Archive: general issues

Blog: Needs Assessment: What is it and why use it?

Posted on January 27, 2016 by  in Blog ()

Owner/Evaluator, IMSA Consulting

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Hi! I am Mary Siegrist from IMSA, a research and evaluation company located in Colorado. I would like to talk about needs assessment and why it is an important step in an evaluation process. So many projects skip this step and jump right into implementing a solution.

What is a needs assessment? It is a study of the current knowledge, ability, interest, or attitude of a defined audience or group. This definition can be broken into two goals:

Goal 1: To learn what your audience already knows and thinks, so that you can determine what educational services are needed. Think of it in terms of what is the current state of skills, knowledge, and ability of current individuals.

Goal 2: To understand what you can do to make your educational services more acceptable and useful to your audience.

And when a needs assessment is properly thought out, it will provide the following information:

  • Impact: Insights about how education and training can impact your audience
  • Approaches: Knowledge about educational approaches that may be most effective
  • Identification of gaps in available training
  • Outcomes: Information about the current situation that you will use to document outcomes in your logic model
  • Demand: Knowledge about the potential demand for future programs and products
  • Credibility that the program is serving the target audience

Ready to start but not sure how? Begin with developing a needs assessment plan. This plan will be a description of the what, when, who, how, and why of your project. Use these seven steps to help with writing your needs assessment plan.

  1. Write objectives: What do you want to learn?
  2. Select audience: Who is the target audience?
  3. Select audience sample: How will you select sample audience?
  4. Pick an instrument: What will you use to collect the data?
  5. Collect data: How will you collect data?
  6. Analyze data: How will you make sense of the data that will be gathered?
  7. Follow-up: What will you do with this information?

Have I convinced you yet? A needs assessment allows you to demonstrate the foundation of your logic model to funders. Because most funding sources insist that a project be evaluated, the information in a needs assessment helps form the basis for a program evaluation.

An example:

A university decided to develop a GIS (Geographic Information System) program for their undergraduate students but wanted to make sure the program would teach the students the GIS skills that their community businesses were looking for when hiring new employees. A needs assessment was conducted in the community. The businesses that utilize GIS technology were contacted by phone and in person and asked what skills they would like to see in potential new hires. Based on this information, the university created curriculum that ensured their students graduated with these skills.

Next time you write your proposal to ATE to fund a new idea, consider including a needs assessment in the first year of the grant.


Blog: Evaluation and Planning: Partners Through the Journey

Posted on August 19, 2015 by  in Blog ()

Director, Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity, University of Pittsburgh

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Evaluation goes hand-in-hand with good planning—and so, good implementation. To plan well, you need to know the areas of priority needs (a good needs assessment is critical and often the backbone of planning with efficient use of resources!), and to implement well, you need to know about both process and outcomes. It’s not usually enough in our complex world to simply claim an outcome—the first question after that is usually, “how did you accomplish that?” Evaluations that are more integrated with both planning and implementation can better address those questions and support a strong organizational learning agenda.

Often in areas of grant-funded operations, evaluators are asked to come in pretty late in the process—to provide evaluation of a program or intervention already in action, after funding and programming has occurred. While this form of evaluation is possible and can be important, we find it better to be consulted on the front end of planning and grant writing. Our expertise is often helpful to our clients in connecting their specific needs with the resources they seek, through the most effective processes that can then lead to the outcomes they seek. Evaluation can become the “connecting tissue” between resources and outcomes, needs and processes, and activities and outcomes. Evaluation and planning are iterative partners—continuing to inform each other throughout the history of a project.

We often use tools such as logic modeling and the development of a theory of action or change to identify and articulate the most important elements of the equation. By identifying these components for program planners and articulating the theory of action, evaluation planning also assists in illustrating good project planning!

Evaluation provides the iterative planning and reflection process that is the hallmark of good programming and effective and efficient use of resources. Consider viewing evaluation more holistically—and resist the more narrow definition of evaluation as something that comes at the end of planning and implementation efforts!

By including the requirement for integrated evaluation in their requests for proposals (RFPs), grant funders can help project staff write better proposals for funding, and once funded, help to assure better planning toward achieving goals. Foundations such as W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a number of more local funders, for example the Heinz Endowments, the Grable Foundation, and FISA Foundation in our own region of southwestern Pennsylvania, have come to recognize these needs. The Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development, published in 2013 and used by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to advise research efforts, identifies the need for gathering and making meaning from evidence in all aspects of change endeavors, including evaluation.

In this 2015 International Year of Evaluation, let’s further examine how we use evaluation to inform all of the aspects of our work, with evaluation, planning and implementation as a seamless partnership!