Make a Positive Impact on Your Community: A Needs Assessment How-To

Oklahoma Department of Libraries

September 21, 2017

Introduction

What is a community?

Communities are often defined by a geographic area—for example, the library service area or the county in which the library resides. However, a community can also be based on shared interests or characteristics such as religion, race, age, or occupation. People within a community come from different backgrounds and have unique cultures, customs, and values. Before conducting a community needs assessment, you should have a clear understanding of the different cultural groups within your community and how to best work with them to solve the community issues.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2013. Community Needs Assessment.

What is a need?

A need can be defined as the gap between what a situation is and what it should be. Examining needs helps us discover what is lacking, and points us in the direction of future improvement.

Sometimes community needs are referred to as “community problems.” This reference should be avoided in community assessments. Framing a “need” as a “problem” immediately establishes an “us versus them” relationship that prevents collaboration and community building.

Source: Strengthening Nonprofits. 2010. Conducting a Community Assessment. National Resource Center.

What is a community needs assessment?

To effectively serve a community, it is important to understand the community. This understanding can be achieved through a
community assessment. The findings from an assessment will identify the needs that exist in a community and the assets available within the community to address those needs. This understanding of needs and assets can be used to strategically plan and deliver relevant, successful, and timely services.

Source: Strengthening Nonprofits. 2010. Conducting a Community Assessment. National Resource Center.

What are the goals of a community needs assessment?

  • Assessing individual and community needs and aspirations
  • Identifying the people or groups of people in your community who are most affected by or involved in issues related to library use
  • Identifying the factors that create barriers to library use
  • Identifying the level of resources and the community readiness to address the needs
  • Obtaining data that can support the need for your project and provide a baseline description of the community that will allow you to monitor your progress. (NNLM)

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

More practically, the assessment can help:

  • Tell you which library services and programs are needed
  • Inform collection development
  • Determine a need that you can provide resources and services for, in order to apply for a grant.

Who conducts a needs assessment?

Outside consultants

Pros:
Professionals with expertise in research studies, objective outsiders, saves you time

Con: Cost

Volunteers

Pros: Free, saves your time, knows community and has partners

Cons: Can be biased, inexperienced

Library staff

Pro: Saves money, knows community and has partners

Cons: Inexperienced, not enough time, can be biased

Source: Eureka! Leadership Institute. 2015. Community Needs Assessments for Library Grants. California State Library and
Infopeople.

Steps to conducting the assessment

PLAN

Define the scope

What is the purpose of the assessment? It is for general strategic planning, a grant application, or a special project?

Without a clearly defined scope, your data and efforts may be scattered and unfocused. You may exhaust yourself looking for data that you don’t particularly need at the time. You may not be able to answer the specific questions you need for your grant, project, or plan.

Clearly identify the issue to be assessed, the impacted community members, the geographic area to assess, the key questions you want answered, and the level of detail you want to include in the assessment.

Assemble a team

The size of your team depends upon the scope of your assessment. If you are doing a comprehensive assessment, say researching an expansion of the library, your will want a team of community stakeholders. If you are applying for a small grant, you can probably conduct the assessment solely with library staff.

Building a team for your assessment is an opportunity to build support for your library. Team members should be community partners interested in your project. Members should be diverse and representative of your community. Team members can help you understand relevant issues; gain access to targets, data, and experts; and make sure you address concerns and values of stakeholders.

Include on your team:

  • Community members who will participate in, be affected by, and benefit from your project.
  • People who serve the community you are trying to reach, such as teachers, health care providers, or volunteers.
  • Leaders of collaborating community-based organizations.
  • Representatives of funding agencies.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2013. Community Needs Assessment. Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013.
Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

Develop a strategy

  • Define needs assessment goals. What do you want toaccomplish?
    • Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound
  • Define how data will be used. To influence policy makers? Support new programs? Apply for a grant? Support changes in services or policies?
  • Develop questions to ask to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the program/service/population you are researching. Example: To what extent does the library teen program include healthy food choices, cooking, nutrition materials in circulation?
  • Select sites to visit. Does your library have branches, or do you conduct outreach in other locations?
  • Establish what data already exists and/or determine methods for collecting new data. A variety of data collection methods will make for a stronger assessment. Don’t use old data (if older than six months, reconsider).
  • Identify key informants who can provide information and documentation.
  • Develop a documentation system. Keep track of all data to review later and share with team members and stakeholders. (CDC)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2013. Community Needs Assessment.

Get the assessment plan reviewed (if necessary)

Some institutions require that assessments be reviewed by a board before they can begin. Academic institutions and public schools may need to review projects prior to them starting, especially if they contain evaluation methods such as surveys.

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

Conduct the assessment

Collect Data

  • Gather data you already have.
    • Edge: Your Edge assessment results and action plan can provide data about your library’s public access technology services and management practices. http://www.libraryedge.org/
  • Surveys: Use data from previous surveys.
  • Consult existing data sources.
    • Government agencies have extensive data that you can use. Look at the U.S. Census, state agencies, and local organizations such as the chamber of commerce and police department.
    • See accompanying class workbook for specific online sites and instructions.
  • Obtain new data.
    • Create data collection instruments to get opinions and feedback directly from community members.
  • Options are surveys, focus groups, observations, online discussions, and interviews
    • These methods require preparation and some expertise.

