Needs assessment

 A needs assessment guide


This guide has been designed to familiarize you with the terminology, tools, and methods of needs assessments, which will help you make more informed decisions about how and when to use needs assessments in support of your program or project objectives. After you complete this module you will have a foundation in the following concepts:

How to develop assessment instruments such as surveys and questionnaires 

Understanding where needs assessments fit in the project development process 

Basic steps in conducting needs assessments 

The term "needs assessment" has become strongly associated with education and instructional design. However the same basic process is used to determine customer needs and wants for products and services. In business the term used is "market research", with the target market for a product or service equivalent to the target audience for a class or other training. Needs analysis, market research, market analysis, and needs assessments are terms used somewhat interchangeably to describe this process.


  1. Discuss what a needs assessment is and when and why to conduct one 
  2. Identify the steps in planning a needs assessment 
  3. Demonstrate how to characterize an audience
  4. Select an appropriate method for data collection
  5. Understand how to use questions appropriately 
  6. Identify considerations for analyzing and managing data 
  7. List the benefits of conducting a needs assessment The components


Establish planning team

Establish goals and objectives

Characterize audiences

Search for information and literature

Select data collection methods

Data collection

Determine audience scheme

Design and pilot data collection instrument

Gather and record data

Data analyses and reporting

Analyze data

Manage data

Synthesize information and create report

The twelve steps

1.Confirm the issues and the audience

In this step you will establish the purpose of the needs assessment, determining if it is a legal requirement, a company requirement, or simply desired for general knowledge

2. Establish the planning team

In this step, you will establish the planning team while also determining the resources available for the needs assessment, including

  • Tim
  • Money
  • Number of individuals required for statistical purposes 
  • Research or prior studies 

3. Establish the goals and the objective

In this step, based on the available resources confirmed in step two, you will establish goals and objectives. This step has three phases:

  1. Identify the optimum (desired) and actual levels of knowledge or skill.
  2. Identify the cause(s) for the lack of knowledge or skill.
  3. Devise a solution or series of solutions.


4. Characterize your audience

In this step you will determine the following audience characteristics:

  • Number of individuals present (i.e. sample size)
  • Skill and knowledge level
  • Educational level
  • Organizational niche
  • Cultural characteristics and possible biases towards training
  • Attitudes and biases
  • Ability to access or attend training
  • Ability to purchase or otherwise access product


5. Conduct information and literature research

In this step you will review information and literature regarding the issue by looking at studies from management plans, public records, strategic plans, reports, and articles.


6. Select your data collection methods

In this step you will decide how you will collect data, from choices ranging from personal interviews to written tests.


7. Determine your sampling scheme

Sample more than you think you need.
The biggest threat to a survey is that the results are inaccurate because of the sample size not being representative


8. Design and pilot the collection instruments

Always pilot your questionnaire! Better data requires more time, money and resources.


9. Gather and report data

There are various strategies for increasing response rate, including reminder calls and postcards. Of prime importance is ensuring anonymity to respondents.


10. Analyze data

Keep findings and interpretation of findings separate in reporting.


11. Manage data

This step involves determining how data will be organized and archived.

The importance of this step is often not recognized until it is too late.


12. Synthesize data and create report

Always address your goals and objectives in synthesis. Report must include problems or errors with the design and the implementation of the survey. An executive summary is often helpful.





Assessment methods


A key to any successful needs assessment project is the gathering of complete and accurate data and information regarding your target audience. There are seven basic assessment methods that can be used to gather data and information. Each has its own set of benefits and limitations. Depending on time and other logistic issues you may not be able to utilize what might be your first choice of method. Often you will need to use more than one method to obtain the information you need.


1. Observation




For example you may record what a teacher does in his classroom, or a head teacher in a staff meeting.


observation is a means of data collection

2. Interview


Interviews can be conducted via telephone, videoconference, or even on-line via the web.

We will do our interviews with the pupils, but could also be done with the teacher, head teacher, education officer and parents.


interview means one or more series of active interchanges

3. Focus group discussions


You might be familiar with focus groups by some other term such as roundtable discussion. Our problem tree discussions with the different stakeholders are also focus group discussions.


focus group = active interchange

4. Oral survey




Read a list of questions from a survey form and fill in the answers the participants give you


oral surveys = asking set of prewritten questions

5. Questionnaires



You've seen these in many different varieties and used for many different types of input.


sample of questionnaire

6. Existing data



By existing data, we are referring to existing information in the form of reports, work samples, historical data, planning and budget reports, organizational structure charts, evaluations, career development reports that can be reviewed and analyzed.


many types of documents can be reviewed

7. Test



Testing your target audience will give you a good idea of the knowledge gaps that exist.


tests can be a good tool



Characterizing your audience



What degree of knowledge does the target population have relating to this issue?

