SEVICS This-or-that 4 easy steps to conduct a needs assessment research... Research  research Project management problem identification nonprofits

4 easy steps to conduct a needs assessment research…

Needs assessment research as may be understood from our previous article on ‘needs assessment’; is a problem determination process. It states in a matter of fact manner if what has been perceived as a problem is really the problem. The causal relationship between problems and solutions must be clearly identified. Similarly, A needs assessment is a focused examination of the way things currently are and the way things can or should be in order to fill a gap in services, (e.g., establish trainings to address a specific need).

This is an important step for Non-profits working in communities to help them tailor interventions in the best possible way. On the other hand, donors require that needs assessment research be conducted. They go a long way validate interventions. The process of conducting needs assessment research comprise of a number of very simple steps. The 4 steps include the following:


  •  Ideation
  •  Defining objectives
  •  Methodology
  •  Report of findings



Ideation is the first step in conducting a needs assessment research. It involves the formulation of an idea. This can come from direct observation of a phenomenon or literature encountered. For instance; You can see a documentary, news article, any written material or even observe an incident that spurs your interest towards a problem. The ideas formed must relate to a problem. In this step it is important to study existing literature on the issue to help form suitable objectives. Based on what has been observed, you may make reasonable assumptions.


A common ideation error

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It is a grave error to base an intervention on ideation alone. Unfortunately, many projects are developed based on ideation without seeing the whole process of needs assessment research through. This is true when project planners are very emotional and assume that they have perceived the whole facets of the problem. Learn to keep emotions in check. Be aware that most community-based problems are based on sensitive, disturbing issues. Think of child trafficking, forced prostitution and discrimination again the elderly, etc. All sensitive and very disturbing. Prompts one to launch action immediately. Rather than just “shoot and ask questions later”, recognize that opportunities to solve problems are dynamic. A timely intervention is not the first intervention. It is such that stops the problem once for all.

Project planners may fail to understand that what may seem to be the problem may not actually be the problem. This error can result in a failed project. It is therefore important to compare assumptions made based on our observations with reports from other similar places. Cross your understanding of the problem with other’s. Check for similarities and variations. Then, your understanding of the real problem grows.


Replicating Successful Projects

There is also another possibility of assuming that what worked in another place will also work elsewhere. This is not always true. Project planners must be careful to test each situation to ascertain that they respond in the right way. Even when the problems seem similar to what you have experienced in your constituency, do not jump to conclusions. There are a few reasons for that:

  •  Cultural, Religious and Social constraints may vary between the communities. Gay rights activism might not be accepted in some parts of Africa due to strong disapproval for the lifestyle. Disapprovals due to social, religious or cultural issues are deep rooted and often take time to address. A better intervention would be to remove the constraints first before addressing the issue. If there are such constraints, what worked in some other place may fail elsewhere.
  •  Individual-capacity constraints are inadequacies that are peculiar to people and could limit their ability to give support to your project. Examples include levels of education, expectation and willingness for participation among others. In a project designed to teach women how to use a certain contraceptive product. If this product in implanted into the body, some women may be unwilling to accept it. Another example is an organization trying to build a free education school for street children. But the children’s greatest expectation is to be fed. Unless feeding is also provided, the children might refuse to stay in school.


In a nutshell, before replicating a successful intervention in your community, validate the intervention. This has to be done in the community where the intervention will be executed.



Defining objectives refer to a process of determining the scope of work the needs assessment research seeks to accomplish. An objective is usually a sentence that specifies exactly what the assessment will achieve. For instance; “to determine impact of previous advocacy efforts aimed at prisons reform in Nigeria from (2000 – 2015)”. There is usually a main objective and specific objectives. The main difference is that the specific objectives contribute towards achieving the main objective. The objectives often represent specific ways the project planner intends to test each assumption. Besides specific objectives, these may also be written research questions or hypothesis.

Note that specific objectives, research questions and hypothesis are similar as they gear towards measuring the same variables. However, a major difference is that while specific objectives and research questions aim towards measuring observable relationships between variables, hypotheses tests validity, direction and significance of results. The purpose of objectives, research questions or hypothesis is to test them. If they pass the test, the assumptions must be correct. If they fail the test, the assumptions are rejected.



Methodology refers to the field work and the modalities of actualizing it. The section on methodology presents the study designs, location, population and sample, data collection and analysis.


 Study Design

Study design involves any standard research technique that will be suitable to establish the facts of the assessment. Examples of common study designs include Historical design, cross-sectional design, quasi-experimental design, longitudinal designs, trend designs and the Descriptive Study Designs. Descriptive and cross-sectional study designs are always suitable for community based needs assessment researches.


Study Location

Study Location represents the community where the intervention is targeted. It will usually be the main source of data for the data collection.



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The Population for the Needs Assessment Research includes all the individuals who are affected by the issue(s) to be investigated. These may be drawn from relevant government and nongovernment organizations, individuals or other informal groups. A subset of the population that have the capacity to provide relevant information on the subject matter is called a sample. A sample is usually a smaller population that can be considered to adequately represent the general population; hence, discoveries for samples may be generalized to the wider population.


Data Collection

Two (2) types of data are often collected for the study; the qualitative and the quantitative data. Qualitative data can be gathered from such sources as conference papers, published studies, textbooks, newspaper articles and libraries. The collection of qualitative data is also referred to as the existing data approach to needs assessment research. Quantitative data can be collected through active population engagement to gather important empirical data on the subject matter using various techniques including direct observation, key informant approach and the focus group approach. There are many online resources and tools to help you understand the needs assessment process on the learning space toolkit.

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Data Analysis

Data analysis involves a set of statistical and non-statistical methods may be applied to analyze data collection. What this implies is to make sense of all the data collected by identifying patterns and relationships in the response collected. A good analysis can easily indicate if there is consistency or variations in preferences, knowledge, attitudes, acceptance/rejection, satisfaction, etc within a group. Relationships, whether positive or negative can also be determined using adequate data analysis programs. Information realized from data analysis are often presented as frequencies, measures of central tendencies and percentages using tables or graphs. Ultimately, data analysis measures the performance of the objectives, research questions or hypotheses.


Report of needs assessment research findings

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Report of findings is the most interesting part of the needs assessment document to read but can be the most tasking section to write. In this section, the project planners must interpret the results of the analysis in simple common man language. This section is easily understood and can tell in simple terms if there is a relationship between an observation and an assumption made.


These easy steps should be able to assist you learn how to conduct a needs assessment research. I hope I have provided useful information to help you improve on the quality of your projects. Place questions or anything you would like to know in the comments section and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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