What method would you use (interview, focus group, questionnaire)?

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To prepare for this Assignment, review the needs assessment plans that you and your classmates generated for this week’s Discussion. Also, review the logic models that you created in Week 7 and any literature on needs of caregivers that you used to generate them. Consider the following to stimulate your thinking:

  • Getting information about the needs of the target population:
    • Who would informants be?
    • What is your purpose for interacting with them?
    • What questions would you ask?
    • What method would you use (interview, focus group, questionnaire)?
  • Finding potential clients:
    • Who would informants be?
    • What is your purpose for interacting with them?
    • What questions would you ask?
    • What method would you use?
  • Interacting with the target population:
    • Who would informants be?
    • What is your purpose for interacting with them?
    • What questions would you ask?
    • What method would you use?

BY DAY 7

Submit a 2- to 3-page paper outlining a hypothetical needs assessment related to the support group program for caregivers. Include the following:

  • The resources needed to operate this service
  • The program activities
  • The desired outcomes
  • A plan for gathering information about the population served
  • Justifications for your plans and decisions
  • A one-paragraph conclusion describing how you might conduct a follow-up to the needs assessment at the implementation stage of the program evaluation

    Document: Tutty, L. M., & Rothery, M. A. (2010). Needs assessments. In B. Thyer (Ed.), The handbook of social work research methods (2nd ed.,pp. 149–162). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (PDF)Copyright 2010 by Sage Publications, Inc.
    Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications, Inc. via the Copyright Clearance Center.

    OPTIONAL RESOURCES

    Stewart, K. E., Phillips, M. M., Walker, J. F., Harvey, S. A., & Porter, A. (2011). Social services utilization and need among a community sample of persons living with HIV in the rural south. AIDS Care, 23(3), 340–347. Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

 

