MVE TIG Week: Conducting Needs Assessments in Military Settings by Julianne Rush-Manchester

Hello, I’m Julianne Rush-Manchester of the Military and Veterans TIG. I’m a career, nearly 20-year, evaluator whose been working in the Department of Defense space since 2015. My work has been interdisciplinary (education, criminal justice, prevention, health, public health); yet, across those areas, I’ve learned a few important lessons for conducting needs assessments that can be applied to military settings.  I recently worked with some colleagues in the military health system to create a needs assessment to ascertain knowledge needs among healthcare providers working at traumatic brain injury clinics.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Work with clinical experts in the military system to operationalize needs and develop metrics accordingly.  I have spent most of my career developing evaluation resources in partnership with content subject matter experts.  It would be difficult to develop a logic model on a diabetes or traumatic brain injury program without input from providers working in these areas with patients.  This is why so many evaluators come from education and/or psychology- we often wear both hats as we enter an unknown context to glean nuggets of wisdom while facilitating and creating evaluation products.  I’ve been in the position of developing metrics in areas in which I have no clinical expertise. Although we always have a literature base to review, it doesn’t come close to having the dialogue with experts to place the information in perspective (feasibility, utility, etc.)
  • Needs assessments should be exploratory and stakeholders with agendas may be surprised at the results. Stakeholders, in the Department of Defense included, can have agendas for steering the evaluation or needs assessment in particular directions. For example, the options created for the needs assessment may be purely based on pushing certain agendas forward (for new resource development, training content), rather than an interest in relevant (but perhaps less salient) topics. As an evaluator, it may be useful to inform and educate on the importance of being broadly representative (more akin to content validity) of the targeted knowledge needs.

Rad Resources:  This article refers to these lessons learned and a few others. The Benefits and Risks of Energy Drinks in Young Adults and Military Service Members (Manchester, Eschel & Marion, 2017).  The paper may be helpful in strategizing for needs assessments, using a gap analytic approach, in military and non-military settings.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MVE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Military and Veteran’s Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MVE TIG members. 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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