Conducting Mission-Focused Planning and Needs Assessments with Applicant Organizations: Part 2 – Assessing the Need Written by Julie Alsup, GPC and Tom Assel, GPC

Conducting Mission-Focused Planning and Needs Assessments with Applicant Organizations: Part 2 – Assessing the Need Written by Julie Alsup, GPC and Tom Assel, GPC

In Part 1, we talked about finding and using existing needs assessments. But suppose no appropriate needs assessment data already exists. How do you start the needs planning process?

First, consider if you should do a needs assessment at all. Are you considering starting a program that will most likely require additional staff? Talk with your executive leadership or your agency’s human resources department. Does the budget allow for additional staff, or at least partial staff salary? Would the position be entirely dependent on grant funding? If so, unless you have a pre-existing commitment from a funder to support that position for multiple years, it could be very challenging to find funders willing to take on that commitment. If your agency is not in a position to respond to a potential need in a sustainable way, you might not want to devote the time and resources to assessing the need.

If you decide to go ahead and assess the need, consider your target population. Who is representing their point of view? Even if your agency has been serving that target population for years, don’t assume you can represent their point of view, especially if it’s for a need you haven’t previously been meeting. For example, if your agency has been providing emergency housing and utility assistance, and is looking to add employment services or health care navigation services, don’t assume your housing and utility experience with your target population will be sufficient to describe that population’s need for those added services. Members of that target population will need to provide direct input into the needs assessment.

How do we find those members of the target population? Where do they congregate, where do they live, and how do we reach them? You might already know the answer. If your agency is already serving a population in need and you’re considering a new program, and you’re trying to determine the extent of the need the program will fill, your existing clients might be a great place to start. If you’re looking to serve a new population, consider working with agencies already serving that population. For example, if you’re considering a skills training program for formerly incarcerated individuals, the state correctional system might have a point of contact who can at least tell you about other agencies working with that population. That will give you other contacts to pursue who might be willing to help you reach your target population, but be patient and diligent.

How should we approach the actual needs assessment? If you’ve ever read a community health needs assessment like the ones we referenced in Part 1, you might have seen input from focus groups, you might have seen surveys, and you might have seen in-depth interviews with individuals. All of these methods are valid and are perhaps most effective in combination. Whichever methods you choose, be sure to consider accessibility. If you are distributing a survey through an online service like Survey Monkey, don’t expect everyone to have a computer and internet access. Make the survey easy to fill out while still being informative and leave space for at least some open-ended answers. If you mail the survey to members of the community, or hand them out in the community, you might consider including pre-addressed, postage-paid return envelopes. Make the entire process as easy as possible to maximize responses.

If you decide on in-person methods, like focus groups or interviews, make sure you provide transportation or meet in an easily accessible, close location for the target population. Libraries often have publicly available meeting rooms. You may want to send out questions ahead of time, or you may want to get on-the-spot reactions to certain statements or questions. However you do it, make sure you are considering your target population’s skills and abilities. Don’t make a questionnaire too difficult to read if your population has lower literacy skills. Always consider accessibility.

In-person methods are a great way to get people to open up about their needs and feelings. This is often the best way to find information that puts a human face on an issue. Numbers are useful, but they don’t always tell how a problem is actually impacting those affected.

GPC Competency 2.5: Identify methods of accessing and/or conducting mission-focused planning and needs assessments with applicant organizations.