Community Assessment

The goal of a needs assessment is to identify the assets of a community and determine potential concerns or challenges. A straightforward way to estimate the needs of a community or neighborhood is to simply ask residents their opinions about the issues and problems they face.

“Before you can visualize the future, you need an accurate and honest picture of the present. Tomorrow’s design must be based on today’s reality.” – Professor Andy Lewis, University of Wisconsin-Extension

Consider conducting a needs assessment:

  • To learn more about what your group or community needs are. A food survey can supplement your own observations and experiences. It can give you detailed information from a larger and more representative group of people.
  • To get an honest and objective description of needs that people might tell you publicly.
  • To anticipate and remain responsive to changing demographics, attitudes and needs.
  • To become aware of possible needs you never saw as particularly important or never knew existed
  • To document your needs, as is required in many applications for funding.
  • To get group and community support for the actions you undertake in the near future.
  • To get people actually involved in the following action will attract new members.
  • To make sure any actions you eventually get involved in are in line with needs expressed by the community.

When NOT to do a needs assessment:

A needs assessment is not necessary before every action, and especially:

  • When there is no doubt what the most important needs in the group or community are.
  • When it is urgent to act right now, without delay.
  • When a recent assessment has already been done, and it is clear the needs have not changed.
  • When you feel the community would see an assessment as redundant or wasteful, and it will be harmful to your cause.

Conducting a Needs Assessment:

According to Iowa State University Extension, there are Five Needs Assessment Techniques

  • Existing Data Approach: Already existing statistical data is used to obtain insights about the well-being of people. This approach uses descriptive statistics, such as census data, labor surveys, bank deposit data, sales tax reports, police reports, etc.
  • Community Attitude Survey Approach: Information is gathered from a representative sample of community residents about issues affecting their well-being. Data is collected by personal interviews, telephone surveys, door-to door surveys or mail surveys. (Visit Steps in the Community Attitude Survey Approach for details)
  • Key Informant Approach: The key informant approach identifies community/ neighborhood leaders and people who are knowledgeable about the community and can accurately identify priority needs and concerns. Key informants complete a questionnaire or are personally interviewed to obtain their thoughts of community needs. The information is then analyzed and reported to the community through publications or a community meeting.
  • Community Forum: A public meeting(s) is held during which time the participants discuss what some of the needs facing the community are, what some of the priority needs are and what can be done about these priority needs. All members of the community are encouraged to attend and express their concerns and perceived needs.
  • Focus Group Interview: A group of people selected for their particular skills, experiences, views or position are asked a series of questions about a topic or issue to collect their opinions. Group interaction is used to obtain detailed information about a particular issue.

For more information about these techniques, go to the Iowa State University Extension Web site:


A Community Needs Assessment Guide, Center for Urban Research and Learning and the Department of Psychology Loyola University Chicago, 2000; Iowa State University Extension Web site:

Community Tool Box Web site:

Text Adapted from “Community Needs Assessment Can Increase Participation in Community-Based Organizations”  by Yelena Mitrofanova, Extension Educator (This resource appeared in the July 2005 NEBLINE Newsletter.