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Needs Assessment

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Conducting a Needs Assessment

The first step in developing an Extension program is conducting a needs assessment. A needs assessment is a systematic approach to identifying and prioritizing community needs and determining program capacity to address these needs. Needs are defined as the difference, or gap, between what is and what should be (or what is reasonably possible). Needs assessments help us ensure the programs we deliver are relevant to the target population. It is recommended that a formal needs assessment is conducted every three to five years.

There are many different methods to identify community needs, including the use of secondary data, conducting surveys, interviews, focus groups, and working with advisory committees. Use a mixture of methods from a variety of stakeholder groups to achieve a comprehensive examination of needs.

Review the Extension Publication, Situational Analysis / Needs Assessment for Effective Community Engagement: A Guidebook for Extension Professionals to learn more about how to conduct a needs assessment. Another useful resource to review is Solving Problems, Ensuring Relevance, and Facilitating Change: The Evolution of Needs Assessment Within Cooperative Extension.

Identifying Issues

Secondary Data:  Begin your needs assessment by reviewing data about the target population and the community. Examine recent data to determine the current state as well as longitudinal data to identify trends. The County Profile provides a variety of metrics related to county population, demographics, educational attainment, economy, employment, health, environment, and agriculture. The dashboard is interactive and designed for online viewing. Links to additional sources of county level data are available on the Evaluation & Accountability data resources webpage.

Interviews: Interviews with key community leaders provide a means to gather information on local government and community priorities. Use the sample interview script to help to plan and conduct interviews.

Focus Groups:  Group meetings with with advisory leadership councils and committees, local government, community partners, program participants, potential customers, and other stakeholders will help to identify the Extension programs and services that are needed as well as other services that are provided by other organizations. Use the sample focus group questions to help to plan and conduct focus groups.
Community Survey: Electronic or paper surveys of community members, including current Extension customers and potential Extension customers, provide a way to collect data from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. The population surveyed should include nontraditional and underserved audiences. Use the printable community survey and sample question statements to help to plan and conduct a survey. Refer to the Extension Qualtrics website for information about creating electronic surveys.

Prioritizing Needs

Use secondary data and input from stakeholders to assess and prioritize problems. Use the prioritizing needs guide and worksheets.

2017-2018 NC State Extension Statewide Needs Assessment

NC State Extension conducted a statewide needs assessment during 2017-2018. This needs assessment process incorporated a multi-method approach to collecting county trend data and stakeholder input related to satisfaction with services and the educational and service needs in agriculture, nutrition and health, youth development, and community and rural development.