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Needs assessment: what issue should your program address?

A need is defined as a state, situation or condition in the community which by its presence or absence reduces, limits or prevents normative function (Denton, 1976).  Health needs are the factors or conditions in the community that if absent, prevent people from achieving the optimum of physical, mental, and social well-being.

Bradshaw (1972) suggests there are four dimensions or different types of need; normative need; expressed need; comparative need; felt need. It is important to tap into each type of need to increase the chance of constructing a comprehensive picture of community problems.

Download the What are the types of needs? fact sheet.

Why do a need’s assessment?

A needs assessment is an important step to provide you with a comprehensive picture about health problems in the community, and guide the choices of health interventions that should be planned and supported.  The skills involved in needs assessment include data collection, analysis and interpretation, as well as community consultation, communication skills and consensus building skills.

The 2 stages of needs assessment:

Stage 1 – Identifying the Priority health problem

  1. Consultation
  2. Data collection from the target group and canvass a range of opinions to determine a priority health problem
  3. Presentation of the findings
  4. determining priorities

Stage 2 – Analysis of the health problem

  1. literature review
  2. describe the target group
  3. explore the health problem
  4. analysis of factors  contributing to the health problem: casual pathways
  5. Re-assess and strengthen community resources

What is planning?

Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans (John Lennon, 1974).

Ewles & Simnett (2003) describe planning as a process that answers 3 questions:

  1. What am I trying to achieve?
  2. What am I going to do?
  3. How will I know whether I have been successful?

Planning is about getting the building blocks right so that the program plan is evidence based and designed to create effective and sustainable change. 

Planning involve:

GOALS – (or aims) are statements about long-term benefits or changes the program seeks to influence, change in terms of one or more determinants of health.  Goals are measured by outcome evaluation.

OBJECTIVES – are statements of change designed to achieve the goals – they are more direct and specific than goals/aims.  Objectives are linked to intermediate outcomes and are measured by impact evaluation.

STRATEGIES/ INTERVENTIONS – are methods that are used or actions that will be taken to achieve the objectives and are measured by process evaluation.

There are various models that can be used to assist in the planning for programs/events/ activities – there is “no one right way” to plan. 

  1. Ewles and Simnett’s model (2003) from the UK have developed a straight forward and simple model that can be used for program planning action:
    • Identify needs and priorities
    • Set aims and objectives
    • Decide the best ways to achieve these aims
    • Identify resources
    • Plan evaluation methods
    • Set an action plan
    • ACTION! Implement the plan including your evaluation
  2. The Integrated Health Promotion Guide which has been developed by the Department of Human Services (DHS) (2003) in Victoria, Australia, and is utilised by agencies that receive Women and Community Health Funding and the Primary Care Partnerships in Victoria.
  3. The Central Sydney Area Health Service model (CSAHA) Project management Guidelines (1994) from Sydney, Australia.  This is more complex but is comprehensive in its scope and is realistic in the way various planning stages interrelate.
  4. The PROCEED/PROCEDE Model developed by Green and Kreuter (1999) in the USA.

Why plan?

The purpose of program planning is to:

  • devise a program that is appropriate to the health issue and the identified target group and thus most likely to bring about the desired change
  • devise a program that can be implemented within available resources as well as ensure the efficient use of those resources
  • contribute to best quality, evidence based practice
  • demonstrate accountability and fulfil funding body's requirements
  • ensure good organisation
  • ensure the results of the program can be evaluated.

(ACT Health Promotion, 2009)

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