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Effective Interventions Unit Guide to Needs Assessment Summary

DescriptionThis provides a summary to the Needs Assessment Guide, which describes the needs assessment process step-by-step, and gives examples of how to do a needs assessment for specific areas of work.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJanuary 30, 2004


    Effective Interventions Unit
    Guide to Needs Assessment

    This document is also available in pdf format (76k)


    The publication of 'Integrated Care for Drug Users: Principles and Practice' identified the process of needs assessment as a key first step in designing and delivering integrated services for drug users and their families.

    This guide provides a step-by-step description of the needs assessment process, and gives some examples taken from the research literature and from current practice in different areas throughout Scotland. It also provides examples of how to do a needs assessment for specific populations, including psychostimulant users, rural populations and young people. Although the document focuses on assessing the need for services for drug users, the guidance is also relevant for needs assessment for alcohol users.

    What is needs assessment

    Needs assessment is about identifying the needs of the local population, so that services can be planned and delivered to meet those needs. Local needs assessment will help to establish the extent and nature of the drug problem in an area, describe the socio-demographic profile of users and examine the common referral routes. This will help build up a picture of the needs of the population. Needs assessment is an integral part of other strategic initiatives, such as reducing waiting times.

    Why do needs assessment

    Needs assessment is the key to ensuring that the required range and capacity of services is available and accessible to drug users in a local area. The outcome of a needs assessment should be that drug users have their individual assessed needs met, or met more effectively. Where appropriate, it should also address the needs of families or carers.

    Key issues to address

    The process of needs assessment should ordinarily involve the following components:

    • a review of the existing sources of information relevant to your target population

    • a profile of existing services and description of client profile

    • the views of your target population

    • the views of relevant practitioners and service providers

    • analysis and interpretation of the results in order to draw conclusions

    • taking action through prioritising the identified needs, appraising the options for meeting those needs, and implementing an action plan including allocation of resources.

    • monitoring and evaluation to check that the changes you have implemented are having the desired effect of meeting the needs of your target population.

    The checklist below summarises the most important things to think about when undertaking a needs assessment.

    • Identify key individuals to be involved in a Steering Group for the needs assessment project.

    • Define the target population for the needs assessment as specifically as possible. Make sure the needs of the target population are the focus of the needs assessment.

    • Communicate the aims of the needs assessment to service providers.

    • Decide who will carry out the needs assessment (e.g. DAAT Officers, partner agencies or an external contractor). Consider whether additional assistance may be needed (e.g., with data collection, with data entry and analysis, with report writing), and get a commitment from the relevant staff as soon as possible.

    • Estimate the cost and identify the source of funding for the needs assessment.

    • Identify the appropriate overall approach to your needs assessment.

    • Gather existing sources of information about the needs of your target population. Consider what this information tells you about the needs of your target population.

    • Identify the services in your area that are already available to meet the needs of your target population. Consider the range of needs currently being met by them. What is the capacity of those services? Are they accessible?

    • Consider the ways in which you will obtain the views of your target population about their needs, and whether ethical approval is needed.

    • Consider the ways in which you will obtain the views of service providers about the needs of the target population. Think of ways to engage busy staff in your needs assessment and how to allay people's fears (e.g. of closure) or concerns (e.g. that no action will be taken as a result of the needs assessment).

    • Ensure that information is analysed and interpreted, and that conclusions are drawn. Consider how those who gathered the information can be involved in the analysis, and how the results can be relayed back to all those who contributed to the process.

    • Once you have identified the needs of your target population, prioritise them and consider all the options for meeting them, and then develop an implementation plan.

    • Consider how the views of service users could be taken into account in the prioritisation and option appraisal process and how to ensure service providers are involved in the development of the implementation plan.

    • Once you have agreed what changes to make, consider how to monitor and evaluate so that you know whether the changes are having the desired effect. Think what may be the most appropriate methodology for the evaluation and whether it can be done internally or by an external consultant.

    This publication is available at www.drugmisuse.isdscotland.org/eiu/eiu.htm or from 0131 244 5117 or eiu@scotland.gsi.gov.uk