How to Understand a Community and Its Needs
Click here for a PDF version
A community assessment is a comprehensive profile that describes the area served by your organization and the people who live in a specific area. The community assessment is the first step in planning and provides information about particular ethnic or other special groups that may need your attention. It will also help you identify the needs of the target audience and determine if services and organizations currently exist that can provide necessary resources (community assets) such as volunteers, facilities and funding. The Community Assessment tool can be used to help you gather information about communities. See Other Sources of Data below for other sources of indirect data.
OTHER SOURCES OF DATA
ASSESSING NEEDS AND PREFERENCES
Before determining what programs and services to offer a community and how these should be delivered and promoted, it is helpful to get more detailed information about the needs and preferences of your target group. For example, what is the magnitude of problems associated with arthritis? How much is currently being done? Where and how should services be offered? What resources does the community have? The community assessment process may have given you much of this information. Other ways to collect data include interviewing key informants, distributing surveys or conducting focus groups or convening town meetings. Use resources such as local universities to help you with these efforts. Your data gathering can be very informal and limited, depending upon the types of resources that you have available.
Key Informant Interviews
Interview key informants from the targeted groups, including bicultural health professionals, respected religious, community leaders, folk healers and representatives of agencies to validate and supplement the information you have already collected. See Possible Questions to Ask for examples of the types of information that would be useful in helping to plan your community outreach and program marketing activities.
Surveys and Focus Groups
Sometimes it is possible to distribute needs assessment questionnaires to key health professionals and health centers serving minority clients and/or to minority clients recruited through area community agencies. Consider using focus groups to gather more direct information from the members of a culturally diverse population about their needs and preferences. See Sample Needs Assessment/ Focus Group Questions for some sample questions to ask.
To gather wider input into the planning process and to help cement community support for your outreach efforts, consider hosting a town meeting. Invite representatives of the targeted group who are already involved with your organization, and personally invite representatives from minority organizations, influential individuals such as bicultural health professionals, church leaders, school representatives and politicians to attend the town meeting. See Town Meeting Topics for an outline of possible topics to cover in a meeting.
DEMOGRAPHIC/ CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS