The Needs Assessment Process
A Needs Assessment should be undertaken in stages to ensure that all possible factors are considered. A simple five-step process, which covers all aspects of the study, is illustrated below.
The five step needs assessment process
Identify key community values and organisational philosophy
Review of existing provision
- Identification of current and future trends
- Analysis of social indicators
- Existing and comparative provision review
- Community consultation
- Review of SSA Strategic Facility Plans
- Local authority plans
Determination of basic needs
- Analysis and synthesis of the information gathered
- Identification of duplications and gaps in provision
Step one - identify key community values and organisational philosophy
The values identified may relate to:
- Access and availability
- Cultural relevance
- Efficiency and effectiveness
Useful information which could be used to determine these values include:
- Sporting clubs and or association’s development and marketing plans
- Local authority’s principle activity, corporate and business plans
These documents will provide base value starting points to enable common ground to be defined and areas of conflict to be resolved.
Step two - review of existing provision
A review of previous reports and related material is essential at the commencement of the study. An understanding of what has occurred previously will help provide an understanding of past decisions and the basis for those decisions. It will also
provide information which can be of assistance in understanding the issues raised. In essence, previous reports provide background information on current issues and the community to be studied.
Previous reports and information which may be appropriate to the Needs Assessment may include:
- Council files and reports
- Previous recreation reports relating to policy, utilisation and trends
- Recreation plans prepared for the adjoining local authorities
- Reports from regional planning studies
- Commercial planning studies
- Academic studies and thesis
- Land use and statutory planning policies
- State government plans/policies
- Structure plans
- Sport Strategic Facility Plans
Additional to these formal documents, a scan of issues in the local newspapers may also provide useful supplementary information.
Step 3 - information sources
Identification of current and future trends
The trends in sport and recreation need to be identified. Changes in trends of sport and recreation activities will obviously affect the demand for facilities.
Analysis of Social Indicators
A community or population profile is an outline of those demographic, economic and social characteristics of a community which are likely to influence demands for facilities. It is used as a base against which community needs and the assessment
of services can be measured. The profile may be of the whole community or of a particular subgroup of the community, depending on the scale of needs assessment required.
The characteristics used in the profile can be grouped into the following three categories:
- Broad population groups that are likely to have specific needs, such as groups at various stages in life and special needs groups (e.g. migrants or single parents for who access to services should be a consideration)
- Functional categories of needs, such as education, housing, and ethnicity
- Geographical areas in which specific needs can be identified and satisfied
The profile normally includes the following information:
- A description of the demographic, economic and social characteristics of the population
- An analysis of trends, over time, of these characteristics
- Projections of population size and age structure including anticipated changes in economic and social characteristics in the future
The major characteristics of interest are:
- The size and spread of the population
- The age/sex structure
- The family structure
Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey
The Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS) is a joint initiative of the Australian Sports Commission and state and territory departments of sport and recreation. ERASS collects information on the frequency, trends, nature and type of activities
of persons aged 15 years and over for exercise, recreation and sport. The survey is conducted quarterly throughout Australia.
Data should only be collected if it is directly related to the study purpose. For example, there is little value in providing detailed information on community composition if the study is determining the need for a bore on a reserve. However,
the age composition of a particular location becomes vital when considering the development of a bowling club.
It is important to analyse and provide brief written commentary on relevant statistics. Matters to be considered include the following:
- Identify significant characteristics
For example “Over 52 per cent of the population is under 25 years of age.”
- Identify significant trends
For example: “The 0–14 aged group has declined consistently over the 1995–2005 period while the over 55 age group has increased consistently.”
- Provide reasons for an apparent situation:
For example “The population density is centered in the western half of the study area. This is due to the Industrial Park occupying the eastern sector.”
- Indicate factors which may cause changes to
For example: “The population base is currently quite small being only 6,500, but the recent approval for a high density subdivision in the area is expected to increase the population which will have a significant impact on the future
needs of the community.”
