Needs Assessments are simply systematic processes for collect information and making justifiable decisions. As a result of their practical nature, Needs Assessments are used in many disciplines and professions, from medicine and social work to psychology and management. Here at NeedsAssessment.org we focus, however, on the application of Needs Assessments to the improvement of human and organizational performance. Within that context...
A Needs Assessment is simply a systematic process of asking questions, comparing answers, and making informed decisions about what to do next to improve human or organizational performance.
As a precursor to decision-making, Needs Assessments are unique from other strategic processes and require a performance perspective that focuses on the results to be accomplished rather than the numerous alternatives activities that may be implemented. Consequently, Needs Assessments do not start with any solution in mind, not training, six sigma, succession planning, mentoring, or any of the hundred of activities that are used to improve results. Rather, Needs Assessments set out to determine what results must be accomplished and then make recommendations about which activities -- typically combinations of numerous activities -- will be most useful for achieving those results. As a result, Needs Assessments rely on broad set of common tools and techniques for collecting information and making decision – many of which are also applied during or after as an activity for monitoring or evaluation purposes. From focus groups and interviews to card sorts and fishbone diagrams, most of the tools used in a Needs Assessment are not unique to the process, but rather it is the “before a decision is made” perspective that is applied to each tool that defines the value of a Needs Assessment.
These unique characteristics of Needs Assessment set it apart from many other disciplines and processes. To be successful a Needs Assessment must draw on many other disciplines -- from management and statistics to human resources and psychology. Yet a Needs Assessment can not set out to justify why a solution from any one of these disciplines is going to be a "silver bullet" or "panacea". Needs Assessment use systematic process to identify what has to be accomplished and then compares numerous alternatives to determine which are going to best achieve desired results... making Needs Assessment challenging, complex, practical, essential, and exciting!