Needs Assessment is an evaluative activity; the first assessment that a program developer must do to understand the gap between what is and what needs to be (what is desired). Needs assessments are the evaluative activity in the Situation box of a linear logic model.
Sometimes, however, the target audience doesn’t know what they need to know and that presents challenges for the program planner. How do you capture a need when the target audience doesn’t know they need the (fill in the blank). That challenge is the stuff of other posts, however.
I had the good fortune to talk with Sam Angima, an Oregon Regional Administrator who has been tasked with the charge of developing expertise in needs assessment. Each Regional Administrator (there are 12) has been tasked with different charges to whom faculty can be referred. We captured Sam’s insights in a conversational Aha! moment. Let me know what you think.
I’ve talked about how each phase of a logic model has evaluative activities. I’ve probably even alluded to the fact that needs assessment is the evaluative activity for that phase called situation (see the turquoise area on the left end of the image below.)
What I haven’t done is talk about is the why, what, and how of needs assessment (NA). I also haven’t talked about the utilization of the findings of a needs assessment–what makes meaning of the needs assessment.
OK. So why is a NA conducted? And what is a NA?
Jim Altschuld is my go-to person when it comes to questions about needs assessment. He recently edited a series of books on the topic.
Although Jim is my go-to person, Belle Ruth Witkin (a colleague, friend, and collaborator of Jim Altschuld) says in the preface to the co-authored volume (Witkin and Altschuld, 1995–see below), that the most effective way to decide the best way to divide the (often scarce) resources among the demands (read programs) is to conduct a needs assessment when the planning for the use of those resources begins.
Book 1 of the kit discusses an overview. In that volume, Jim defines what a needs assessment is: “Needs assessment is the process of identifying needs, prioritizing them, making needs-based decisions, allocating resources, and implementing actions in organizations to resolve problems underlying important needs (pg.20).” Altschuld states that there are many models for assessing needs and provides citations for those models. I think the most important aspect of this first volume is the presentation of the phased model developed by Belle Ruth Witkin in 1984 and revised by Altschuld and Witkin in their 1995 and 2000 volumes.Those phases are preassessment, assessment, and postassessment. They divide those three phases into three levels, primary, secondary, and tertiary, each level targeting a different group of stakeholders. This volume also discusses the why and the how. Subsequent volumes go into more detail–volume 2 discusses phase 1 (getting started); volume 3 discusses phase II (collecting data); volume 4 discusses analysis and priorities; and volume 5 discusses phase III (taking action).
Laurie Stevahn and Jean A. King are the authors of this volume. In chapter 3, they discuss strategies for the action plan using facilitation procedures that promote positive relationships, develop shared understanding, prioritize decisions, and assess progress. They warn of interpersonal conflict and caution against roadblocks that impede change efforts. They also promote the development of evaluation activities at the onset of the NA because that helps ensure the use of the findings.
Needs assessment is a political experience. Some one (or ones) will feel disenfranchised, loose resources, have programs ended. These activities create hard feelings and resentments. These considerations need to be identified and discussed at the beginning of the process. It is like the elephant and the blind people–everyone has an image of what the creature is, there may or may not be consensus, yet for the NA to be successful, consensus is important. Without it, the data will sit on someone’s shelf or in someone’s computer. Not useful.