Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Paula Butler, Regional Program Leader for Family and Community Health/4-H and Youth Development, East Region, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
A critical step in the PIE Program Change Model (Figure 1) is to diagnose relevant factors including identifying current practices and conditions. Extension Educators are continually challenged with “reading the educational landscape” in terms of understanding the identified issue and our target audience’s needs.
Figure 1. PIE Program Change Model.
One of the most effective tools Extension Educator employees is a needs assessment. According to Seevers and Graham (2012), it is the educator’s responsibility to work with clientele to identify and prioritize the needs of learners and decide how best to allocate resources in terms of time, money, energy, and volunteers in order to achieve maximum results. The outcomes for programs should be based on current information about the needs of the people (Seever & Graham, 2012).
Needs assessments enable the Extension Educator identify current production practices, technology utilized, eating habits, exercise regimes, current beliefs, and the current condition of learners. A “needs assessment is the systematic process of analyzing gaps between what learners (clientele) know and what they should know or can do” (Witkins, 1984). They help Extension educators improve planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs by (Seever & Graham, 2012):
Additionally, some questions typically answered through a needs assessments include (Seever & Graham, 2012):
There are numerous methods for performing needs assessments (Seever & Graham, 2012). In many cases a single technique may be adequate, while in other situations multiple techniques may be necessary (Seever & Graham, 2012).
Watkin (1984) described five categories for needs assessment methods: survey method, social indicators, group processes, future focused methods, and casual analysis. The following (figure 2) provides a list of these methods and a brief description of each method (Seever & Graham, 2012):
Figure 2. Five categories for Needs Assessments.
The results of needs assessments enable the Extension Educator to complete a more revealing situational analysis, which is the description of the setting and circumstances related to a need (Seever & Graham, 2012). Completing an extensive situational analysis enables the Extension Educator to fully understand the environment for programming (Seever & Graham, 2012).
Checklist for evaluating a situational analysis (Forest & Baker, 1994, p. 88):
Needs assessments is an effective tool that provides data that will enable the Extension Educator to focus on critical needs which ensures that limited resources of time, money, and expertise are used effectively to address identified issues (Seever & Graham, 2012).
Forest, L., & Baker, H. (1994). The program planning process. Extension Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Thompson Educational Publishing.
Garst, B. A., & McCawley, P. F. (2015). Solving problems, ensuring relevance, and facilitating change: The evolution of needs assessment within Cooperative Extension. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension Volume, 3(2), 26–47.
Seevers, B., & Graham, D. (2012). Education through Cooperative Extension. (3rd ed.). Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Bookstore
Witkins, B. (1984). Assessing needs in educational and social program.(1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.