I just finished a chapter on needs assessment in the public sector–you know that part of the work environment that provides a service to the community and receives part of its funding from the county/state/federal governments. Most of you know I’ve been an academic for at least 31 years, maybe more (depending on when you start the clock). In that time I’ve worked as an internal evaluator, a program planner, and a classroom teacher. Most of what I’ve done has an evaluative component to it. (I actually earned my doctorate in program evaluation when most people in evaluation came from other disciplines.) During that time I’ve worked on many programs/projects in a variety of situations (individual classroom, community, state, and country). I find it really puzzling that evaluators will take on evaluation without having a firm foundation on which to base those evaluations. (I know I have done this; I can offer all manner of excuses, only not here).

If I had been invited to participate in the evaluation at the beginning of the program, at the conceptualization stage, I would have asked if a needs assessment had been done and what was the outcome of that assessment. Was there really a lack (i.e., a need); or was this “need” contrived to do something else (bring in grant money, further a career, make a stakeholder happy, etc.)?

When I was writing the chapter, I revisited several “needs” assessments that actually provided valuable information that wasn’t about needs–that is, something lacking. Rather they provided support for the position taken by Altschuld (2014). Bridging the Gap-altschuld in his current book on capacity building. He proposes a hybrid model that combines the two. Rather than looking at the glass half empty (needs), he looks at the glass half full (assets). Having stakeholders identify what they already have in terms of services that can be supported or augmented is a totally different approach to needs assessment.

Knowing what the stakeholders have can be very informative when developing programs. Recognizing that the stakeholders may have strengths that have been previously unrecognized is an important piece of information for an evaluator to have. It prevents duplication of services, it prevents inefficient programs, it promotes responsibility (of stakeholders, for sure; probably evaluators as well), and it promotes recognition of strengths currently held.

I was heartened to learn on retrospect that I supported asset/capacity building in the work I’ve done, long before the book was published. At the time, I’m sure we were looking for the gaps between what is and what could be; in reality, what could be was already present, we just had to recognize it.

my two cents.


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