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

Conduct a SWOT analysis

Consider adding a SWOT analysis to your assessment. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Examine your library’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and identify external opportunities and threats that may impact future success. Consider how you will make use of your strengths and opportunities, and manage the weaknesses and threats.

SWOT analysis can be a great proposal-planning tool. After all, funding proposal are essentially strategic plans. The analysis will prepare you to write a plan that describes the following:

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. 2016. Shop Talk SWOT Hack for Proposal Writers. National Network of Libraries of Medicine.

Analyze, Interpret and Report Set Priorities

If you have identified many needs in your community, your team should prioritize those needs. Use the following criteria:

  • Size of problem
  • Seriousness of problem
  • Availability of current interventions
  • Economic or social impact
  • Availability of resources and time

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2013. Community Needs Assessment.

Summarize your data and determine key findings

  • Describe the target community (the individuals/groups that you hope to affect with your program) with statistics you found that are relevant to your project. Examples: percent of population in a vulnerable group or with certain information needs. This is quantitative data.
  • Describe the community characteristics—the values, beliefs, and habits—that will help you promote your project. Example: comments from surveys or interviews that express a need. This is qualitative data.
  • Describe the opportunities available to you to effect change in your target group through your program. Examples: events or programs where you can demonstrate your resources, partnerships that can help you reach your target group, opportunities to provide training or resources.
  • Describe potential barriers or challenges you will have to take into account when planning your project. Examples: Physical, social, political, or historical barriers.

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

Share Your Findings

Create a report.

  • Be concise and directly answers stakeholders’ questions.
  • Emphasize important findings that relate directly to your proposed project:
    • What data can show that your program efforts can have an effect and make improvements (outcomes) in community members’ lives?
    • Demonstrate that any efforts will be an effective use of staff and resources, and outcomes will align with library’s mission.
    • Provide information that team members can use in their organizations.
    • Show that you know the target community thoroughly enough to provide services that are relevant and culturally sensitive.
  • Tell your story, backed up by the data.
  • Different stakeholder groups may need different formats and levels of content in the report.

Circulate the report to your stakeholders.

  • Cultivate support for your proposed project.

Source: Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center.

Common assessment mistakes

  • People often disagree about a problem and how it should be solved.
  • People and groups have different perspectives and agendas.

Source: Mediavilla, Cindy. Webinar: Community Assessment for Eurekans. February 21, 2014. Eureka Leadership Institute.

Library Community Needs Assessments

Port Moody Public Library Community Needs Assessment, September 2012.

Craven County Community Needs Assessment, August 2013. http://newbern.cpclib.org/nbccpl/pdf/Craven_Assessment_2013.pdf

Grand Forks Public Library Needs Assessment, November 2009. http://gflibrary.com/DocumentCenter/View/15

Wheaton Public Library Community Needs Assessment, June 2014. http://www.wheatonlibrary.org/sites/default/files/pdf/WPL-CommunityNeedsAssessmentReport.pdf

Resources and Bibliography

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2013. Community Needs Assessment. Accessed September 18, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/healthprotection/fetp/training_modules/15/community-needs_pw_final_9252013.pdf

Colorado State Library, Library Research Service. 2017. Community Analysis Scan Form. Accessed September 18, 2017. https://www.lrs.org/public/ca_form.php

Community Tool Box. 2017. Assessing Community Needs and Resources. Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/assessment/assessing-community-needs-and-resources

Eureka! Leadership Institute. 2015. Community Needs Assessments for Library Grants. California State Library and Infopeople. Accessed
September 18, 2017. http://eurekaleadership.org/institute/2015/needs_assessment_reading_2015.pdf

Kraft, Michael E. and Scott R. Furlong. 2015. Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Los Angeles: Sage.

Mediavilla, Cindy. Webinar: Community Assessment for Eurekans. February 21, 2014. Eureka Leadership
Institute. http://eurekaleadership.org/institute/2014/02-21-2014/

Olney, Cynthia A. 2016. “Shop Talk SWOT Hack for Proposal Writers.” National Network of Libraries of
Medicine. August 19. https://news.nnlm.gov/neo/2016/08/19/shop-talk-swot-hack-for-proposal-writers/

Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Collecting and analyzing evaluation data.

Seattle, Wash.: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center; Bethesda, Md.: National Library
of Medicine, 2013. [book three of NNLM series]

Olney, Cynthia A. and Susan J. Barnes. 2013. Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach. Seattle, WA: National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Outreach Evaluation Resource Center; Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine. [book
one of NNLM series]

Strengthening Nonprofits. 2010. Conducting a Community Assessment. National Resource Center. http://www.strengtheningnonprofits.org/resources/guidebooks/Community_Assessment.pdf

Young, Bill. 2013. Finding Data About Your
Community
. TechSoup for Libraries. March 22. http://www.techsoupforlibraries.org/blog/finding-data-about-your-community