My concern with most needs assessments is with the definitions and use of the terms “outcomes” and “needs”. The. traditional approach is to inventory and assess how existing programs are doing and seek to identify what more is needed to meet the demand in the community. What is called for first is a gap analysis at the outcome level, desired measurable results verses current measurable attainment , a prioritizing of desired outcomes based upon the most significant gaps , then an examination of the presence or absence of effective and research based practices and the community’s capacity to implement them.

With the purpose of collecting data at the neighborhood, school zone, zip code or census tract whenever possible, a good needs assessment will be able to identify specific and measurable gaps in outcomes, effective practices and related services, needs at two levels.

The steps might include:

  1. Identify desired outcomes for each of the project’s target areas and report data on the gap between current and desired outcomes by demographics, census tract, zip code, school zone or neighborhood whenever possible.
  2. Identify research based and/or best practices that have been shown to positively impact desired outcomes.
  3. Assess current programs providing best practices, clients served, and their results as well as gaps in effective programs by age groups, demographics, census tracts, etc., whenever possible.
  4. Identify other service providers and their purported or reported outcomes/results, clients served by target areas, demographics, age groups, location, etc.
  5. Recommend priority funding or support for new or existing results-based services that address priority target outcome gaps and measurable results that can be used for program evaluation and reporting.

Needs assessment done right makes strategic planning and program evaluation much easier and more targeted to reaching the desired state for the target group or community.

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