Welcome to aea365! Please take a moment to review our new community guidelines. Learn More.

NA TIG Week: Ryan Watkins on Planning to Measure Needs

I’m Ryan Watkins, Associate Professor at George Washington University and manager of two websites, www.WeShareScience.com and www.NeedsAssessment.org.

Needs assessments require planning. You must plan for the “who, what, why, where, when, and how” of each step – from soliciting participation of stakeholder groups to the iterative development of grounded recommendations.   An overlooked planning task involves the planning for the actual measurement of needs. Below are considerations to guide your planning:

Lessons Learned From Experience:

Consideration 1: What is a need? Needs can be defined in many ways. While discrepancy definitions are common (such as the gap between “what is” and “what should be”), varied definitions are frequently applied (such as needs as desired resources or programs).


  • Have you agreed with stakeholders on a definition of need?
  • Are you assessing needs at the state, local, institutional, and/or individual level?
  • Are needs exclusively related to results (most useful), or do they include processes and inputs as well (not useful)?
  • Are needs to be assessed along with assets?

Consideration 2: What data is really required?

When you know how needs are to be defined, next determine what data is required to document the needs.


  • What indicators would suggest what needs exist?
  • How could the size and scope of identified needs be measured?
  • Who else is collecting data on similar issues?
  • Which measures are “nice to have” but not absolutely required?
  • When can indirect measures be applied?
  • If applying a discrepancy definition, what data is required for measuring the current state, and what is required for comparably defining the desired state.

Consideration 3: What is feasible?

There are always constraints to a needs assessment and these will guide what is feasible in terms of measuring needs.


  • What techniques can be used to collect data?
  • What is appropriate timeframe for measuring (e.g., weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, # of weeks/months after critical interventions)?
  • What is the appropriate sequence for measuring (e.g., indicators #1 and #3, followed by indicator #2)?
  • What resources (people, time, money, technology, access, etc.) are readily available?

Consideration 4: How will it be managed?

Measuring needs is a process that must be managed. Take time to assign responsibilities and hold people accountable for results.


  • Who specifically (individuals or organizations) will provide necessary information (e.g., who is the sample, or who has the desired information)?
  • Who is responsible for collecting and analyzing data to measure needs?
  • Who is accountable for the validity of data?
  • Who is going to interpret the data in order to make recommendations?

Rad Resources: Find and share needs assessment resources at www.NeedsAssessment.org, including lesson learned videos, free publications, podcast interviews, and a new document repository.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating 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.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.