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NEEDS ASSESSMENT: AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

A needs assessment is a process using research activities to identify the available resources of a community and the unmet needs of the people in such a community. Needs assessment implies:

1. A justification or rationale

2. Identification and description of the community for which you want to clarify the unmet needs

3. A purpose for the needs assessment

4. Planning the process of information gathering

5. Setting the method that you will use to interpret the information

6. Identification and planning of the resources needed to collect the data

7. Planning the use and strategies of disseminating the findings

Justification or Rationale

Like most research activities, a needs assessment must be justified. The investigator must explain why a needs assessment is necessary. What is the target group for the needs assessment? Where is that target group located? What is the importance of that target group in a larger community or societal context? Are there previous studies that directly or indirectly support the need to collect information on that target group? Are there questions that need to be answered regarding that target group? How will the data collected be used? The justification or rationale must provide a short or brief answer for most of the preceding questions (Box 4.1). There will be situations in which not enough information is available about a target population. The justification should reflect the best attempt possible to put a needs assessment in context. The justification is very important, because this is where one can start making the case to gather support for conducting a needs assessment.

Identification and Description of the Community

The community or target population concerned by a needs assessment must be clearly defined with as much detail as possible. Where is the target community located? What is the size of the target community? What is the demographic profile of that community (e.g., race/ethnic, gender, age, occupation, education, socioeconomic status, etc), if known? What is the history of this community? Are there some cultural factors to take into consideration?

Purpose

A needs assessment can be conducted for various reasons. For example, one organization might conduct a needs assessment as a preliminary step in the development of a strategic plan. Another organization might want to have a needs-assessment report for budgeting purposes. Another organization might want to use a needs assessment primarily as a strategy for advocacy regarding a particular public policy issue. Although the findings from a needs assessment might serve multiple purposes in the future, it is important to specify

BOX 4.1 A SAMPLE NEEDS-ASSESSMENT RATIONALE

People have come to the United States for a variety of economic and political reasons, which are explained by the push-pull theory. However, the economic challenge, especially for people from developing countries, is considered the dominant push-pull factor. For example, several ethnographic studies indicate that immigration to the United States is an act of investment for many immigrant families, who expect better educational and economic opportunities in return (Gibson & Bhachu, 1991; Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 1995; Zhou & Bankston, 1998). Consequently, some theorists argue that immigration is a serious problem for the United States, because the immigrants produce congestion, pollution, and depend on welfare (Bouvier, 1992; Huddle, 1996b).

Unlike the push-pull approach and other purely economic theories of immigration that reduce immigrants to self-interested and rational "economic" beings or a burden for American-born citizens (Bouvier, 1992; Huddle, 1996), many dynamic approaches have strongly documented the economic contributions of immigrants to the United States. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, in 1997, federal, state, and local governments received an estimated $133 billion in direct taxes from immigrant households. Also, in a lifetime, an average immigrant paid $80,000 more in taxes than benefits received from local, state, and federal governments (National Research Council, 1997).

The economic contribution of immigrants in the United States may be seen as an indicator of social and economic integration. However, studies show that many immigrant families feel a sort of instability as they perceive themselves as newcomers in a new country (Caplan et al., 1991). In fact, the issue of concern is real, considering their limited knowledge of English—or no knowledge at all—and their lack of knowledge and awareness about the American society and social services (Stevens, 1994).

Like any immigrants in Florida, especially in Hillsborough County, Haitians are affected by the challenge of social and economic integration in their new communities. As a matter of fact, conversations with Haitian Americans in Hillsborough County tend to indicate that their needs are not satisfactorily addressed by existing social services. In response to that, the Haitian-American Organization for Population Activities and Education (HOPE) plans to conduct a survey among Haitian leaders in Hillsborough County, Florida. The purpose of this survey is to better understand how Haitian leaders perceive the needs of the Haitian American community living in Hillsborough County and to formulate recommendations to better address gaps in services and improve the quality of life of children, youth, women, families, and individuals in our community.

the primary purpose at the planning phase (Box 4.2). What are the specific objectives of the needs assessment? What will the results or findings help accomplish? Are there specific objectives?

 
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