How to Conduct Community Assessments

1. Community needs assessments published by Rotary International.

2. Community Café 

3. Surveys 

4. Focus Groups

5. Personal interviews

6. Community assets 

7. Prioritize results 


1. Rotary's Guide to Community Assessment

> Click here to open a PDF of Community Assessment Tools.

> Top

2. Community Café

A community cafe resembles a coffee house or cafe in that groups of peers sit around a table and discuss issues. A community cafe format is a great way to gather a lot of information from a diverse group of people in a short amount of time.

During the actual community cafe, participants gather around a table, enjoy light snacks, and discuss a facilitated preplanned question or topic. Participants move to new tables after a certain amount of time and discuss a new question. By the end of the session, each participant will have had the opportunity to discuss all topics. The facilitator records each groups' answers and shares with the entire gathering at the end.

Helpful hints:

  • Choose facilitators who have strong listening skills and won't dominate discussions
  • At least 20 participants is an ideal number.
  • Serve light snacks and drinks that do not get in the way of discussion and can be easily taken from one table to another.
  • Allow at least 1 % hours for this activity.

The following questions may be used to assess the educational strengths, gaps, opportunities and challenges in your community:

1. What are the educational needs of our community?
2. What are our educational resources?
3. Where do you go for educational services (both locally and out of the area)?
4. What are the current barriers to education?
5. What educational opportunities would you like to see in our community?

Inviting a diverse group to the community cafe will insure a deeper study of the issue. You may wish to

  • Patients
  • Medical staff
  • Educators
  • Parents
  • A business person
  • Faith based staff

> Top

3. Surveys (2-4 weeks)

Clinics may want to conduct some form of survey to determine 'felt' needs to supplement the statistical data that is gathered. Clinics may survey existing clients as well as partners, community leaders, and other service providers.

1. Determine the questions to ask.

A. Short and to the point.

B. By adding an 'other' category, respondents may add their own comments as well.

2. Determine the method of asking the questions - on site, through the mail, during meetings, or electronically.

For surveying clients you might consider having surveys available in the waiting room or exam rooms for clients to fill out. You may choose to mail the survey out to clients in a separate mailing or with other information you are distributing. The return rate may be small, therefore utilizing the mail as your only means of gathering the survey information is not recommended.

- If using mail, consider the costs as you should include a self-addressed stamped envelop for replies (as well as with those left directly at clients homes).
- Think about asking a client the questions verses asking them to fill out a questionnaire. This willentail training ofthe staffto insure the questions are being asked in the same manner as well as providing for an area to insure confidentiality.
- Do not assume your clients are without access to the internet and computers. A kiosk type computer in the waiting room as well as maintaining internet e-mail addresses on clients can help to capture information in a quick and concise manner.

For surveying your partners, service providers, and community leaders , begin by compiling a listing of those who you want to contact. Other means may be to mail the survey, or use an electronic survey document such as Survey Monkey ( ) or Zoomerang ( Notifying the partners, service providers and community leaders of this survey can easily be done via e-mail with a friendly reminder sent out half-way through the open time period.

Analysis of both of these surveys will not only provide information on what clients need from their own viewpoint, but will also provide a picture of how the partners, leaders, and others in the community perceive need - which may not always be the same.

> Click here to a sample of surveys.

> Top

4. Focus Groups

Another manner of gathering information is by holding focus groups.

"Needs assessment surveys typically have written closed-ended, relatively narrow questions which are quantitatively scored. Such surveys can be very useful; but they usually can't capture all that a person is thinking or feeling. Responses in a focus group, on the other hand, are typically spoken, open-ended, relatively broad, and qualitative. They have more depth, nuance, and variety. Nonverbal communications and group interactions can also be observed. Focus groups can therefore get closer to what people are really thinking and feeling, even though their responses may be harder ~ or impossible ~ to score on a scale." (Community Toolbox, University of Kansas)

Participants in the focus groups can be agency members, board members, community leaders, clients, partners and stakeholders. Keep in mind how to arrange the focus groups for maximum openness and encouraging participation. Always remember the perceived and real power structures in the community arena including the relationships between clients and staff.

Potential Partners:

  • Public School Board and school officials (including post secondary education)
  • Pre-school providers
  • Private school officials
  • Vocational, technical and college placement officials
  • Local Parent as Teachers Program

Missouri Valley sample:

  • What would our community look like (without poverty, fully educated, if everyone was healthy?)
  • What keeps families (in poverty, poorly educated, unhealthy)?
  • What should we as a community do to address (poverty, education, health)?
  • How do you define (poverty, education, health)?

