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Needs Assessment

Information and resources for conducting a needs assessment.

What is a needs assessment?

NDSU Extension agents have a responsibility to plan, develop, and conduct educational programs based on the expressed and observed needs of people. Programs are successful when they focus on clearly defined needs of your targeted clientele and stakeholders.

The concept of ‘needs’ is defined as the difference, or gap, between what is and what should be (or what is reasonably possible).

WHAT IS ------------ (GAP) ------------ WHAT SHOULD BE

(------ NEED ------)                

As an educator, you are responsible for accurately assessing the needs of your clientele in collaboration with targeted audiences and community leaders. In developing your educational strategies, you should take into account both the observed and expressed needs. You can gather input by directly asking clientele/stakeholders, or by reviewing secondary data that has already been collected *(community studies, county health department data, school-community needs assessments, etc).

When do you do a needs assessment?
When you want to find out what needs to be done in order to reach the desired state/performance. It is recommended that county agents and program teams conduct a formal needs assessment every three to four years.

Needs assessment can be done in formal and informal processes.

  • Formal needs assessments are done when you want to find out what is going on. An example of a formal needs assessment is the program planning process in extension. This process takes time to gather information and ideas before the plan of what will be done is put together.
  • Informal needs assessments are done “on the fly” or “just in time”. Some examples of informal needs assessments include critical incident needs assessment, when the need is immediate and there isn’t time to conduct a more formal needs assessment.

What is the difference between a needs assessment and an evaluation?
Sometimes evaluation is confused with needs assessment or the two terms are used interchangeably. A needs assessment will show us what it is we should be doing in the first place, while an evaluation will tell us how well we are doing in an ongoing operation.

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