Community Needs Assessment
The HIV prevention community planning process requires an assessment of HIV prevention needs based on a variety of sources and different assessment strategies. This assessment serves as the basis for the development of a comprehensive HIV prevention plan. In addition, more targeted needs assessment may be needed for effective health education program planning for health departments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Tailored needs assessments enable the program planner to make informed decisions about the adequacy, availability, and effectiveness of specific services that are available to the target audience.
For the purposes of developing specific health education and risk reduction activities, a targeted needs assessment assists in the following:
- Establishing appropriate goals, objectives, and activities.
- Defining purpose and scope.
- Identifying social/behavioral attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of the target community.
- Providing the basis for evaluation as part of formative and summative studies of interventions.
- Establishing community-based support for the proposed activities.
The needs assessment may be informal or formal. An informal needs assessment may occur through frequent conversations and personal interactions with colleagues and clients. Staff and clientele interact with each other when services are being delivered; therefore, clients may inform them about services they find useful or unsatisfactory. Also, staff meetings are a vehicle for sharing and transferring information among colleagues. Through both of these processes, staff can usually determine whether there are gaps in services.
A formal needs assessment involves a systematic collection and analysis of data about the client population. This process may uncover needs that may not be identified through an informal process.
A formal needs assessment requires the program planner to do the following:
- Identify questions that need to be answered.
- Determine how the information will be collected and from whom.
- Identify existing sources of data, e.g., needs assessment data from the HIV prevention community planning group.
- Collect the data.
- Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the data.
The program staff should review data from the HIV prevention community planning needs assessment to determine what additional information is needed. A variety of information would be useful in developing program activities, including the following:
- Socioeconomic and demographic status of the overall community and the specific populations being targeted.
- Current statistics and trends involving HIV/STD disease.
- Existing gaps in HIV/STD programs and services.
- Social indicator data to examine significant and relevant factors that influence prevalence of HIV/STD disease, e.g., substance abuse, teenage pregnancy.
- Identification of other programs and resources that focus on the same target audience.
Before conducting a needs assessment, program staff should consult with community leaders from the client or target populations. This is important in order to determine the leaders' perceptions of their communities' needs, to discuss the agency's plan for conducting the assessment, and to begin to cultivate a working relationship with the leaders in order to attain community support for the proposed
How to Conduct a Needs Assessment
- Identify sources of information and data.
- Review existing literature on the specific problem.
- Survey other agencies/organizations in the community to avoid unnecessary overlap in program activities and to identify emerging issues and new resources.
- Interview key informants and community members who have knowledge of or experience with the problem.
- Consult with national/state agencies where specific data, literature, or experience are deficient.
How Needs Assessments Affect Program Evaluation
A needs assessment is a component of program evaluation. Each element of a needs assessment plays a significant role in the planning, implementation, and management of effective education programs. If a program is to be evaluated, the degree to which the program addresses the needs of the target audiences must be examined.
Both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and evaluation are useful. Qualitative methods afford the target audiences an opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings, ideals, and beliefs. Examples of qualitative methods include informal interviews, focus groups, and public forums. These methods are designed to assist the program staff in identifying problems or gaps that the agency may not have recognized, e.g., barriers to service delivery and client dissatisfaction.
Quantitative methods render statistical information. Examples include questionnaires and surveys, results of studies of the client populations' attitudes and beliefs about HIV/STD disease, and information derived from program activities, e.g., number of condoms distributed and documented requests for services.
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Note: For further reading on needs assessment, see "Chapter 5: Assessing and Setting Priorities for Community Needs," Handbook for HIV Prevention Community Planning, Academy for Education Development, April 1994.