A city is a rapidly developing system, so there will certainly be gaps in services and infrastructure provided for the residents. Is the street lighting enough, are pedestrian crossings safe, is housing in good condition, are health services reachable and satisfiable? All these questions are impossible to answer without conducting a community needs assessment.
What Is a Community Needs Assessment?
Community needs assessment helps you identify problems and service gaps in a target community — be it a small neighborhood, urban transit users, or regional healthcare customers. Whenever you’re preparing a policy or an urban planning project, a needs assessment process is required to understand current development priorities and give direction to your project.
So how do you benefit from conducting a community assessment?
- Understand the perceived and reported needs of your community
- Collect relevant input from stakeholders
- Gather community insights to complement data from other sources and your own observations
- Align your policymaking and development efforts with what residents and stakeholders require
- Increase buy-in and support of current and upcoming changes
5 Steps of an Efficient Community Needs Assessment
Community needs assessment is foundational for defining the value, direction, results, and acceptance of your project. The exact steps will depend on your project-specific goals. But there are essential elements you can’t skip.
1. Define the scope and goals for the community needs assessment
- What do you want to learn from the needs assessment process?
- How will the collected data be used in further stages?
- With which metrics will you measure community needs assessment activities?
2. Identify stakeholders and target audience & outreach methods
- Who are the communities and stakeholders who are influenced by your project?
- From whom exactly do you want to solicit feedback?
- What is the best way to reach these communities and individuals?
Give some thought to this question as outreach defines the success of the assessment process. Here are some tips that can help you reach out to your stakeholders and respondents.
3. Establish the data you need for further analysis
- In which format would you need the collected data?
- Should it be geolocated data for GIS analysis and mapping, qualitative data for semantic analysis, or statistical data? Do you need additional demographic data?This will define the method you’re using and the questions you’re asking.
- What would be a representative sample?
- Who will perform the analysis of the resulting data and on which platforms?
4. Find the right community needs assessment tools
- Will you be using digital, offline, or blended data collection tools?
- In how many stages are you going to conduct the assessment?
- Also, consider GDPR and other privacy concerns when designing your questions and choosing data collection and analysis tools.
Below we discuss needs assessment tools (especially surveys) in more detail, stay tuned!
5. Once it’s done: analyze, report, and act
- Since you’ve figured out what data you needed in advance, it should come in the right format and answer the right questions.
- Clean your data and analyze the results.
- Evaluate the results against your project and integrate it into further stages.
- Report the needs assessment results back to the community. Let them know about your findings and how their input shapes the policy or project.
Tools for Community Needs Assessment
There are quite a few tools for handling community needs assessment processes. A general rule of thumb is to combine as many of these for the best results (as long as they fit your data needs). For example, online surveys are more standardized and give larger outreach while in-person workshops can help you build personal connections with stakeholders. Here is an extensive list:
- Standard and map-based surveys for data collection from stakeholders and community members
- Community mapping for analyzing service locations and spatial environments
- Workshops and focus group meetings for smaller outreach
- Individual observations
Community needs assessment survey
Online surveys with map-based features are the most effective tools for conducting the assessment, especially when analyzing urban environments or other spatial aspects. Online surveys can also be used for workshops and in-person meetings to standardize data and prevent a few loud voices from influencing the whole group. So it’s a win-win.
Online surveys save time and money for the project manager as the data collection and analysis are streamlined and more efficient. Such surveys also allow for gathering and documenting more versatile data, for example, with voting and prioritization tools.
Advanced survey tools like Maptionnaire help you conflate demographics with other survey results. In this way, you can understand the perceived and claimed needs of specific groups.
Building online surveys in various languages spoken in your community also helps to reach a broader and more diverse audience. A workshop, for example, won’t be able to effectively accommodate a multilingual community.
Online surveys can also be fun and engaging! Here are a few tips on getting the most out of them:
- To increase motivation and completion rates, explain why the survey is needed. Always be transparent about your goals.
- Use images and maps to better visualize problems and planned changes.
- Allow respondents to answer with videos, photos, and voice messages. It’s easier to send a photo of a dysfunctional bike parking lot than to describe it with words.
→ Here are more tips for designing a visual questionnaire and for choosing the right question types for your engagement survey.
Community engagement platform for needs assessment
The key goal of a community needs assessment is to capture as many diverse voices from the community — and turn these voices into precise data that can impact your strategy and project. Commonly, policymakers and planners gather community data with online surveys, map-based tools, and interviews. And these findings inform decision-making and resource allocation at the beginning of the project.
A holistic community engagement platform Maptionnaire can cover all of these needs by offering a way to capture a community’s perceived and expressed needs, understand whether current solutions and systems are sufficient, and map these opinions.
Crucially, a community engagement platform helps you be continuously in touch with your community and streamline other engagement processes! It is also easier to keep a transparent dialog with your community and engage them in subsequent development processes.