Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

Doing a community needs assessment

Communities come in many different forms and all will have different ways of approaching their goals. Once you've gone through the processes of identifying and understanding your community and identifying its assets and resources, you will need to establish how you can best serve its needs.

Finding out what your community says it needs is incredibly important because unless there are common goals, you may be unable to gain committed and motivated volunteers, you may lack your community's, support and you will have little support from funders and stakeholders.

There are resource implications to consultation, and you may have to balance your ideals with your capacities, but consulting your community can be done in many ways.

Look for a process that will both give you the information you want and move you along the way to finding solutions within your present resources.

Questionnaires and surveys can help, focus groups and open-ended investigations are better, and best of all is a forum made up of your communities and stakeholders where you can think things through productively as a community.

Interviews and background research

Begin by talking to a few of the influential people who know about the area - the heads of community groups, local personalities and officials.

Ask them to identify:

If time is very limited, if the issues are really clear, or if you can't afford the resources to go further, this may be all you need to do as you will probably have already developed a reasonable insight into your community's needs.

If you're able to proceed, however, be aware that leaders aren't always in close touch with the situation on the ground. Even when they are up to date, they may have their own interests to serve and their own barrows to push so their perspectives may not be universal.

Remember that the best ideas can spring from the collision of many different positions.

See what research has already been done, with this community or in other similar communities in Australia or overseas. What agencies would hold data on this area? Check government records. Do a thorough search on the internet. Look through the local paper. You don't want to reinvent the wheel (and you don't want to accept previous data uncritically, either).


If there isn't any existing research done about your area, you may want to carry out a survey of your own.

You're not doing an academic research project, you just want a guide to action, so don't fret too much about statistical accuracy. A survey - handed out at a street stall, posted out (if you have a good mailing list), delivered in local mailboxes, or inserted in your newsletter, bulletin or brochure can give you an idea of how people feel about the issues that concern you. Give a copy to anyone who shows an interest.

Survey design will depend on your aims. If you want to establish that there is community support for a particular position you will go about it differently than if you're simply seeking a feel for the priorities of members of the community. Some general questions might be:

Focus groups

Gather a selection of people from your membership base, potential members and other stakeholders around a table and take them through the options for your present and future work. This will help you to throw a real light on your operations and your priorities.

Start with a list of issues, and have a facilitator in the room to stop people wandering too far from the list (unless they're doing it particularly brilliantly). See if people agree, but don't stay around on any one point until they do or you'll never get through the list.


Focus groups are good at finding out about perceptions, but not so good at finding out facts. Don't undercut the opinions expressed by your group, but don't carry your positive attitude as far as not checking their statements before taking action.

You may want to tape focus groups. This can't be done without the full permission of the whole group, and privacy concerns must be addressed - including what will be done with the information collected and how people will hear back about the results of the focus group. The advantage of taping is you don't have to take extensive notes, which may interrupt the discussion.

Groups that have no resource limitations sometimes keep holding focus groups until no new insights come up and you've heard everything before, but you're unlikely to be that well-funded or to have that much time.

Go forward when you're so well provided with new ideas that you have all you can handle.

Community forums

If you want support from the community you're addressing it's important that the community feels an ownership of the process - that they feel they've been genuinely consulted and that their views have been heeded.

Try and get your stakeholders and your partners together to thrash out what's needed, who should do it and how you should work together. The experience and expertise that you can accumulate in a room full of administrators, members and advocates can be very effective in identifying needs and remedies.

On the other hand, this is a lot of work. If you're contemplating taking this on, look around for partners - people with a common interest in some part of the field. What resources can they contribute? Use the process to build relationships and to build trust.

Again, you will probably want to tape these discussions.


When you've gathered all the information that you can use, line up the expressed needs and work out your priorities. Consider:

Pull the common factors and the surprising insights out of your research and see how they line up with your previous assumptions of what your particular community needs.

Think about what new partners have emerged in the course of the consultation process, and how you might be able to work with them.

At the end of the process you should have more than a cold set of statistics - you should have a picture of the agreed needs you should be addressing to best service your community, and a story about how you will go about dealing with them.

This makes up the story that you use to convince, motivate and inspire your volunteers, your staff, and your funders.

Translate this story into a set of new goals and strategies - plans that you can now be more confident of producing results that your community actually needs and wants.

Sample Community Needs Survey

The (insert name of your group) is conducting a survey about our current and future needs.

(Name of group) has brought together supportive individuals and organisations and we've had many achievements - and some defeats. It's now time to stand back and look at what we are doing. Our organisation has been affected by many changes - political changes, economic changes, social changes - and we may need to change in response.

(Name of group) has worked with (insert name of the community you service) for (insert time established e.g. over 10 years) to (insert your purpose e.g. provide advocacy services for mental health consumers).

To help us move forward we would like to hear from you about what you want for our organisation.

After the information gathering is completed a report will be circulated.

Thank you for working with us to make (name of group) better service all our needs.


  1. How would you like to see (name of group) change in the next five years?
  2. Are there needs or gaps in our programs and services that are not being met at the moment?
  3. Are there any changes taking place in (name of group) that concern you? What are they? What might be done about those changes?
  4. What programs do you know of that people are trying in other places that we should try in (name of group)?

About you

We would just like to know a little about who has answered our questionnaire. We promise that the data will be used for no other purpose and will be destroyed after the survey is completed.

(Add here any information that you would like to collect about the respondents - e.g. age, gender, postcode, years of association with your group, etc.)

Anything else?

Please feel free to provide any additional comments that you think will help improve our group:

This survey can be

Mailed to: (your address)
Faxed to: (your fax)
Emailed to: (your email address)



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