Uses And Benefits Of A Community Needs Assessment

By Helene Norris

In order for communities to meet the needs of the group as a whole and find out which things need attention, it becomes imperative for residents to provide input. The best way to do this is by asking for this information. One way to accomplish this is through a community needs assessment. What exactly are these assessments, how do they work, and when are they necessary?

When any group or organization wants to find out specific information about communities and the people that live in them, often the best thing to do is talk to the residents. Through these assessments, specific questions can be asked and results are gathered. The assessments are designed, when used in this manner, to provide details about available resources are utilized. Assessments are the beginning steps of strategic planning. This planning helps set up goals and ways to reach them.

Assessments can be done in numerous ways. One way is to hold focus groups. These are small groups of people that best represent everyone as a whole. Discussions are held with these people to gather information. Specific questions are asked to the group to encourage input on things, such as available resources and assets provided by other organizations.

Another way to complete assessments is through planned forums. These forums act very similar to town meetings. People in the communities can attend these meetings freely. During forums residents are encouraged to speak about the topics brought up, such as changes to what is available or other resources that are needed but not accessible. Keep in mind that forums must be strictly moderated to prevent them from getting out of control.

You could also choose to use one of two types of surveys to complete assessments. Surveys can be mailed or in person. Mailed surveys are printed and sent to as many residents as possible, and people who fill out the surveys can mail them back. If the surveys are done in person, specific questions are asked by people who go to each residence. These surveys are often less productive than other types of assessments.

There is not always a need to complete assessments, and to avoid wasting time and effort you should know when they are necessary. Generally, they are not needed if a previous one has been done recently. They are also not necessary if no extra information is required or if needs have already been confirmed. In these cases, residents can often feel as though you are avoiding taking action.

After an assessment is complete, sorting through the information is the next step. Prioritize information that has come from your target group, such as families or the elderly. Compare new information with the old and look for patterns and gaps. From the organized information, an action plan can be designed that creates goals and plans to meet those goals.

Ultimately, the goal is to help communities and their members have access to all the assets available and to make those that are inaccessible available if they can be beneficial. A community needs assessment is part of the plan to accomplish this. Through these assessments, organizations have the ability to gain an understanding about residents, their issues, and strengths of the communities as a whole.

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