One of Extension's most profound
missions is to help people improve their lives. This is done through
an educational process targeted at local issues and needs. An
important first step in the educational process is to assess these
needs and issues. How is this done? How can we be sure of our
findings? How often should we examine these changing needs and
issues? These questions will be answered in this series of three
lessons designed to "Reach the Masses." During these
lessons, we'll practice some common methods of investigating and
interpreting community needs.
There are many ways that needs and
issues can be identified. It can be as simple as asking the right
people or as complex as sorting through mounds of profile documents.
Many researchers have found clever methods for categorizing these
needs assessment tools and while the names may differ, the techniques
are similar. For the purposes of these lessons, there are four
needs assessment techniques:
- Existing Data
- Attitude Surveys
- Key Informants
- Group Sessions
An accurate picture of community
issues and needs is best found through a combination of these
Existing data can help gain insights
into populations. This data, often called demographics, can be
used to examine current trends of a given community as well as
identifying changes in a community. Also, demographics provide
a source for Extension educators and advisory members to understand
the way of life of local citizens that they are attempting to
change through educational programs, and have access into the
groupings of their local citizens/clientele. Demographics help
people see a visual representation of information about their
community, thus making them important in assessing needs. Additionally,
demographics often are used to provide a break down of local citizens
according to such characteristics as age, sex, marital status,
income, educational level, ethnic background, etc. Other than
program needs, demographics are also highly useful in detecting
clientele groups that are underserved in the county or community
and in defining potential audiences.
While there are other sources for
demographic data that may be more relevant to your community,
county or state, these are five solid sources for obtaining demographic
- Agricultural Statistics
- U.S. Census Data
- Local Chamber of Commerce Data
- Local Board of Education
- Local Health Department
Other sources include labor surveys,
sales tax reports, bank deposit data, police reports, hospital
information and more. Dig around in your local data - no telling
what you will find!
Handout "Profile of General Demographic Characteristics
of Bolivar County, MS" to participants.
each participant to determine what program direction we should
take based on this information. Allow five minutes for data
review and then you will discuss it as a group.
the five minutes is up, say "I'm sure you will all agree
that the data clearly indicate that our Extension programs
should target the Asian population with a program on Awareness
of Heating the Home with Kersosene." (Even a quick
review of the data tells us that this is not an accurate interpretation
of the data, so this should stimulate a discussion).
the discussion of "Where did that come from?" ensues,
tell them that you were, of course, joking in your assessment
of the data. Nonetheless, many programs are targeting such
a minor sample of the population that this example proves
relevant. In order to keep from following this and other bad
examples and really target the needs and issues of the people,
we must give closer analysis to who we serve and "where
the Handout "Types of Needs Assessments" to participants
and explain that these are some ways that we can explore community
needs. Explain that the first step in doing any needs assessment
is to properly analyze your intended audience. This is best
done through examining existing data.
the five main sources of demographic data (and remind that
there are others available that may have a more direct impact
on the local needs and issues).
it helps to learn and practice a new skill in an environment
where there are few personal, social, political or emotional
"strings" attached, this lesson uses Harrison County,
MS as an example to learn and practice needs assessment.
Handouts "Profile of General Demographic Characteristics
of Harrison County, MS" and the "Harrison County
Narrative Profile". Explain that it often helps to examine
data in the form of charts and narration to look for trends.
the participants into groups of five (depending on your situation)
and give them each a marker and a flip chart.
them to make notes of their interpretation of the data set
by identifying audiences and issues apparent from the raw
data. Give them up to 15 minutes to complete the exercise.
each group to share their findings. Did the groups provide
a good picture of "where we are?" Based on this
data alone, where should Extension be focusing their educational
programs? What are some issues that the data brings out? Insight?
the data that you generated for your local community, county
or state (see Advance Preparation) and replicate the lesson
exercise you completed for Harrison County, MS.
the groups are giving their wrap-up presentations, make a
list of those highly pertinent themes that come out (especially
if from more than one group). Review this list with the group
after the conclude their presentations.
prepared to acknowledge gaps in the way things are and the
way they should be using the discussion items from the group
interpretations. For example, "we have a large elderly
population and are really doing very little to reach them
other than our traditional programs which apparently are not
"drawing them in"."
a tentative, precursory plan of new audiences, new potential
programs to initiate, programs that should probably be de-emphasized
in the changing population and other issues that come out
of these discussions about your community, county or state.
up with a Question and Answer session to bring closure to
State University Extension. Needs assessment strategies. Retrieved
June 25, 2002, from
the Iowa State University Web site: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/communities/tools/assess/
R. D., Liles, T. R., Pettitt, M. J. (1988). Working with our publics
- module 2:
The extension education process. North Carolina Agricultural Extension
Service and the
Department of Adult and Community College Education, North Carolina
S., Barks, N., McKee, R., Peterson, S., Rice, B. Getting on board
- module 2:
Audience/clientele base module. Retrieved May 15, 2002, from Purdue
University Web site: http://www.admin.ces.purdue.edu/field/gob/audience.html