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A community is made of individuals who develop communications and other forms of interactions, especially through affections and activities. As Brueggemann (2002) said, "communities are natural human associations based on ties of relationship and shared experiences in which we mutually provide meaning in our lives, meet needs, and accomplish interpersonal goals" (p. 114). As Figure 4.1 indicates, the individual makes the community. The community creates organizations to better the lives of individual members. In other words, the community provides a system of support for the individual. Organization enhances this system of support.


From an individual point of view, needs are physiological, psychological, or sociological deficiencies that someone may be experiencing. One of the most common theories of needs is Maslow's hierarchy model, which explains human needs in terms of the following:

Individual, community, and organization.

FIGURE 4.1 Individual, community, and organization.

- Physiological: food, water, sex, sleep, excretion, and breathing

- Safety and security: shelter, health, and employment

- Belongingness, social needs, and love: family, friendship, and love

- Esteem: achievement, self-esteem, and respect by others

- Self-actualization: creativity, spontaneity, and so forth

According to McKillip (1998), needs are judgments of values based on unsatisfied expectancies of a target group. These expectancies may be normative, felt, expressed, or comparative. Reviere, Berkowitz, Carter, and Gergusan (1996) define a need as "a gap between the real and ideal conditions that is both acknowledged by community values and potentially amenable to change" (p. 5). This definition is not different from Kaufman's (1992), who understood a need as a discrepancy between an actual and a desired situation or result. Similarly, Watkins, Leigh, and Kaufman (1998) defined a need as a gap between a current situation and a desired state of affairs.

The above definitions agree that a need is a gap, a gap between an observed situation and an expected situation. In this sense, a gap is a construct based on implicit or explicit norms about an ideal or at least an acceptable state of affairs. A need can be about one or more individuals, groups, communities, or societies. Usually, a need is identified in comparison with factors, such as natural laws, human rights, laws, resolutions, mandates, or other similar factors.


Needs assessment is a tool used to assess gaps in communities, activities, or services. A needs assessment can be made for an individual (client), or a small (neighborhood), medium (city, county), or larger community (state, nation). A needs assessment helps better understand the extent and intensity of a need, and advises as to appropriate actions to be taken. A needs assessment can confirm problems that people are already aware of, and provide justification for actions.

Individual needs assessment involves:

1. Assessing demographic information

2. Assessing support systems

3. Assessing physical conditions

4. Assessing diet

5. Assessing social activities

6. Assessing perceived versus real needs

According to Kaufman (1998), a needs assessment is

The formal process of identifying need as gaps between current and desired results, placing those needs in priority order based on the cost to meet each need versus the cost for ignoring it, and selecting the most important needs (problems or opportunities) for reduction or elimination, (p. 87)

Needs assessment can be performed for a society, an organization, or an individual. Kaufman (2000) argued that a needs assessment should first identify societal needs (mega level), then focus on organizational needs (macro level), and finally consider individual needs (micro level). This approach helps justify the gaps that exist in results for societal, organizational, and individual needs, and provides guidance regarding resources and activities that can fill such gaps. For example, an organization working to prevent child abuse and neglect might focus first on the cost of child abuse for the larger society, the needs of organizations to address such issues, and finally the need for a child to live in an environment free of abuse and neglect. Needs assessment is used by planners to demonstrate the potential for return on investment or the added value of a particular activity or program. In a more concrete way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just 1 year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect) is approximately $124 billion. This is a need at the societal level. A needs assessment to start a program (macro level) that can provide direct services to children at risk of abuse and neglect (micro level) in a community will be a cost-reduction strategy not only for tax payers in that community, but also for the entire country. In other words, the needs assessment provides justification for the community or the public to invest in such a program through their donations or contributions.

According to Rissel and Bracht (1999), a needs assessment is "the process of assessing and defining needs, possible barriers and opportunities, and resources involved in initiating community health action programs" (p. 59). In a broad sense, a needs assessment involves the evaluation of gaps between how a community is and how this community should be, according to the expectations of community members. The purpose of a needs assessment is to determine community discrepancies and evaluate their nature and causes, as well as potential actions that can help fill the gap. Needs assessment is a tool to assess deficiencies that hinder target groups from achieving their desired lives. When the deficiencies or gaps are identified and analyzed, they can help make decisions related to an ideal situation. United Way of America (1982) defined a needs assessment as "a systematic process of collection and analysis as inputs into resource allocation decisions with a view to discovering and identifying goods and services the community is lacking in relation to the generally accepted standards, and for which there exists some consensus as to the community's responsibility for their provision" (p. 2).

A needs assessment is not just an intellectual exercise. It is an applied social research activity to determine whether actions envisioned to fill discrepancies in a community are really needed. Therefore, a needs assessment not only identifies unmet needs with respect to what is desired, but also analyzes barriers and obstacles that may hinder these needs from being met. A needs assessment is a process and research activity used to identify the available resources of a community and the unmet needs of the people in such a community. Therefore, a needs assessment goes beyond the simple notion of data collection and analysis, but has an applied implication with respect to the utilization of the findings related to the assessment. A needs assessment can be made for an individual (client), or a small (neighborhood), medium (city, county), or larger community (state, nation).

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