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Needs Assessment

Conducting a needs assessment is an integral part of program planning and development. A needs assessment provides a description of who a project is for and why it is needed.


A needs assessment is a systematic method of identifying the health needs of a population¹. While it is important for a needs assessment to be systematic, this does not mean it attempts to cover the entire scope of a health issue². Instead a needs assessment assists in describing the state of health in the target group, enable the identification of risk factors and causes of the issue, and enables the identification of the actions needed to address these³.

The needs assessment process involves exploring the current evidence on the health issue (e.g. epidemiological data, community perspectives, cost effectiveness etc.) to determine priorities². It is important for this approach to balance ethical and economic considerations; what should be done, what can be done, and what can be afforded².

The two main stages of undertaking a needs assessment are described below:

  1. Identify the health problem:
  • Identify and consult stakeholders.
  • Collect data and conduct a preliminary review of the literature.
  • Discuss data with stakeholders.
  • Determine priorities with stakeholders.
  1. Analyse the health issue:
  • Conduct a more specific literature review.
  • Describe the target group.
  • Explore the health problem.
  • Identify the factors which influence the health problem.
  • Assess community resources.

By the end of the needs assessment you should have:

  • An agreement on a high priority health problem.
  • An indication of the magnitude of the health problem.
  • A target group with a set of clearly identified characteristics.
  • A set of contributing factors for the health problem, sorted into pre-disposers, enablers and reinforces.
  • An indication of community resources to be involved in the health planning process.
  • Commitment from a range of stakeholders to bring about change.
  • Key people (allies, stakeholders, community members etc.) identified and involved in program planning.


For further information and resources to assist you in developing a needs assessment, check the links below.


The SiREN Program Planning and Evaluation Toolkit can support you to undertake a needs assessment. See section 1.0 - ‘Who is your program for and why is it needed?’ You can also contact SiREN for personalised advice on how to undertake a needs assessment at


PABCAR is a decision-making tool for health program planning and is useful for the needs assessment process. The SiREN Program Planning and Evaluation Toolkit provides an overview of this tool and links to more resources. See section 2.5 - ‘Program planning tools and templates.’

Health Needs Assessment Workbook

This workbook steps you through the stages of developing a health needs assessment.

The Community Tool Box

This website has a toolkit called Assessing Community Needs and Resources that will assist you to conduct a needs assessment as well as a guide on how to undertake a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).


  1. Cavanagh, S & Chadwick, K. (2005). Summary: Health needs assessment at a glance. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
  2. Wright, J., Williams, R., & Wilkinson, J. R. (1998). Development and importance of health needs assessment. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 316(7140), 1310-3.
  3. World Health Organization. (2001). Community Health Needs Assessment. Copenhagen, Denmark.