- Draw comparisons of data
For example: “The population statistics of the City of … indicate there is a high concentration of 10–14 year olds when compared to the overall state demography.”
- Identify any problems with the data
The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects census data every five years. Publication of this information is released over a period of 18 months. Therefore, if studies are undertaken towards the latter end of a census period, the situation
may change considerably in some areas.
In smaller communities be aware that a high percentage increase in population may not increase the facility needs of that community.
In conclusion, the development of a community profile provides valuable information about the study area but it should not be the only source of information about the community. In most cases the information obtained should be supplemented
with some form of community consultation.
Existing and comparative provision reviews
Inventory of existing facilities and services
The Facilities Mapping Project developed by the Department of Sport and Recreation should assist in this process.
Preparing an inventory essentially involves gathering information on the availability and usage of services and facilities provided for the community. The primary function is to allow an assessment of the adequacy of existing provision. Once existing
provision is known and recorded and potential demand identified from the community profile, it is then possible to determine:
- Areas of need for which there are no or few services provided
- Special needs groups for whom there are no or few services provided
- Any imbalance in the distribution of services in respect to potential need
What to include in the inventory
All services and facilities relevant to the study brief and available for use by community groups and individuals should be included. Those services and facilities, that are located outside the area but cater for the local community, should also
The multiple use of facilities is common and all activities must be identified. Some inventories identify only the primary use of a facility and thereby risk omitting small but important service provision.
The following details may be obtained for each service or facility depending on the nature and scope of the study.
- Contact person and telephone number
- Sponsor or provider
- Type of service provided
- Type and components of facility
- Age groups catered for
- Geographical area covered
- Opening times
- Cost to user
- Frequency of use
- Staffi ng levels, paid and voluntary
- Source of funding
- Building capacity
- Building condition
- Level of accessibility
Proposals that are likely to go ahead in the foreseeable future should be noted.
The scope of the inventory
Preparing inventories is a resource intensive exercise. Information should be collected only on services and facilities related to the proposed project.
The need to create a full inventory will only be necessary when undertaking a comprehensive Community Needs Assessment.
A comparative assessment is based on participation trends in other comparable communities or facilities to that being considered. For instance, when considering the use of recreation facilities within a community of 10,000 it would be appropriate
to consider a comparative assessment of other communities of a similar size and nature, also taking into consideration the financial performance of their facilities. Care should be taken to ensure that the nature is indeed similar i.e. variations
such as coastal versus inland can make a significant difference.
Two reasons for using comparative information are:
- It will assist in providing an understanding of the likely behavioural patterns in a particular community
- It will help to confirm the accuracy of participation trends identified through consultation in the study
Standards are generally developed on an historical basis which is unlikely to reflect actual or future need given all of the other changes in the community. They do not usually provide an adequate basis for planning.
Standards should be used with caution as they do not recognise facilities provided in an adjoining local authority which may be located within the catchment of the facility. Also, there may be numerous other factors which may influence the use
of a given facility in a given area.
They should never be used in isolation or as absolutes.
Geographic and facilities information systems
Major developments in collating inventory information have emerged over the past few years with the advent of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Facilities Information Systems (FIS).
Two of the most widely used GIS systems are MapInfo and ArcInfo. Both are computer-based tools for recording and mapping a wide range of information, including recreation provision, which will assist planners and managers with their work.
A GIS has considerable potential as a planning tool, especially for municipalities with a large diverse range of opportunities or where identifying regional patterns of provision is important to making effective planning decisions.
Computer based GIS systems require resources including the cost of installing and maintaining large integrated systems, the need for considerable user training and a commitment to regularly updating information.
While it is recognised that GIS and FIS systems may not have an application in the ‘small’ Needs Assessment, the existence of these tools for large complex studies and their importance to regional planning should not be overlooked.
In addition, the Department of Sport and Recreation in partnership with the Department of Land Information (DLI) has developed a sport and recreation based Facilities Mapping Tool. The Facilities Mapping Tool may assist in selecting locations
for new facilities, map and report on parks and recreation sites, display and analyse land use data, population analysis, update land development and boundary data as well as provide information on user groups utilising the facilities. This
source will require regular information updates from local government authorities to ensure its relevance.
