This summer I spent a lot of time dealing with needs assessments and talking about needs and assets. It occurred to me that the difference between need and wants has a lot to do with evaluation (among other things). So what are needs? What are wants? How does all this relate to evaluation?


Maslow spoke eloquently about needs in his hierarchy, and although the hierarchy is often presented as a pyramid,Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs.svg Maslow didn’t present the needs this way. He did present this hierarchy as a set of building blocks with basic needs (physiological) as the foundation, followed by safety, loving/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. He talks about this theory of motivation in his book, Motivation and Personalitymaslow's motivation and personality (a 3rd edition is available as well). This view of the individual ushered in the humanistic view of psychology (often called the third theory after behaviorism and psychoanalysis). He believed that human could not live without these needs and advocated that they are necessary for survival.


A “want” is often considered a desire based purely in economic, social, orĀ  psychological reality of human existence. It is something that an individual would like to have. (Chocolate, any one?) A want is not essential to human existence; it is only something an individual would like to have. Unfortunately, there are limited resources (as well as a large body of literature) talking about having enoughenough is enough. If you have enough, then wants are few and resources are available for everyone.


When does needing become wanting? Does wanting dominate even when there are needs? If you don’t have enough to eat, do you need food or want it? Or water? Same thing. Evaluation is like that. When do you have enough? When do you know enough? Are programs always about needs or are they about wants? If they are about wants, who is in the best position to determine if they are assets or needs? I’m sure it sounds like I’m going in circles; perhaps I am. I think (a caveat) that evaluation isn’t a want. I think (another caveat) that evaluation is a need, probably falling somewhere in the safety sphere (according to Maslow). Safety being security of various parts of an individuals life (body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, and property). I’m sure other arguments can be made as well.

Evaluation talks about the worth, merit, value of a program. Evaluation is one way to determine if something works, if the program has made a difference with the target audience. That sounds like security to me. Determining the worth, merit, value of a program, moves from wanting to needing. By determining the worth, merit, value of something (in this case a program), you help ensure security, you help ensure safety of the target audience.

my two cents.


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