Archive: needs assessment

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: Five Questions All Evaluators Should Ask Their Clients

Posted on July 8, 2015 by  in Blog ()

Senior Research Analyst, Hezel Associates

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

One of the things that I love about program evaluation is the diversity of models and methods that you must think about to analyze a program. But even before you get to the point of developing and solidifying your evaluation design, there’s a lot of legwork you need to do up front. In successful evaluations, that process starts by asking the right questions. So where does this process start? Here are just a few questions you can start with to get a conversation rolling with your client and have confidence that your evaluation is moving in the right direction.

1. What do you hope to achieve with this program?

A common challenge for all organizations is goal setting, and in an evaluation setting, having clear and measurable goals is absolutely essential. Too often goals are defined, but may not actually be matched to participant or organizational needs. As evaluators, we should pay close attention to these distinctions, as they enable us to help clients improve the implementation of their programs and guide them towards their anticipated outcomes.

2. What’s the history of this program?

New program or old, you’re going to need to know the background of the initiative. That will lead you to understand the funding, core stakeholders, requirements, and any necessary information needed to evaluate the program. You might learn interesting stories about why the program has struggled, which can help you to design your evaluation and create research questions. It’s also a great way to get to know a client and learn about their pain points in the past and really understand what their objectives are for the evaluation.

3. What kind of data do you plan on collecting or do you have access to?

Every program evaluator has faced the challenge of getting the data they need to conduct an evaluation. You need to know what’s needed early on and what kind of data you’ll need to do the evaluation. Don’t wait to have those conversations with your clients. If you’re putting this on hold until you are ready to conduct your tests, it may very well be too late.

4. What challenges do you foresee with program implementation?

Program designs might change as challenges that impact program design and delivery arise. But if you can spot some red flags early on, you might be able to help your client navigate implementation challenges and avoid roadblocks. The key is being flexible and working with your client to understand and anticipate implementation issues and work to address them in advance.

5. What excites you about this program?

This question allows you to get to know the client a bit more, understand their interests, and build a relationship with the client. I love this question because it reinforces the idea of an evaluator as a partner in the program. By acting as a partner, you can provide your clients with the right kind of evaluation, and build a partnership along the way.

Program evaluation presents some very challenging and complex questions for evaluators. Starting with these five questions will allow you to focus the evaluation and set your client and the evaluation team up for success.