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Design Your Own Needs Assessment

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  • Design your own needs assessment using the outline below.
  • Write out your research design in a word processor.

You've now had a chance to see examples of both formative evaluation and formal needs assessment and to go through the design process for both. Once again, it's your turn.

In this exercise, you will be asked to pick your own problem for research and to take it through the basic design process. This will include defining the problem for research, conducting a preliminary search of the literature, exploring alternative options for research, and selecting a particular strategy to follow. You will be going through the stages we have experienced before, except that this time you will not have the expert's solution for comparison.

Once again, you are asked to do this design as an individual, rather than as a group. Feel free to discuss and brainstorm with others, but the solution you come up with should be your own, and you should work the exercise on your own.

The first step, of course, is picking the project or object for study. It can be in the area of education, of course, and probably will be. However, if you wanted to expand into another area, that would be fine. For example, in our community right now, there are fund raising efforts going on to build an ice rink. If, after contacting the organizers, it seemed that a formal needs assessment would help their efforts that might be something you could do. The more real the problem you can work on, the better. Once again, if you or others helping you (e.g. a class you teach at school, now or during the next school year) can actually take the study through to completion, so much the better.

The considerations given below are meant to guide you along the path you choose, qualitative or quantitative.

Stating the goals: The most important feature of this step is to be clear on what you want to know. As you get clear on asking your question, the choice needs assessment or formative evaluation approaches will become clear. The main distinction is one of time: if you're embarking on a brand new project, or if you're at a point where a major change seems likely, needs assessment is probably your preferred alternative. If you are partly into something, as we were with the Ed-Net degree program when my graduate class worked on it, you probably want to deal with formative evaluation. If you are not clear on the differences, refer back to previous studies you've seen. Also, draw upon the insights from the course texts: Engaging teachers and Practical Research.

Go ahead now, if you're ready with a problem, and take it through the first step: Stating the goals:

Step 1: State the Goals of the Work

(What is it that you want to understand? How do you intend to measure it? Will this be a formative evaluation or a needs assessment?)

Just a hint: both formative evaluations begin with basic research questions, but needs assessment usually has only areas for inquiry - the questions come once the Quality Assurance committee has been oriented and the initial inquiry into the program's operation has been conducted. In the one case (formative evaluation) you begin with questions, while in the other (needs assessment) you begin with areas to investigate.

Step 2: Gather Information

It is useful to go through the kind of steps you've seen in Guided Design: (1) locate relevant sources; (2) read and assimilate them; and (3) summarize findings.

As you complete this step, try to get some coverage of the topic, possibly from a trip to a university or district library, search of the ERIC system, or access to the Pioneer on-line database. Use the sources at hand who may be knowledgeable, local people who know what's gone on before. If an ongoing program has a file of newspaper clippings relevant to their operation (one of my favorite sources of information), use that. If there are previous evaluation reports or needs assessments, use those. Use your ingenuity to obtain this information.

Consider the types of reports used in the two Guided Design studies you've just seen. What would be comparable for the project you're undertaking?

Go ahead now and gather information. You may do some brainstorming about sources and then some searching, prior to completing this step. When you're ready, type in your sources searched and a summary of your findings.

Step 3: Construct a Research Design

This is the creative part of the assignment. Having identified a problem or program for study, and having gathered information to help you, at this point you need to think through the steps needed to actually conduct a study. (The closer you can make this to your own reality, the better). Your solution should include:

  • A look at alternative solutions (brainstorming).
  • A specifying of constraints (as realistically as possible, drawing upon possible district resources, maybe through a proposal or with an existing program).
  • A research design you think will work

Some ways that you can evaluate and revise as you go. For a needs assessment, this would probably come from interacting with the Quality Assurance Committee - so plan to specify who these folks would be and how you would work with them. For formative evaluation, pilot testing or even better, techniques of Rapid Prototyping - constantly comparing your results with the way you got them - should be employed.

Good luck. This is the second core experience for the research class. Give it your best shot, and you can count on receiving feedback from your instructor or TA on your solution.


Take some time now to go back over your solution and consider what the strengths and weaknesses are. What will be the limitations on what you find? Where did you have to make cuts (due to budget or other constraints) that you might have liked to have left in? Is there a funding agency that might help provide resources? Can you think of a publishing outlet - e.g. article in the local newspaper, local, state or national organization that might be interested in publishing your results? Can you see ways that you might involve your classes - at whatever level you teach at - in conducting the study? This should be a moment to reflect on what you've done.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factpetersen. (2007, August 06). Design Your Own Needs Assessment. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License