Do they have an understanding of current events related to the issue?

Are they familiar with any special terms or acronyms?


What type of prior training or skills does the population have related to the issue?

Tools and techniques.

What tools and techniques does the population currently use or have access to?



What are the personal benefits to the population in learning about this issue or changing tools/techniques?


What attitudes does the audience have towards the issue?

How does the population feel about training opportunities or any changes required in tools/techniques?

What training methodologies will work best with this audience?

Ability to access or attend

Are there any factors that will affect the ability to access, attend or utilize any training or other tools/techniques?

Cultural characteristics

Are there any cultural issues?




Determining sample size

Sample size refers to the number of questionnaires, interviews, surveys, etc. you will distribute or conduct during the needs assessment process. Having a large enough sample to prevent one sample from skewing the results is important. But, the size of your sample is not nearly as important as the proper design or the survey instruments. However, if there is bias in the data, it is unlikely to go away as you collect more data.

It is more important to obtain a representative sample than a large sample. Identify the groups you need and put more effort into getting a high response rate (e.g. by phoning, or sending reminders) rather than sending out huge numbers of questionnaires and letting a few undefined volunteers return them.

If you have the time, contacts and/or resources to be more rigorous about a sampling scheme, you might identify someone familiar with determining things like margin of error, degree of accuracy, standard deviation, mean degree of accuracy, etc. With pilot data in hand, a resource person with some experience could help you work out the total sample size you need for the kind of accuracy you choose.

About the questions



Face to face questions:


When you are given the opportunity to ask questions in person, face to face, be sure to ask directly about any issues or problems. Interviewing someone in person permits you to adjust wording, clarifying meanings, and ask additional questions to elicit more detail — things that just are not possible using written instruments or web surveys. Some examples are shown below:


What training do you need?

This question directly solicits solutions from the interviewee.

What issues do you deal with?

This question directly addresses their problems

What of teaching tools do you need?

These questions directly find out the preferences of the interviewee


Active listening


Active listening means to focus both on the words being spoken and to the person himself in order to better understand what he or she is saying. As you listen you should also communicate your understanding and show nonjudgmental acceptance of what is being stated. The following are some other tips for active listening:


  • Ask no leading questions: “can you tell me more about that?”
  • Rephrase what the speaker said in your own words
  • Reflect underlying feelings: “when that happens to me, I feel really bad”
  • Avoid analyzing what was described
  • Use personal disclosure: “I’m not sure I fully understand what you are saying”
  • Avoid using probing questions
  • Face the speaker
  • Watch the speaker and listen
  • Keep your mind on what the speaker is saying









Written questions


Written questions present unique challenges but at the same time can be advantageous. You can test multiple iterations of questions to ensure there is no bias and can hone the grammar and sentence structure as well.

The main thing to ask yourself about any question as you write it is whether it will measure what you are trying to measure. More detail on some of these can be found in the section called structuring questions.

Structuring questions can means not only how the question itself is written, but also how the responder is guided to answer. The way a question is worded can reveal or suggest bias on the part of the interviewer. Especially in the case of multiple choice type response options, the question can also existentially guide the interviewee toward a certain answer, or not allow him or her to answer the way they would like.



Can be very difficult to understand


Can make respondents angry

Irritates people when they think you are playing games with them

At a minimum, change the wording (most folks will catch on)


Word things tactfully

Sensitive questions usually best asked in the middle towards end of questionnaire

Sensitive questions usually are best in a face-to-face format


Make questions less than 20 words

Make sure questions are grammatically correct and spelled correctly

Don't use jargon

Highlight important words


Kinds of questions are:

There are two different types of questions you can use that will elicit very different responses. These two types are called open-ended and closed questions.

Open ended question

Open-ended questions are used when longer and more thoughtful answers are required. Typically these questions:

  • Ask the interviewee to think and reflect

Will provide the questioner with opinions and feelings

Describe two examples of interpreting results of your research for school management applications.

Closed question

Closed questions are typically those that can be answered with one word. For example, "Yes/No" questions are closed questions. These questions are useful for testing comprehension and when long essay answers are not required. Typically these questions:

  • Provide facts
  • Are easy to answer
  • Can be answered quickly.

What methods have you utilized in the past year to interpret the results of your research for coastal managers? (Check all that apply)


Field demonstrations


Presentations at meetings




Peter Merckx,
9 Jan 2010, 00:43
Peter Merckx,
9 Jan 2010, 00:41
Peter Merckx,
9 Jan 2010, 00:40