Over the course of a year I am working with three Community Action Agencies to assist them in assessing the needs of their communities looking at areas of education, health, employment, income, housing, transportation and nutrition.
While each needs assessment tool I review provides me with a little more insight on how to best do this, I can’t help but be concerned about what use the final assessments we create will really serve.
Are service providers, local government officials and members of the community really going to read them?
In practice will they be used as reference tools for future program planning?
I think my skepticism is natural and healthy based on the fact that many completed needs assessments are put to little use, and rather than serving as living documents they are often condemned to occupy dusty office shelves.
As I work to develop assessments in different communities and work with different stakeholders, I am realizing that while a needs assessment can become a living document if it is used as a manual to make decisions, or if it is re-tooled and re-worked on a periodic basis to reflect changes in the community, one of the greatest opportunities to make it alive is through the process of its creation.
You see in effectively assessing the needs of a community one needs to engage partner agencies, community members, service providers, local officials and service recipients in community conversations to add depth and understanding to the most relevant data on the needs of the community. By strategically engaging diverse community stakeholders in the process the data begins to take life, and things start to happen.
The many exciting things that start to happen don’t wait for the final product to be printed! These include; increased awareness of diverse community needs, networking opportunities, identification of synergies/ways to reduce duplication, new collaborative efforts and re-thinking programmatic decisions.
Adapting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote that “life is a journey not a destination,” I’d like you to think about the possibility that “meeting community needs by engaging in community needs assessments is more about the journey than the destination.”