Delivery of Needs Assessments

In the two previous posts I described how needs assessments can be helpful and outlined the questionnaire I use for needs assessments.  Now we move onto delivery of needs assessments.  (This is an early post and my approach has changed beyond recognition.  But some of the ideas herein may be helpful.)

This post is about how I deliver needs assessments and options for delivering them in the future. I’ve found the questionnaire is a turn-off for clients. Yet many consultants use something similar and so I shall review some options in this post.

Most assessments have four stages, although movement between them is fairly seamless; most people move through them without being aware of it.

  1. The initial needs assessment, usually by questionnaire.
  2. Evaluation of the results
  3. Planning the website
  4. Implementation

My practice so far has been to send out a Word document questionnaire for people to complete and return by email. I usually send it to several key people. This is not proving to be effective.

Some options

  • The current Word document format is daunting despite assurances that it is not necessary to complete all the questions.
  • Mindmapping may be a more accessible format for some people. This would mean they could brainstorm their responses directly onto a mindmap.
  • Another approach I have in mind is a paper based format, where people record their ideas by jotting them down, using doodles and notes and not responding through a keyboard. This might be helpful when working with teams who could complete a single questionnaire together.
  • There may be some online formats.

All of these have drawbacks and so the issue is not so much the medium as the way you deliver questionnaire.  I have identified a couple of issues:

Some organisations do not understand modern website design is not a technical issue. The days when you employed someone for their knowledge of how to build a website are over. The question today is the most appropriate online presence and to do this, web consultants need to understand organisations as much as they do website technicalities, if not more so. This may seem intrusive.

Also some of the terminology may appear to be business orientated. For example, some third sector organisations do not believe they have a market, and associate the word with the worst excesses of venture capitalism. Finding alternative language, likely to be understood and accepted is not easy.  Many online resources use business orientated language and sooner or later anyone serious about their web presence will encounter it.

However, many consultants find people enjoy discussing their organisation. The key to this is listening and that needs to be done through face-to-face interaction, online or in real life.

Who completes the questionnaire?

  • A single person could be asked to complete a preliminary questionnaire, perhaps a simpler version of the one I described last time. This might help the consultant prepare for an in-depth interview.
  • Rather than asking several people to complete the questionnaire it may be worth asking a small team to complete it together. Their conversation might help them relate to it.
  • Or else the consultant could meet with the team, ask questions and complete the questionnaire for them.
  • Or else it may be possible to record the conversation and complete the questionnaire afterwards.

As they answer the questions, it is likely people will start to evaluate. One question will be whether to allow that or to take a break to complete and circulate the questionnaire, check out they’ve covered everything and then a return session for evaluation and planning.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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