?
When citizen groups want to take action, influence policy, change
things around or shake things up, community needs assessment studies
are an effective way to find out what people are thinking and how
they feel. While information from a needs assessment study is valuable
and useful, the process of gathering the information is valuable,
too. Needs assessment studies allow citizen groups or a sponsoring
- Gather information about citizen attitudes and opinions regarding
precisely defined issues, problems or opportunities.
- Determine how citizens rank issues, problems and opportunities
in order of importance and urgency.
- Give citizens a voice in determining policy, goals and priorities.
- Determine citizen support for initiatives.
- Evaluate current programs and policies.
- End speculation about "what people are thinking" or
"what people really want."
Who should be involved?
Citizens interested in conducting a needs assessment survey need
to identify a sponsoring group to manage the project and lend credibility.
The sponsoring group may be organized for the needs assessment project
only, or it may be an existing group or groups which assume responsibility
for the needs assessment. Either way, the sponsoring group must
contribute time, leadership, management and its good name and reputation
to the project.
Community groups and interested citizens should be invited and
encouraged to participate. In the planning phase of the needs assessment
study, broad representation of the community will enhance the credibility
of the process, and will contribute to a comprehensive survey questionnaire.
In the planning phase, the cardinal rule is, "don't leave anyone
out!" If you do, you may hear from them later when they criticize
the process or the outcomes. Some communities plan a public meeting
to describe the process and solicit input -- some use other methods
such as newspaper articles, speaking engagements or fliers.
What are the steps in conducting a needs assessment study?
- Step 1. Establish a working committee to solicit citizen
and community involvement and develop a plan of action.
- Step 2. List important issues to be addressed.
- Step 3. Identify the population to be surveyed.
- Step 4. Determine the information that is needed -- it
may be existing information which must be collected, or it may
be information gathered using a survey.
- Step 5. Select a random sample of persons to survey.
- Step 6. Develop and pretest a questionnaire.
- Step 7. Collect information.
- Step 8. Analyze the data.
- Step 9. Report the results.
How can communities get help?
The Cooperative Extension Service
of the University of Illinois
provides help in plan- ning needs assessment studies and in analyzing
the resulting information. The Laboratory for Community and Economic
Development and Extension Educators help communities through local
CES Unit offices.
Working with local citizens, the Laboratory and Extension Educators
- Help identify community groups and citizens to involve in
the working committee.
- Facilitate group discussions to identify important issues
and set priorities.
- Help select the sample to be surveyed, and design a system
to identify respondents.
- Provide tested questions from which the working com- mittee
chooses questions that address the issues of concern.
- Help design a process to distribute and collect survey questionnaires.
- Code, enter and analyze the resulting data.
- Provide summary reports of data.
- Suggest programs to report the results and strategies to solicit
- Work with citizens to identify courses of action based on