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Needs Assessments Leslie M. Tutty and Michael A. Rothery eeds assessments are a form of research conduclcd to gather information about the needs of a population or group in a community. One of the more practical types of research, needs assessments are used to develop new services or to evaluate the relevance of existing programs. They may also be used to establish a need to revise or create policy. Th is chapter begins with a definition o[ needs assessment, how we define “needs:’ and how we determine who to ask about needs. Common methodological approaches to n eeds assessments are described and evaluated using examples p rimarily from the social work literature. The benefits of triangulation, or using more than one source or method of gathering information, are presented, followed by a discussion of who shou ld digest and weigh inform at i.on about needs once the information is ga thered. Finally, we consider th e importance of developing a plan to implement recommendations so that the work of assessing needs is used to clients’ benefits, not relegated to the shelves occupied by other dusty and neglected reports. N What Is a Needs Assessment? Needs assessments have not changed much over the years. In 1982, Kuh (cited in Stabb, 1995) listed five general purposes commonly served by needs assessment research that remain relevant today: l. Monitoring stakeholders’ perceptions of various issues, which can guide the devel- opment of new programs or policies 2. Justifying existing policies or programs 3. Assessing client satisfacti on with services 4. Selecting the most desirable program or policy from several alternatives 5. Determining if needs have been met, a purpose closely akin to program evaluation Two key questions are addressed when needs <1ssessments are undertaken: “Wh o?” and “IIow?” The “who” question requires the researcher to be dear about the membership of the group whose needs are to be assessed. Often, a study entails gathering information from a variety of respondents, from individuals who may never have been clients to those 149 150 PART II • QUAII.TITATIVE APPROACHES: TYPES OF STUDIES receiving multiple services. In almost every case, however, at least one set of respondents will be the individuals who are most immediately affected by gaps in services or supports, rather than relying solely on the opinions of service providers, academics, or funders. The “how” question addresses the methods used to gather informa tion from the group whose needs are of interest. These are not unique; rather, needs assessments borrow familiar techniques such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups, all of which are highlighted in other chapters in this book. Quantitative methods such as surveys or standardized measures may be used, as may qualitative methods such as in-depth individual interviews or focus groups. Combinations of both arc increasingly popular since each method has its advantages and limitations. Defining Need When we invoke the concept of needs, we may easily assume that we share with others a common understanding of what it is we are talking about. However, it is worthwhile looking more closely at the definition of the term since useful characteristics and distinctions are highlighted when we do so. The concept of need is not new: Researchers have been defining and redefining the term for decades. Stabb (1995) distinguishes between met and zmmet needs. “Met needs are necessary or desirable conditions that already exist in actuali ty. Unmet needs arise when there is a discrepancy between desirable conditions and current actuality” (p. 52). Both met and unmet needs could conceivably become the focus of needs assessm ent research, although unmet needs will be the main concern in the vast majority of cases. A different distinction (perhaps more useful for our purposes) is provided by Witkin and Altschuld (1995), who define a need as “a discrepancy or gap between ‘what is,’ or the present state of affairs and \vhat should be; or a desi red state of affairs” (p. 4). In this analysis, needs equate with unmet needs, the most common fo cus fo r needs assessment research. Revere, Berkowitz, Carter, and Ferguson (1996) add the suggestion that need is defined by “community values, [and is) amenable to change” (p. 5). From these perspectives (and with reference to considerations introduced earlier), a needs assessment gathers information about gaps between real and ideal conditions, the reasons that these gaps exist, and what can be done about them , all within the con text of t.he beliefs of the community and available resources for change. Another distinction introduces the question of degree. Some needs are stronger or more important than others. f undamental needs with relevance to people’s survival, safety, or basic comforts are not the same as “wants” or less compell ing needs. A social work professor’s desire for a week in Mexico as a break from winter is qualitatively very different from a homeless person’s need for food and shelter in the face of the same cold conditions. While it is often difficult to draw the line between relatively important needs and less important wants, it is still important to do so. Needs assessments are focused on needs that affect ind ividuals’ abilities to function well in important areas of their lives. Wants associated with perceived quality of life (but not to the same extent with life’s real essentials) are more lhe purview of market research. Social workers generally find Maslow’s (1970) hierarchy of needs useful when considering the needs and priorities of their clients. It is also a framework that can inform needs assessments. Maslow’s five levels of need are physical and life-sustaining needs (such as air, water, food, warmth, and elimination of bodily wastes), physical safety (e.g., protection from physical attack and disease), love and support, self-esteem and self-worth, and self- realization (e.g., needs to be productive and creative) . Maslow contended that these CH APTER 9 • NEEOS A SSESSMENTS 151 basic needs must be attended to before attempting to address higher level needs (or “wants”). Needs assessments can gather information relevant to any one or more of these five levels, but the hierarchy of priorities provides useful criteria fo r deciding on what to focus first in data collection and recorn mending changes. Finally, some authors argue that once an “expressed need” is verbalized, it becomes a want or a demand (Stabb, 1995) . This is not the same as differentiating needs from wants on the basis of the strength of the potential impact on someone’s