Category Archives for "Assessments"

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.

A Look Inside a Needs Assessment Questionnaire

Last Thursday, I explained why needs assessments are helpful and today I shall review my needs assessment questionnaire. Check out my description of what my needs assessment involves. You will see where the questionnaire fits into the assessment. Next time I shall discuss how I deliver the assessment.

The current questionnaire is daunting. It has nine sections and aims to trigger deep thinking about the organisation. Follow completing the questionnaire with a conversation; it is not necessary to complete all the questions before the conversation. Often in conversation new ideas emerge and sections that started difficult can become easier to complete.  Some organisations may not have previously met anything like this and so may need more support.

Here is a brief description of the nine sections of my questionnaire:

Web Presence

The consultant will want to review the organisation’s current web presence and so needs the details of everything the organisation has online. Be aware of likely issues such as the current site controlled by a previous designer. A surprisingly common problem that may need to be resolved before the client changes their site.


This section helps picture the people involved with the organisation and the skills or experience they can offer to its online work. Most organisations need to build their capacity to maintain their web presence, and this helps assess their current capacity and potential to develop it.  Some organisations will want to develop their own site and others will need to maintain a site developed for them.

The questions cover the skills of people who are directly involved and whether there are others who might be invited to be involved with the website, eg as guest bloggers.

Marketing Plan

This section reviews  aims and objectives, hopes and fears, frustrations with performance, etc.

The aim is to encourage deeper reflection about the organisation and what it wants to do online.  Many organisations want a website and have given little thought to what they need it for and often find they do not appreciate what their site can do for them.

Development Plan

This section is about finance and the organisation’s aspirations. Many organisations focus on balancing their current accounts and this section invites them to consider what they would do if their income increased significantly beyond their current expenditure. This is an important question because it can unearth aspirations that would otherwise remain obscure. With such objectives stated, it may be possible to include them in the objectives of the organisation. They are not always so expensive and it may be possible to meet them, at least in part, with lower income.

Products and Services

Products and services are things to sell or give away. A product  can be replicated and sold to many people. Tailor services to the needs of each customer. Both products and services can be real life or online.

This section goes into a lot of detail about the information the organisation owns. Many organisations have material they can turn into products and skills they can turn into services and they are not aware of the potential of what they own. Some organisations may be sitting on a goldmine. Others may be able to generate modest income online, supplementing their work. It is important to make sure this work progresses the organisation’s wider aims. Money is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

Some organisations may want to give stuff away and do not need an income. There are pros and cons to this approach. It needs to be considered in the wider context of the organisation’s objectives.


To design your web presence, you need to be as clear as possible about your market. Some organisations have a membership list and / or a list of web subscribers. These contacts will not only join purchase products and services, they will also pass on information to friends and other contacts. This is why it is important to add stimulating material to the website, as this will appeal to new contacts.

These questions cover the current contacts the organisation has as well as potential contacts they have yet to reach.


Partners are organisations who support or might support the organisation’s work. These questions cover current partners, potential partners and competitors.


These questions assess capacity to communicate with market and partners; including mailings lists, which can be stored in a variety of media and covers social media.


This is about equipment organisations can use to develop products and services.


This summarises my current needs assessment questions. My plan is to review them in the near future. There are other systems which might have a better fit to my market. Next time I shall explain how I use these questions and alternative options for their use.

Why Do Needs Assessments?

This short sequence will be an opportunity to share some ideas about needs assessments. Why are they necessary?  In the next two posts, I look at their content and how to deliver them.

So, what is a needs assessment? [January 2017: This is an old post and looks back to a period when I offered a needs assessment as part of a web design package.  I have since changed my approach considerably.] I am currently reviewing my assessment offer and will introduce some changes soon. The first thing I’ve noticed, returning to pages I wrote over a year ago, is I do not really define an assessment.

What is an Assessment?

Feedback I’ve received suggests the term “needs assessment” may help potential clients understand what is on offer. Normally a needs assessment compares the current situation with the ideal, identifies the difference and then identifies action steps. Action steps can be prioritised, costed and scheduled.

One complex issue is, are you assessing the needs of the organisation or its web presence? The word “needs” helps clarify the assessment is not primarily of the organisation so much as to assess what the organisation needs from its online presence.  It’s a rare organisation that does not need to improve.  The question is, how can the organisation be improved by its web presence?  You would think most organisations would pay for an assessment because they could see there is potential for improvement through their online presence.

How to do an Assessment

To do this properly the clients and the web consultant need a conversation about the organisation. It may emerge the organisation has many needs and not all of them can be met online. The assessment might help decide which needs can be met online. Clients are not always aware of what can and cannot be done online. Financial and time costs can help make the final decisions about the organisation’s web presence.

A small part of the work will be to review the organisation’s current web presence but the main emphasis will be on what the organisation offers its clients or customers and whether any or all of it can be promoted online.

For many organisations the amount they could do online might be greater than they expect. What they actually do will depend on their priorities, capacity and resources. It may be possible to show them how they could do more than they might think.

But the focus needs to be on the organisation and not the technicalities of working online. This might surprise some clients and part of the skill is getting them to open up about their hopes and dreams for their organisation.

Non-Directive Consultancy

I’ve written elsewhere about non-directive consultancy and this can be helpful although there will be an expectation the web consultant will contribute expert consultancy skills as the work progresses. Getting the balance right between non-directive work and presenting the best online solution can be challenging.

But the non-directive element is important. Some clients may start their assessment with a clear idea about what they want. This may be to the degree that they don’t see the need for an assessment at all. Assessments are usually fairly expensive for this reason. Someone who has already made up their mind and wants someone to carry out their plan does not need an assessment. However, those who do opt for an assessment may still have a clear idea of what they want.

As the assessment progresses the client’s needs will become clearer, at least to the consultant. The skill is on helping the client to line up what they want with what they need and helping them make genuine decisions to meet their needs.

If the client does this they might recognise the help they had from the consultant but the progress in their thinking will be theirs.

An Example

For example, the consultant might suggest a video to help promote the organisation. The client may not be aware of how easy it is to put a video together or the types of video available to them. However, the final decision must be the client’s. They may have reservations about its appropriateness, finance or time demands. The next step is not to insist on the video but to pose the question, we still have the problem to which the video was one possible solution, what other solutions might there be?

Of course it’s even better to list all possible solutions and look at each in detail and then decide. In reality ideas don’t always arrive at once and the process of examining the first in detail might trigger new ideas.

So, next time I’ll show you my current assessment.