CHC sample:

  • What can we do to support the community to achieve the outcomes to eliminate (poor health, low education, poverty) in our county?
  • What are the conditions and causes of (poor health, low education, poverty) in our community?
  • Identify programs, strategies and initiatives that have been successful in reducing (poor health, low education, poverty).
  • What steps could be taken to reduce (reducing poverty, promoting health, increasing education) in our community?
  • What role(s) could we and others interested in (reducing poverty, promoting health, increasing education) and creating an economy that works for all play in our community?

Education sample:

  • Will addressing this issue eliminate poverty or stabilize a family to help them become more healthy?
  • Is there a high incidence of students not completing high school? If so, are they able to get their GED?
  • If there is a high incidence of drop-out and low GED attainment - why?
  • Where do students go after graduation?
  • How many graduate from college?
  • Is child care available?
  • Do the hours of child care services relate to educational opportunities? (For instance, is care availablefor evening learning classes)
  • Are there eligible children not taking advantages of Head Start or Early Head Start programs?
  • Are there transportation issues affecting a family's ability to access education? What might be some of the root causes of the problems identified by the data?
  • What assets does the community have in this issue area?

> Top 

5. Personal Interviews

A final way to gather viewpoints as to the felt needs of a community is to conduct personal
interviews with the clients, partners, staff, and community leaders. Personal interviews allow for
you to delve deeper into various aspects of the questions, however, the process of personal
interviews will take more time.
General questions for partnership or stakeholder focus groups or personal interviews could
include the following:

  • Do you address this issue or need in the community? (Education, housing, employment,
  • child care, etc.)
  • How do you address this issue? (advocacy, direct service, referral)
  • What do you see are the challenges facing this issue in the community?
  • Who else is working on this issue in your area?
  • How would you know your programs were successful?

It is recommended that the agency consider putting together a cross functional team of agency
staff to discuss the issues facing the many clients who are served by the various programs. The
community needs assessment, while required for CSBG (Community Services Block Grant) and
Head Start funding, if comprehensive and multi-faceted should provide the background for the
whole agency’s strategic plan and provide the framework for discovering other programs and
funding. The above questions can be revised for such a group and might look like the following:

  • How do we address this issue or need in the community?
  • What do you see are the challenges facing these issues in the community?
  • Who do you partner with when you need to help someone who is facing this issue? Who should the agency partner with when addressing these issues?
  • How will we know if we are successful?

> Top

6. Community Assets

> Click here to view and download the PDF


7. Prioritize Results

The last step in the needs assessment process is the prioritization of the issues to give the clinic an idea ofwhich area to focus on first. All ofthe issues are important and have an effect on health, poverty and the community. By prioritizing issues, clinics with limited time and resources can determine which issue to address, whether addressing one issue more comprehensively may help to solve other issues, and whether an agency should address an issue or let it be addressed by others.

After prioritizing issues, the clinic can then move on to determine goals, objectives and action steps for their strategic plan. Finally, prioritization can heip the clinic focus on areas for new funding, trying new strategies, developing more partnerships, integrating services and creating change.

Prioritization questions
One way to begin the process is to hold a general conversation around questions relative to each issue area.
1. What has been done in the past to address this issue?
2. Why should we be interested in this issue?
3. What can be done to address this issue?
4. Who (what agency, group, organization) should address this issue? Can the agency address the issue alone, who should partner with the agency to address the issue, who in the agency should address the issue?
5. Do we have control over this issue? Do we have control over an aspect ofthis issue? Control does not mean dominance. In this context it means the agency can actually effect change regarding the issue.
6. Do we have the capabilities (skills, funding, and knowledge) to address this issue? Do we have to spend time and resources learning new skills or programs to help address the issue?
7. What programs do we currently have that can help address this issue?
8. What might we change in our way of doing business that could help address the issue?

Nominal Group process
One of the first ways to begin narrowing down the multiple lists of issues is to use a nominal group process. The most common way this is done is to put on a large paper all of the issues and give the individuals in the group a certain number of sticky notes/dots/or markers and let them 'vote' with those dots the issues of their highest priority. Individuals may place one dot/marker on each concern or they may place all their dots on one area if they believe it is the one that is of highest priority.

> Top