well -being and is probably less useful for our purposes. However, a related point is noteworthy: Verbal demands are not always the direct expression of need. Just because someone expresses a want does not mean that it represents a need. Thus, in needs assessments, it is important to gather information from members of a population beyond those publicly advocating for specific demands. Who Do We Ask About Needs? The term stakeholders is often used to refer to clients or potential clients or the people who actually n-perience the need thal is being studied. However, Revere and colleagues (1996) suggest broadening the definition to refer to “service providers and management, community members, certain politicians, the funding source, business/trade associations and the actual research •..vorkers” (p. 7) since each of these has a vested interest in the study and its outcomes. Th is flex [ble use of the term is helpful, suggesting a range of potential sources of data and recognizing that needs assessments have ramifications for people beyond those normally surveyed . Needs assessments traditionally look to three groups as sources of data: the target group (i.e., clients or potential clients), key informants such as community leaders or service providers, or a sample of aJI members of the relevant comm unity. Each is described in more detail below. The target group or populatio11 comprises the very individuals about whom we arc concerned and whose needs we wish to assess. Common sense suggests that these are the voices we most wish to listen to in our quest t o gather the best and most current information. However, engaging with individuals to encourage them to share their needs and opinions is not always easy. Highly disadvantaged, socially m arginalized individuals and groups, the typical focus of social workers’ interventions, are nol always accustomed to being asked their opinions and may not easily articulate their needs to a researcher when invited to do so. Furthermore, they may have understandable reasons for n ot trusting members of those who have more power in society, a group to which researchers belong. Consider the homeless as an example, especially the subpopulation that has been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. With any such group, the researcher cannot simply approach and invite them to enumerate Lheir needs. Strategies (and time) for building trust, rapport, and for encouraging engagement in the research process are prerequisites for successful data gathering. McKillip (1998) defines another group serving as a common source of data, key informants, as “opportunistically connected individuals with the knowledge and ability to report on community needs. Key info rmants arc lawyers, judges, physicians, ministers, minority group leaders, and service providers who are aware of the need and services perceived as important by a community” (pp. 272- 273). An advantage of gathering data from key informants is that they may have a broader knowledge of serv ices available in the community than the target population, and they may be better at articulating what needs must be effectively addressed. One disadvantage is that key informants sometimes have a vested interest in developing new services or preserving established resources even 152 PART II • Q UANTITA IIVE A PPROACHES: T YPES OF STUOIES though they arc less than adequate (we all develop loyalties, and these can affect our judgment). McKfllip (1998) also notes that key informants may underesti1nate the willingness of members of the target population to participate in programs while overestimating the extent of the problems. The third group, community members, comprises the entire citizen ry of a comm unity. This group encompasses members of the target population but also includes those not directly affected by these needs. Approaching community members for information has the advantage of identifying how broadly based the needs are, rather than assuming that they are restricted to the target population. lt also offers the opportunities to learn about how needs (and the strategies Lo ameliorate them) are perceived in the community at large and to think about how that v.rill affect efforts to implement changes. A disadvantage, though, is that community members m ay be relatively t111awarc of the needs of its more marginalized citizens. In summary, each of these groups may be the focus of the needs assessmen t methods documented in the next several sections. The choice of whom to engage may be based on access to the group or limitations of tin1e and resources. If possible, representation from each of the target population, key community stakeholders, and members of the general public is worth considering as each provides valuable but somewhat different information. Methods of Needs Assessment As mentioned previously, one ca n conduct needs assessments u sing a variety of strategies. We will d£scuss methods in lwo broad categories, quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative methods gather data that are translated into numerical form and described using statistics. Using such methods, it is possible, for example, to conclude that in a sample of 102 shelter residents, 70.5% of these women abused by intimate partners were abused themselves as children and described 73.7% of their par tners as also having been abused (Tutty & Rothery, 2002). Such high proportions may be interpreted as suggesting the need for early in tervention with children in shelters in the hope of preventing the cycle of violence from affecting a new generation. Providing statistics about the extent of a need can be a powerful method of raising awareness of the severity of gaps in services. The section on quantilative needs assessment will describe three such methods: surveys, s tandardized needs assessment measures, and using existing statistical databases. In cont rast, qualitative needs assessments ask questions that are more open-ended and allow the research info rma nt to describe in detail the complexities of the issues at hand. for example, a qualital ive needs assessment conducting in terviews with another group of ,63 abused women residing in a shelter noted that providing for their basic needs such as safety and food was of great importance (Tutty, Weaver, & Rothery, 1999) . However, some women expressed concerns about the fact that a few residents were difficult to live with, and some mothers did not m anage lhcir children’s aggressive behavior or ignored them. These results suggest a somewhat different focus for intervention by crisis counselors and the need to provide parenting programs for some