SEVICS images1 NEEDS ASSESSMENT: Is the problem you are solving the problem? Project Management Research  Project management NGO research needs assessment DOnors

NEEDS ASSESSMENT: Is the problem you are solving the problem?

Organizations are formed to solve pre-dominant problems in society. Despite growing numbers of interventions by aid agencies, problems persist. Are solutions ineffective? Or maybe so-called problems are not real.  The answer lies in quality needs assessment. How are problems determined? To do justice to the subject of needs assessment, we shall explore the concept. Then we also discuss reasons why donors need it, alongside it’s necessity. A number of stories illustrating necessity of needs assessment will be used to buttress the point. Finally we conclude by summarizing key benefits to conducting needs assessment. Without any more ado, let’s dig in…


What is Needs Assessment?

Needs assessment is a form of research that identifies problems. This is informed by the belief that any meaningful project must solve existing problems. Whether a project is small or big, some terms of reference must be established. Needs assessment should precede every project. It is a process that establishes three (3) facts and must show:

  1. What the problem is.
  2. Why it is a problem.
  3. How it affects the people.

Needs Assessment must be determined using at least a most basic and reliable research approach. The Needs Assessment process can be very straight forward and seek to ask the basic question: why do you think …… is a problem? It can be frustrating because somethings should be obvious. In refugee camps, it is expected that refugees should have poor housing, feeding, health status, etc. However, prospective donors may still want you to establish the facts.


Donors require Needs Assessment

Proposals should be backed up with needs assessment reports. A good Needs Assessment report further demonstrates to the donor that you are competent. More-so, it builds donor confidence in your capacity to deliver good results. This is an important requirement that individuals and organizations have enough information at hand about the problem before writing the proposal.


Needs Assessments can become donor funded projects

Where an idea to implement a meaningful project exists. The individual or organization can seek support to conduct a needs assessment. Donors are often willing to fund pre-proposal research. The prospective partners can have enough evidence, both at field and in literature.

It is also an opportunity for donors to participate in project design. Consequently, they are aware and even interested in your project before you finally apply for grants. Where such opportunities exist, organizations should not hesitate to take advantage of it.


Necessity of Needs Assessments

Needs Assessment help you understand the issues better and how to solve them. Here are two example to help you understand why needs assessments are necessary. The facts in the stories are true and refer to actual places. However the intent of the stories is to help us get better understanding of needs assessments.


Example 1

Water Boreholes in Igugu town

SEVICS no-water1 NEEDS ASSESSMENT: Is the problem you are solving the problem? Project Management Research  Project management NGO research needs assessment DOnors


Igugu is a small town in Enugu State, Nigeria. The community has the characteristic red earth that can be found in most Sub-Saharan African towns. The soil in this town and environs have very little clay composition. The soil is mostly sandy. This makes it difficult for vehicles to drive through. This also makes it very difficult to sink water wells or boreholes in this region. In fact, people who attempted to dig up the earth found brighter shades of sandy soil till they found pure white sand. Ultimately, geological studies have shown that water boreholes cannot be sunk in this town. The water table is too high. The people must buy water from elsewhere.

If someone observed the problem of water scarcity in the town and goes on to plan an intervention that includes sinking a borehole, the project is sure to fail. Though the person might mean well. The goodwill will not be enough to deliver solutions to problems.


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Example 2

The problem of tribal marks in West Africa


SEVICS tribal_marks-300x235 NEEDS ASSESSMENT: Is the problem you are solving the problem? Project Management Research  Project management NGO research needs assessment DOnors


The laceration of the face is perceived as a distinguishing feature among peoples. The styles of tribal marks differ from place to place. So that a Yoruba man has a different kind of tribal marks from the Igbo man. A foreigner who observes the unsanitary process of inflicting tribal marks on babies might desire to end the ‘abuse’. Without adequate community engagement, the person might assume that sensitizing the community on health risks of infections will stop the issues.

Needs assessment might reveal other underlying factors. The people inflict tribal marks on their babies due to fear of evil spirits. In many communities, tribal marks have little to do with tribal identity. They are spiritual measures to ward off evil spirits that kill babies. This process can also be used to eject ‘bad blood’ from sick babies. Knowing this, the right solution might be to improve Child Health Services. Inadvertently, children will not fall sick. Therefore, they would not require tribal marks. But who knows?


From the above stories, it is clear that needs assessment helps you determine what the real problem is. Consequently, the right solutions can be applied.


Benefits of conducting needs assessment before every project

  •  Needs assessment is a good opportunity for identifying and engaging with your main stakeholders for whom the project is conceived.
  • The community/beneficiaries/target group are involved in project planning. Thus, the project reflects strong qualities of participation and community ownership.
  •  Project planners have unprecedented confidence that their proposed interventions will work and can be replicated among similar groups.
  •  Projects are tailored to the needs of beneficiaries and will have the best impact possible.
  •  Interventions are poised to succeed. This is not guaranteed if the implementation is not effectively conducted. Incidences of surprises can be reduced to the barest minimum.

After all said and done, our interest here was to introduce the concept but will not delve into the hows. A step by step guide on how to conduct a needs assessment can be found here.

This article are specific to professionals in the nonprofits and development sector. I am hopeful that the article gave adequate insights. However, if there are questions you might have, please ask in the comment section. I will surely respond. Cheers!!!

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