Needs Assessment



The concept of need is relevant to almost all aspects of human functioning. Social workers often perfer to use the concept of "need" rather than the concept of "problem" because "need" suggest normality, typical, okness rather than "wrong" or "lacking". The most famous listings of needs comes from Maslow(1954) who theorized that human beings have a set of five basic needs that can be viewed as a hierarchy:

Malcolm Knowles, the father of Adult Education, devised his own list without the hierarchy concept. He suggested that human needs included:

A third theorist, Kidd (1975) looked specifically at adults and their learning needs and classified them into items related to:


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Needs are frequently viewed as having certain distinctions. Needs can be labled as either felt, ascribed/normative. and/or real needs. Felt needs are those that are self-defined by each individual as being important. They are often equated with or described by the individual as being a "want."  An ascribed or normative need is one that is perceived by others. Often authorities, "experts" or significant others define something as being important. Fashion, weight, attractiveness, decore are all examples. Real needs are those with which evidence exists that they are present now, e.g. one feels dizzy and one's blood sugar level is low.

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Need Assessment Frameworks

    A need assessment framework is a structure or model to utilize in actually carrying out a needs assessment. Most need assessment frameworks have six common elements:

  1.     a statement of purpose;
  2.     an identification of the audience for the result;
  3.     a definition of the general need area which is the focus;
  4.     a listing of data sources;
  5.     a description of techniques that will be utilized for data collection and analysis (following the principle of triangulation;
  6.     an outline of how the results will be reported.

    Model Clusters

    Pennington identified six different clusters of models of needs assessment frameworks. They are: (1) self-fulfilment medels; (2) individual appraisal models; (3) system discrepancy models; (4) diagnostic or medical models; (5) analytical models and (6) democratic medels.

                       Cogswell, D. (1985) Assessing the Training and Staff Development Needs of Mental Health/Mental Reetardation Professionals: A Multi-Method. Doctoral Dissertation: Virginia Tech. p. 20-21.

    Model Clusters                      Foci                           Strengths                       Concerns

Self-fullment Assessment led by an outside person such as a trainer or marketing person (whose goal is to provide a product e.g. spirituality tapes, pottery classes, or golf lessons. Experts exist who can guide the process and save time and effort; Involves persons with needs thus motivation for change is moderate Generally lack precison in need definition, strong trainer or institutional bias, tends to be more marketing than data collection
Individual Appraisal Self-assessment is led by the individual who possesses the need. Stong motivation for change as the assessor is also the one with the need Built-in bias of self-assessment, potential lack of vision and the dependence upon individual initiative.
System Discrepancy On groups of persons with a specific need Needs are behaviorally defined thus leading easily to measurable objectives; needs identified are representative of the majority of those involved. Needs of individuals outside the norm are not identified
Diagnosis/Medical Needs as the absense of something Experts are utilized which makes for an efficient assessment process Person with the need takes a passive role; assessor bias is a real issue
Analytical Systematic collection of data and analysis by experts in the area Needs are quantitatively defined thus leading directly to programing Experts may not be readily avialable; expert bias, low natural ownership because of passive nature of person(s0 possessing need.
Democratic Persons with needs involved in collaborative assessment Ownership of outcome is high Tendency to focus on normatiove needs but not those of individual outside of the norm; very time-consuming and thus needs maybe outdated by the time assessment is completed



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Data Collection Methods

    Over the years many different methods of collecting data or of carrying out a needs assessment have been devised. A comprehensive lsit would include hundreds of methods. Over time, some traditional, hoihgly useful methods have been identified. They are listed below.

    However, any one method, no matter how well employed, will not produce a needs identification with which the assessor can speak to its validity unless the principle of triangulation is utilized.

        Generic Methods (click on any method that is underlined for a detailed overview of that method).