Section one - Community Needs Assessment

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What We Need to Know

This section covers the core knowledge and understanding practitioners require to enable them to effectively select and apply community needs assessment approaches and techniques. It covers the background policies and theories and supports practitioners both to consider why they are undertaking community needs assessment and the role that they play. It sets out a range of approaches which can be adopted when undertaking community needs assessment. It encourages practitioners to approach the task in a reflective manner and one which is grounded in the principles of community learning and development.


Community needs assessment is an approach to research which is focused on achieving beneficial change. It is predicated therefore on action accompanying or following on from the research.

This change could be:

  • To a situation: a community meeting space, a service, an area,
  • To practice: how we can be more effective, how we can respond better to the needs of communities
  • To a policy: e.g. on the service needs of carers, or the communication needs of people with a learning disability, etc.

Community needs assessment also builds the capacity of the individuals and communities taking part in the research to evidence the need for and achieve positive change in the services or support provided to their community. The research tools and methods used should therefore be appropriate to engaging with the community concerned and there is an emphasis on ensuring the community is informed of the results of the research in ways that are appropriate to engaging them and showing the importance of their contribution.

In addition to obtaining high quality research information, this approach delivers:

  • Increased capacity and confidence individually and in community groups
  • Increased skills base which can be used again and which is transferable
  • Increased community support for community group activities
  • Evidence on which communities have been able to successfully argue the need for change in services and support for their community.

This approach recognises the capacity and assets within a community or group - it does not focus merely on a problem but highlights the positives within communities. It also recognises the capacity of those involved to act as partners in agreeing and acting on solutions.

The Strategic Guidance for Community Planning Partnerships: Community Learning and Development, 2012 reinforces this approach.

It states that: "The foundation of CLD delivery is an assessment - in partnership with learners and communities - of needs, strengths and opportunities."

There are a number of key messages contained within the guidance:

  • Communities have a role to play
  • Needs assessment, prioritisation and planning is to be undertaken jointly with partners and communities
  • The ways in which need is explored and agreed should be designed with communities as active partners in this process
  • Evidence is central - of need and of the impact of CLD provision
  • It sets an expectation that an asset-based approach to identifying need will be taken - need to identify strengths as well as areas for development.

The Guidance therefore reinforces that this is not activity which is done to communities, but which is carried out in partnership with communities and which sees as its focus a belief in the capacity of those involved and a desire to use the skills and talents found in communities.