NA TIG Week: Just-in-Time Community Engaged Needs Assessment: Driving Action by Lisle Hites

Welcome to the Needs Assessment TIG’s week on AEA 365! I’m Lisle Hites, Chair of the Needs Assessment TIG and Associate Professor in Community Medicine and Population Health at the University of Alabama. On behalf of all of us in the Needs Assessment TIG, I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s blog entries and we look forward to seeing you at our sessions at AEA 2021. We also hope that you are all staying informed and making good decision regarding your own health and that of the community as we continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years I’ve talked about the complexity of assessing needs in communities. This year, I’d like to talk about the importance of knowing your community and the intentionality that may be needed when assessing needs of high-burden sub-populations within communities. I bring up this discussion because, unfortunately, needs assessments are often conducted at too high a level of analysis. That is, the sampled membership of the community is either not representative of the overall community (too small of a sample or missing parts of the community) or the summative needs assessment data has too much variance, making it disjointed and difficult to interpret. Further, it is often minority groups with limited or no voice who miss out on sharing their needs. Accordingly, the resulting needs assessment can fail to express their needs and they become even further disadvantaged moving forward. In the Deep South, among other complications, consistently failing to capture minority community members needs has led to worsening of systematized racism and even deepened health disparities.

As an example, let’s consider a target community sub-population: underserved, rural, and high chronic disease burdened community members. If we define community as a small/rural county, or even a municipality, the needs identified will be at a level that can easily miss our target population, especially if we are not careful with our data collection modality. For instance, if we use electronic surveys, or if we conduct interviews outside of local businesses, the results may primarily express the needs of the more prosperous segment of the community.

Completing the Story:

So, what’s the solution? Know your target community/population as much as you can before you design and conduct your needs assessment. Further, keep in mind that collecting lots of data (a big “n” or many sources of needs information), does not necessarily lead to a comprehensive needs assessment. In our example, you are assessing health care needs of the poor and underserved in a community and you know that the community is composed of 50% minority members. You also know that most of the poor and underserved are members of racial/ethnic minorities. Is it then sufficient to ensure your target group is adequately represented if a large percentage of you respondents self-select as members of minority racial/ethnic groups?  Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is, “Absolutely not”. It is often the case that the members of a population most in need are also the group with the weakest voice and are most difficult/least likely to reach.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Know the target membership of the communities you need to include in your need’s assessment. Never let demographic generalities convince you that you have reached your target.
  2. If the results of your needs assessment do not tell the story you are expecting/fearing to see, verify that you have indeed reached your intended sample.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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