Community consultation is a vital and integral part of the Needs Assessment process. Involving the community in the process is almost as important as the outcomes and should not be underestimated in its ability to be used as a tool in the community
No one consultative technique is likely to provide all the answers. A range of techniques should be used in conjunction with information gained from literature reviews, community profiles, inventories and other relevant data.
An important task in Needs Assessment is separating ‘wants’ from ‘needs’. In many facility developments it can be seen that sometimes the ‘wants’ have been translated into a need that has not been tested and
examined fully, leading to underutilised, costly and/or poorly located facilities.
Through an extensive consultation phase, many of the identified ‘wants’ can be tested against community values and desired futures. That is, what may be a need of one individual or group can be questioned and analysed against other
identified need in order to determine the priority of a community.
Methods of consultation include the following:
- Public meetings
- Community surveys and questionnaires
- Consultative groups / charettes
- Press releases and advertisements
- service providers
- key community members
- Search conference
- Steering committee
Refer to the Department of Sport and Recreation’s publication, “Community Consultation Guide”.
Review of state sports associations (SSA’s) sport strategic facility plans
Beginning in 2003 a number of sports that are large consumers of facilities are being progressed through a Strategic Facility Planning process. These plans will evolve in effectiveness over time as a useful planning aid.
The plans seek to challenge existing facility provision, especially in the context of demographic and planning policy changes. They also challenge sports to consider future needs in outer growth areas and develop better partnerships with local
and state government. Facility planners and project proponents should refer to these plans where they exist.
Local Authority Plans
Legislation requires Local Government Authorities to produce leisure or activity plans. These plans should assist facility planners to ascertain a framework and the future direction of facilities planning within in the local authority.
Step four – determination of basic needs
Analysis and synthesis of the information gathered
The information collected during the Needs Assessment is of little use unless it is effectively analysed. This means identifying trends, patterns, relationships and themes running through the information gathered.
It is at this stage that the ‘wants’ identified in the community consultation are assessed in relation to the other information gathered and the ‘needs’ are identified.
These findings must be assessed in the context of the purpose of the study and the corporate and community values identified in Step 1 of the Needs Assessment Process.
Identification of duplication and gaps in provision
A number of differing methods can be utilised to analyse the information gathered. The analysis must ensure the study’s purpose is to the forefront and avoid over-analysing the data.
Some analysis methods, which have been found to be useful, include the following:
- A simple totalling of facilities by numbers and type
- The plotting of facility catchment areas on a map
- An analysis of the ‘mix’ of services available at each facility
- The geographic assessment of duplications and gaps
- The distribution of facilities by other characteristics such as cost, management, flexibility in program delivery and land availability for redevelopment
- Examine the appropriateness of facilities and programs to the community in which they are located, i.e. a sporting facility located in an aged community may be more appropriate to convert to a seniors centre
It is important that assessments are undertaken within an appropriate catchment. They should not be restricted by local government boundaries.
The information gathered should be presented in a clear and concise manner. The listing of 200 or even 20 facilities and their services in a table form will have little impact on the reader who may not have the time to consider the detail.
A more appropriate method would be to graphically depict the information on a study area map thus clearly showing the spatial relationship of one facility to another.
Step five - development proposal
It is important to keep an ‘open mind’ to the possible outcomes of the Needs Assessment process. The Needs Assessment should not be undertaken with the preconceived idea that a facility is needed. A number of options might be identified
which meet the needs of the community. These options could include:
- The development of a new facility
- The upgrading of existing facilities
- Providing new programs at existing facilities
- Increasing the advertising of existing programs regarding costing
- Nothing is required
The Needs Assessment should provide as much detail as possible with regard to any new facilities, services or programs which are being proposed. This will assist planners in the concept development stage of the Feasibility Study, which is the
next phase in the Facility Planning Process.