residents. Results from qualitative needs assessments often lack s tatistical dat a that could convey the extent of the problem, but they tend to be rich in detail that conveys the complexities and uniqueness of the experiences of different individuals. The qualitative needs assessments methods described in the chapter include interviews (either face-to-face or by tele- ~!1~ll~h f8EU~ KrGUp~. nomtm1 groupg, ~nd t CMh halt meetings. CHAPTER 9 • NEEDS ASSESSMENTS 153 Quantitative Methods of Needs Assessment Surveys Allhough surveys may ask open-ended qualitative questions, the great majority are developed for quantitative data analysis. Quantitatively oriented surveys, particularly those employing questionnaires, are the most frequent method of assessing needs. The tasks involved in developing a survey to assess needs are identical to those undertaken when surveys arc developed for other purposes, so they will not be detailed here. The major steps involve 1. Deciding who Lo survey (e.g., target groups, key informants) 2. Selecting a method of sampling (e.g., random or systematic sample) 3. Determining the content of items (through reviewing the literature or holding focus groups with key informants, as only two examples) 4. Ch oosing what type of question to use (e.g., open-ended, multiple choice, or scaled with respect to the extent of agreement) 5. Selecting a method of distribution (e.g., the Internet, mail, or telephone) The advantages of surveys include the ease and flexibility with which they can be administered compared to other methods and the relative lack of expense to collect a considerable amount of data. Disadvantages include the extent to which a set questionnaire can predetermine the issues that respondents address and the consequent danger of not hearing about needs that would emerge in a more open-ended process. With such risks in mind, Witkin and Altschuld (1995) recommend being cautious about assuming that a written questionnaire is the most app ropriate tool when considering conducting a needs assessment. While a questionnaire can be an important tool, they suggest that it should not be used until after more exploratory methods have been employed to ensure that the factors measured by questionnaire items are as well chosen as possible. Furthermore, some cultural groups find surveys strange or difficult (especially if English is not one’s first language) and respond negatively to them. Weaver (1997), for example, described a questionnaire developed to assess the needs of an off-reservation Native American community in an urban area. A large number of qu estionnaires were mailed out, with virtually no returns. The alternative of a qualitative approach including focus groups and individual interviews was adopted with considerably greater success. An example of a needs assessment that employed survey methods more appropriately is Brennan Homiak and Singletary’s (2007) study that surveyed Christian clergy members from 15 denominations in central Texas with respect Lo their perceptions of the number in their congregation experiencing intimate partner violence and what clergy needed to better address this serious concern. Of the 100 surveys mailed, 44 were returned, a somewhat low but not unusual return rate for mailed surveys. The clergy members estimated that less than IOo/o of their congregation members experienced partner violence–low when compared to incidence studies in Texas that cited lifetime rates of 47%. Only about one third of the clergy had received domestic violence-specific training; they were more likely to have resource materials in their churches and were familiar with local agencies and shelters for abused women. While a small proportion of the clergy considered themselves very equipped to counsel victims of domestic violence or make referrals, the majority did not. The authors recommend that social workers take the lead in offering training to assist the clergy in promoting violencefree congregations. 154 PART II • Q uANTilATIVE A PPROACHES: TYPES OF STUDIE~ As mentioned previously, surveys may usc both check-lis t type, predetermined responses and open-ended questions that allow for m ore context ual detai led responses and arc analyzed using qualitat ivc methods. A recent example of using open-ended questions is a survey with 206 agency-based social work field instructors, querying their initial awareness, personal and professional needs, and field issues that arose in response to the World Trade Center disaster of Septem ber lith, 2001. The field instructors had clearly been weary but retained sensitivity to studen t and client needs. The results suggest the importance of developing an integrated crisis plan to better link the school, students, and field instructors in the event of future disasters. Standardized Needs Assessment Measures A relatively new needs assessme11t methodology entails developing stand ardized measures to assess the needs of a specific population group. For example, Wancata and colleagues (2006) initially used focus groups and in depth individual interviews to develop a measure comprising 18 common problems experienced by caregivers of adults diagnosed with schizophrenia. The difficulties were translated into items such as “not enough information on the illness, its symptoms and course,” “fear of stigmatization and discriminat ion,” and ” burnout or illness of the carer.” Using such a measure in other needs assessment research has the advantage of building on the work that has gone into identifying and conceptualizing potentially important n eeds and of using a measure for whi ch reliabil ity and validity will often have been established. A possible disadvantage is that needs proven relevant to caregivers of adults diagnosed \’l’ith schizophrenia in one location may not have the same importance in others. Conversely, items about other needs tha t are important in a new loca le may be m issing from the standardized measure. Using Existing Statistical Information Another quantitative method of conducting needs assessments is using da ta that have been previously collected. Existing data may be available in agency fi les or governmen t data banks, for example. Such secondary analyses have the advantage of sparing researchers the time and expense of gathering new data. A d isadvantage is that one is lim ited to data that someone else considered worth gathering, and potentially important variables may be absent or may need to be inferred indirectly from the data that were recorded. Reviewing case fil es can be challenging. As a follow-up to a previously completed study on the …
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