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TRE TIG Week: The use of needs assessment in supporting translational science by Lisle Hites

Lisle Hites

I hope you are all enjoying the Translational Research Evaluation TIG week on AEA 365! I’m Lisle Hites, incoming Program Chair of the TRE TIG and also Chair of the Needs Assessment TIG. In my spare time, I’m also an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Director of Evaluation for the Centers for Disease Control Prevention Research Center (PRC) and the National Institutes of Health Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Today’s posting is about the use of needs assessment (NA) in supporting translational science.

After more than 17 years of working with researchers, organizations, and communities to assess needs, with 12 of those focusing on translational science with the PRC and Clinical & Translational Science Award (CTSA), it has become clear that there is really no one technique that best suits every situation. As an example, I’m going to draw on a needs assessment my team conducted several years ago to align research investigators with the needs of the communities from which they were drawing their study participants. This was a multi-step process that began with a focus group consisting of a mixed group of community members, interested academic researchers, and guided by the CCTS’ community engagement arm, we call One Great Community. This organization works in tandem with our PRC. We gathered community health concerns, then developed them into a survey based NA protocol that was then utilized to collect data from each of the 99 neighborhoods within Birmingham that surround UAB. The NA utilized scaled response options to collect this neighborhood-level data, allowing us to use the scales to determine community prioritization of their self-reported concerns for each of these health factors. The CCTS then took the most highly prioritized needs and designed a partner funding opportunity that supported community/academic investigator pairs to propose community-driven research pilot projects that addressed these identified top priorities.

We are now in our 5th year of offering these Community Health Innovation Awards and the results have been outstanding, thanks to assessing the community’s needs at the start and asking them what they are most concerned about. Truly, the number of ways to target and conduct NA are nearly infinite. By starting with assessing needs, researchers have the opportunity to gain the support of the communities in which they research and recruit subjects and to use this information to better inform their choices and their application of translational science.

Lessons Learned:

  1. NA can be conducted in a variety of ways to help focus and direct research to meet the perceived needs of targeted populations.
  2. During the conduct of a NA, nothing precludes you from disseminating findings (i.e. lessons learned) and even solutions to needs at the same time.
  3. Sometimes NA are an end as well as a means, reducing the needs they seek to assess.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Translational Research Evaluation (TRE) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the TRE Topical Interest Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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