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NA Week: Sue Hamann on Including Intended Service Recipients in Needs Assessment and Program Planning

Hello, my name is Sue Hamann, and I work at the National Institutes of Health. Today I will share some tips about including intended service recipients in needs assessment and program planning.

Lessons Learned: Although leading authorities recommend the inclusion of intended service recipients, that is, those persons who have a need to be met by the proposed program (aka clients, customers, impactees, intended beneficiaries), many needs assessment activities are targeted at service providers (program staff, program funders, policy makers). Over the years, I have included persons lacking permanent housing, persons with cognitive impairments, persons with drug and alcohol addiction, and parents of children with developmental disabilities in assessments of need and program planning. This inclusion of intended service recipients has always resulted in information valuable to documenting needs and planning programs. Useful resources for you are found in Altschuld and Witkin’s books Planning and Conducting Needs Assessments (1995) and From Needs Assessment to Action (1999).

Hot tips:

  • Select an appropriate group interview process. The focus group meeting is a great method. A series of focus group meetings organized by important participant characteristics (gender, age, stage of treatment, severity of condition) will allow the needs assessor to gain information within and between these groups (found in Morgan & Kreuger’s 1998 The Focus Group Kit).
  • Ask engaging relevant questions. Interview processes are useful only to the extent that we know what information we want to gain from participants. We have to ask them relevant questions that they can answer.
  • Engage a skilled facilitator.The facilitator must be comfortable with group processes and the client population and knowledgeable about the needs assessment process and the social need under study. Sometimes staff from related programs can be outstanding facilitators with just a few hours of training.
  • Protect intended beneficiaries from any harm that could result from their participation. Infor med consent requires that you explain why you are collecting data, how the participant was chosen, what will happen during the activity, how the data will be used, and how the data will be reported. The comments of individual participants should not be identified to anyone. (See the 2011, 3rd Edition of The Program Evaluation Standards, especially Propriety Standards and P3: Human Rights and Respect.
  • Inform program staff that clients or potential clients are participating. Program staff will be curious and sometimes apprehensive about what clients might say.
  • Provide transportation, food, and babysitting. You’ll probably have to give up some Saturdays or evenings to make the meetings convenient for the participants.
  • Allow 8 hours of your time for each 2-3 hour meeting. The meeting has to include enough time for people to introduce themselves and feel comfortable talking. Transportation, set-up, and clean up take time.

 The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Needs Assessment (NA) Week with our colleagues in the NA AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA TIG colleagues. 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 theAmerican Evaluation Associationand provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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