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Guidelines for conducting a needs assessment survey

This article first appeared in Education News & Notes.

Of all the elements of a successful educational activity, a well-thought-out needs assessment may be the most crucial. A needs assessment tells planners what learners need to learn, and it forms the basis for selection of content, instructors, teaching materials and methods, and even budgets.

In designing your chapter's needs assessment plan, keep the following principles in mind:

  • Educational need is defined as the measured difference between what a professional currently knows and what that individual needs to know in order to perform or grow in the field.
  • A good needs assessment instrument measures this difference quantitatively by gathering data directly from the target audience. Member focus groups and surveys are good tools; anecdotal reports from individuals and brainstorming by the planning committee are not sufficient. Survey nonmember groups as well to expand your audience.
  • Ask the right questions! What are your members' current responsibilities, what information do they lack, and what are their future career plans? What resources do your members have available to access your programs? What issues, trends and challenges face the profession in your region? How will the community environment and larger social and legal context shape practice in the future?
  • Post-activity evaluations can be valuable for gathering additional information about educational needs and how well they are being met. Evaluations also provide ongoing feedback for improving your programs. However, they do not present a complete picture, because the audience is limited. Use your participant evaluation feedback as part of a comprehensive needs assessment program.

A copy of AFP's sample survey form is attached below.


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