How to Complete a Needs Assessment of Your Community
Give your practice a fresh start with a critical look at what your community needs.
By Marielle Bonaroti Reynolds, PT, DPT
A needs assessment can be defined as a systematic process for determining and addressing needs or gaps between current conditions and desired conditions or wants.
It is often used for the improvement of individuals, organizations, or communities and can be generated in response to a problem, an opportunity, or as a means of ongoing performance improvement processes.1 More specifically, a community needs assessment is the process of determining the real or perceived needs of a determined community of people. This is a way of analyzing gaps in community services, as well as the strengths and assets available in your community.2
We are in the midst of unusual times as we start the decade with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to face many challenges. In the wake of this crisis, there are certainly gaps in services or needs of the communities that we serve that must be addressed. As we rebound from this current situation and look to make changes within our clinics, we can take this opportunity to start fresh and assess the needs of the communities we serve. This is a critical first step before implementing a new program, opening a new location, hiring new staff, or changing policy, for example. Use these steps to help conduct a needs assessment of your clinic and community.
1. DETERMINE SCOPE AND DEFINE COMMUNITY
It is important to first decide on the purpose of the needs assessment as well as to limit the scope to what can be reasonably addressed. The needs you choose to address will depend on your clinic’s area of expertise. By defining the scope of this assessment, you will be concentrating your efforts to achieve the greatest impact.2 It’s also important to consider those in your organization who will participate in the process as well. It can be helpful to designate a committee, or you many assign this task to your practice liaison or marketing director. After deciding on the scope and the members of the assessment process, defining the community is also essential as a first step of this process. If you’re considering a new program at a specific location or clinic, defining the community to include that particular location rather than the whole company would be more appropriate. We must understand the communities that we serve and there are several factors that we must consider. Identifying assets or resources in our communities can contribute to success. This may include influential members of the community, community leaders, organizations, or referral sources.
2. DETERMINE ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
A specific set of criteria will help you to systematically and effectively evaluate a variety of needs and determine which ones should be prioritized.3 Criteria regarding the need itself might include the severity or frequency of the need, the long-term impact, who the need is affecting, and the social and economic impact. Those regarding your clinic or organization might include staff expertise and specialties, support and resources, or existing programs that may already address the issue.3 These criteria can help shape the data collection and analysis in the future steps of the process.
3. PLAN AND COLLECT DATA
Using a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data will provide you with a more in-depth and reliable assessment of the community.4 Quantitative data is more numbers or statistics driven to gather a snapshot of the community you’re assessing, such as population and demographics. Utilizing resources, such as the U.S. Census, public health data, or school district records to breakdown demographics including age, gender, income level, and education level is a great way to efficiently gather this data. Qualitative data will provide information on the perspectives and attitudes of the community. You will want to plan for how you will gather this qualitative data. There are several ways to do so including focus groups, surveys, polls, interviews, and observation, though the list could go on. Focus groups and interviews are a great way to connect with members of the community in a face-to-face setting. While these methods can be time consuming, they can provide deeper and diverse insights into the perspectives of the community. Surveys and polls, whether conducted online or via mail or telephone, can be more efficient and relatively inexpensive.2 Social media channels are also a great resource as their presence and ease of use continues to grow within our communities.
4. ANALYZE AND PRESENT DATA
Once the data collection process is complete, you will have a list of needs or issues as reported and gathered from your community. When reviewing your data, look for patterns and trends. Depending on the structure of your organization or the committee you’ve assembled to participate in the assessment process, you can choose to generate a report to present your data. You may choose to simply display the data in a spreadsheet or workbook. Use a method that works best for your company.
5. PRIORITIZE NEEDS
As the final step of the assessment process, applying the previously determined criteria to the data collected will prioritize the issues to drive your decision-making.3 You have an opportunity to address those issues that have been uncovered. The issues with your highest priority criteria should be selected as those to address with your new program, new location, or workshop, for example. Create an action plan to outline your next steps including resources needed, timeline, and details of your intended change.
Now that you’ve assessed your community and developed your action plan, it is time to share it with your community, staff, and clients. Reach out to your referral sources, increase your presence on social media channels, or blast an email update to your client base in order to harness the energy and build momentum toward your intended change. Performing this assessment process can create a deeper understanding of what truly matters to those in your community and help you to build more effective and relevant programs and positive changes in your clinics.
1Audiopedia. What is NEEDS ASSESSMENT? What does NEEDS ASSESSMENT mean? NEEDS ASSESSMENT meaning & explanation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-2CpRclYgw. Published March 2, 2018. Accessed May 5, 2020.
2How to Conduct a Community Needs Assessment. Galaxy Digital. https://www.galaxydigital.com/blog/conduct-community-needs-assessment/. Accessed May 5, 2020.
3Needs Assessment. Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/cfca-paper/needs-assessment/part-two-how-do-needs-assessment. Published March 2019. Accessed May 5, 2020.
4Community Needs Assessment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/healthprotection/fetp/training_modules/15/community-needs_pw_final_9252013.pdf. Accessed May 5, 2020.
5Office of Migrant Education. Comprehensive Needs Assessment. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/compneedsassessment.pdf. Published 2001. Accessed May 5, 2020.
Marielle Bonaroti Reynolds, PT, DPT, is a trusted physical therapist serving the Murrysville, Pennsylvania area with East Suburban Sports Medicine Center (ESSMC).