Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Community Needs Assessment

Have you ever noticed a huge problem within your community and want to do something to remedy it? The Community Needs Assessment is one way to address these bigger issues and come up with a strategy for fixing them. A Community Needs Assessment is “a state, tribal, local, or territorial health assessment that identifies key health needs and issues through systematic, comprehensive data collection and analysis (CDC, 2014). This process is important because it determines where the greatest community needs lie. The Community Needs Assessment is utilized in order to develop strategies to address the community’s health needs and identified issues (CDC, 2014). Assessment is the first step of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), and the Community Needs Assessment is an essential part of this step. If you do not accurately identify the problems within a community, all of your time, effort, and resources could be wasted, thus it is vital to understand the steps of this assessment phase.

When thinking about the Community Needs Assessment, first take into account whether the community is ready for change. This community readiness can be defined as, “the degree to which a community is ready to take action on an issue” (Community Tool Box, 2014). There are nine stages of community readiness, ranging from community tolerance/no knowledge to initiation to professionalization (SAMHSA, 2014). Understanding the community’s level of readiness in a specific area can help your organization determine if the programs will have the community support to be successful or not. If a community has no knowledge about their needs, they will not be supportive when it comes to change (Community Tool Box, 2014). Additionally, the needs identified by the Community Needs Assessment and those identified by the community must match in order for a strategy to be effective. For example, if the community sees drug use as a problem and are ready to address it, but a program focusing on obesity prevention is implemented, the community may not respond well.  For this purpose, a community readiness model exists in order to determine where the community opinion lies within each issue (Community Tool Box, 2014). It is helpful to use the community readiness model before programs are established, but it is also beneficial to use this model throughout the duration of a program in order to ensure that the community still supports that issue.

Once it has been established that the community is ready for change, the Community Needs Assessment determines what focus areas need to be addressed the most within that community. This involves the collection of both quantitative and qualitative information about community problems and needs. Typically, this epidemiological or factual information should be collected before the needs are determined in order to make an informed decision. There are several ways to conduct an assessment. Surveys are a great way to access local data and get a feel for where the community feels its needs lie (Missing Pieces to the Adult (and Youth) Data Puzzle, 2013). Another source is archival data. This type of data consists of previously collected information, such as census or law enforcement statistics, and can be helpful in determining trends over time. Qualitative data can also be collected through focus groups or interviews. During focus groups and face to face interviews, individuals are encouraged to discuss what problems exist within their communities and tell personal stories. Focus groups consist of small groups of diverse people from the community who are brought together in order to discuss the main issues (Missing Pieces to the Adult (and Youth) Data Puzzle, 2013). Environmental scans are also beneficial to determine what needs are present in a specific community. By examining the physical environment, the researcher can determine what is prevalent or what is missing. This is helpful in understanding how to address the problem at hand. For instance, if there are five liquor stores within a small radius, it would be more helpful to focus on the problem of having too much access to alcohol. Individual level programs could be beneficial as well, but it is important to understand what the big issue is in order to know the best course to remedy it. The Indiana Prevention Resource Center has recently developed several tools that are great resources and assist in completing an environmental scan (SPF Indiana, 2015).

Once the community’s substance abuse needs have been assessed, it is vital to make sure that these needs are social determinants of health and address risk and protective factors. Social determinants of health are defined as “the social factors and physical conditions of the environment in which people are born, live, learn, play work, and age. They impact a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes” (Healthy People, 2015). It is important to connect the needs back to their designated risk factors because they are the underlying factors driving the problem (SPF Indiana  - Assessment, 2015). If the program does not address the specific risk factors, the problem will still continue in the community. Protective factors could also be included in these programs because they are “individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events” (CDC, 2014).

While the Community Needs Assessment is a vital step in the Strategic Planning Framework, it is important to remember that it is only the first step. Once completed, funds, time, and organizational energy must remain to carry out the rest of the process, including Capacity, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, Sustainability, and Cultural Competence. The big picture is vital when it comes to conducting a Community Needs Assessment, and the SPF is a great way to ensure that all steps are accounted for. Balancing community and organizational resources across every step of the Framework will give the organization the best chance of meeting its goals in addressing the community’s most significant problems.

*[For more resources on the topics covered in this article, see the IPRC HOME library e-Resources accessible from IPRC homepage or at].

By Heather Dolne 8/10/2015