Community Needs Assessment:
Taking the Pulse of Your Community

It's amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions.

-Charles Kettering

Why conduct a needs assessment survey?

When citizen groups want to take action, influence policy, change things around or shake things up, community needs assessment studies are an effective way to find out what people are thinking and how they feel. While information from a needs assessment study is valuable and useful, the process of gathering the information is valuable, too. Needs assessment studies allow citizen groups or a sponsoring agency to:

  • Gather information about citizen attitudes and opinions regarding precisely defined issues, problems or opportunities.
  • Determine how citizens rank issues, problems and opportunities in order of importance and urgency.
  • Give citizens a voice in determining policy, goals and priorities.
  • Determine citizen support for initiatives.
  • Evaluate current programs and policies.
  • End speculation about "what people are thinking" or "what people really want."

Who should be involved?

Citizens interested in conducting a needs assessment survey need to identify a sponsoring group to manage the project and lend credibility. The sponsoring group may be organized for the needs assessment project only, or it may be an existing group or groups which assume responsibility for the needs assessment. Either way, the sponsoring group must contribute time, leadership, management and its good name and reputation to the project.

Community groups and interested citizens should be invited and encouraged to participate. In the planning phase of the needs assessment study, broad representation of the community will enhance the credibility of the process, and will contribute to a comprehensive survey questionnaire. In the planning phase, the cardinal rule is, "don't leave anyone out!" If you do, you may hear from them later when they criticize the process or the outcomes. Some communities plan a public meeting to describe the process and solicit input -- some use other methods such as newspaper articles, speaking engagements or fliers.

What are the steps in conducting a needs assessment study?

Step 1. Establish a working committee to solicit citizen and community involvement and develop a plan of action.

Step 2. List important issues to be addressed.

Step 3. Identify the population to be surveyed.

Step 4. Determine the information that is needed -- it may be existing information which must be collected, or it may be information gathered using a survey.

Step 5. Select a random sample of persons to survey.

Step 6. Develop and pretest a questionnaire.

Step 7. Collect information.

Step 8. Analyze the data.

Step 9. Report the results.

How can communities get help?

The Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Illinois provides help in plan- ning needs assessment studies and in analyzing the resulting information. The Laboratory for Community and Economic Development and Extension Educators help communities through local CES Unit offices.

Working with local citizens, the Laboratory and Extension Educators can:

  • Help identify community groups and citizens to involve in the working committee.

  • Facilitate group discussions to identify important issues and set priorities.

  • Help select the sample to be surveyed, and design a system to identify respondents.

  • Provide tested questions from which the working com- mittee chooses questions that address the issues of concern.

  • Help design a process to distribute and collect survey questionnaires.

  • Code, enter and analyze the resulting data.

  • Provide summary reports of data.

  • Suggest programs to report the results and strategies to solicit community involvement.

  • Work with citizens to identify courses of action based on new information.

  • For more information about community needs assessment studies, contact your Unit Office of the Cooperative Extension Service.

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    College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Laboratory for Community and Economic Development

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