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Needs Assessments

An assessment of training desires, job descriptions, and knowledge, skills, & abilities (KSAs)

Training Needs Analysis

A method of identifying of the direct needs of the community

Community Needs Analysis

A comparison between current conditions and desired conditions

Gap Analysis

An opportunity to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

SWOT Analysis

Identifying the Gaps


Needs Assessments are a form of analysis that find the gaps between the current situation and desired outcomes. It requires input from multiple different points of view, and an honest look at current resources.There are many ways to conduct a needs assessment, and many different focuses for them. You might be looking for underserved populations, program weaknesses, or unidentified needs.

Needs Assessments

Creating a Needs Assessment

Step 1: Goals

Identify what it is you are trying to accomplish. Set up specific questions that you hope to answer.

Step 6: Analysis

Create a theory and action plan based on the feedback results, and begin implementation.

Step 5: Feedback

Use the results as a guideline to survey community approval to solidify internal and external needs.

Step 4: External

Discuss or survey externally with groups and participants to see what gaps they see from an outside perspective.

Step 3: Internal

Discuss or survey internally with staff and stakeholders to see what they think our current needs are.

Step 2: Resources

Identify current resources specific to the project as well as intangibles like time, budget, and staff.

Understand your goals to create a useful needs assessment

Here are some questions to ask in establishing your goals:

  • Are we trying to solve a specific problem, or are we looking for an overall assessment?
  • What does a successful needs analysis look like? What are we hoping to discover?
  • Is our goal measurable? Can our goals be translated into questions that are measurable?
  • What do we plan on doing with this information? How will it be used to understand our path moving forward?
  • What limitations do we have in conducting this research? What challenges do we foresee?
  • Are there other factors that may impact what we are trying to study?


Before you can begin an assessment, you have to narrow down what you are trying to accomplish. You must come up with specific goals and questions to understand the purpose of the needs assessment. If your goals are too broad, your needs assessemnt won't produce usable results. You also have to think about the limitations of your goals. There may be difficulties in reaching target populations, individuals may react unexpectedly to the subject, and there may be underlying factors that impact the topic. While limitations are more impactful later in the needs assessment process, it's important to think about them early on so that they don't surprise you at the end of your analysis.

Establishing Goals

Understand current available resources, and expected project requirements

Here are some resources to consider:

  • Time/Duration
  • Deadlines
  • Project Timeline
  • Budget
  • Staff Hours
  • Staff Qualifications
  • Software Tools


It's important to understand your bandwidth before beginning the project. Your analysis is going to suffer if you do not have the capacity to accomplish all of your goals -- you'll feel pressured at the end to get it finished and your results will not be as useful. It's important to specify expected usage as well as available resources for a project. If necessary, you may need to define maximums that you are not willing/able to exceed. Setting up an achievable resource bank will not only yield useful results, but it will improve morale, especially towards the end of the project when fatigue starts to set in. The resources you are able to allocate to a project depend on scope, topic, urgency, manpower, deadlines, time of fiscal year, and a variety of other factors.

Identifying Resources

Depending on whether you choose to form a master plan in house or hire a consultant, a master plan may take 1-2 years to develop, thousands of staff hours, dozens of staff members, and/or hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish.

Master Plan Needs

A SWOT analysis may require getting the entire department together for a few days to brainstorm, followed by a few additional staff members compiling and analyzing the data, potentially requiring software, and may take up to 6 months to complete.

Department SWOT

A training needs analysis may be a short process of running a report in established software, or it may be a longer process taking 1-2 years, dozens of staff members, and requiring a job description review.

Training Needs

A gap analysis will take all of the project managers and subject matter experts responsible for the project between 2-9 months to complete based on project scope.

Project Gap Analysis

Discuss needs and expectations with staff, and stakeholders

Involving staff and stakeholders does not necessarily mean sitting down and talking. Feedback can be received through interviews, open panels, meetings, focus groups, surveys, mind maps, and more. These discussion should include current approaches, improvements, strengths, weaknesses, ideas, resources, and challenges. It's not enough to make a declarative statement about your needs. An organic conversation about experiences is going to yield better results than directly asking "what are our weaknesses." Being able to pull information from organic conversations requires keen listening skills and an open mind, but is exremely effective in collecting information.


Internal Surveying

Discuss with external stakeholders for a new perspective

Here are some groups you may consider reaching out to for external perspectives:Special Interest GroupsEnthusiast Clubs/OrganizationsUnsampled ParticipantsSubject Matter ExpertsConsultants


External stakeholders can provide a fresh perspective. If you've been thinking about a project too long, it's easy to become blind to logical errors, bias, and inefficiency. Bringing in new groups to vet the process can help alleviate those blind spots. It's important to choose a wide variety of external stakeholders. Everyone has bias, and choosing a diverse group of stakeholders can mitigate bias. In the same vein, a diverse group of stakeholders has a diverse set of strengths, expertise, and interests. Do not discount the perspective of adjacent groups simply because their stake is small. Entities with little stake in the project may provide a more wholistic view than key stakeholders.Surveying external stakeholders can be done similarly to surveying internal stakeholders.

External Surveying

Management may involve coworkers, leaders, managers, supervisors, directors, boards, or City Council.


Partners may include complementary agencies, non-profits, professional services, subject matter experts, and more.

Project Partners

Community members include everyone we serve: residents, parents, children, neighbors, participants, and more.

Community Members

Now that you have a list, you want to test your findings with diverse stakeholders to gauge reactions and priorities through surveys, focus groups, rankings or panel interviews.

Get Feedback

With all information collected, it's time to create a report. The report can take the form of written word, charts, graphs, weighted rankings, maps, frequencies, and more. It should include not only the items that were reported on, but the spirit behind the sentiment. Anyone reading the report should understand what items are needed, why they are needed, and what their impact will be.After the results are documented, the report can be used to formulate an action plan based on the identified needs.


If passed, the Airport Bond would have allowed the city to go into approximately $200 Million in debt for the construction of a commercial wing of the airport. Residents opposed the construction of a commercial wing entirely, citing concerns about pollution, traffic, and noise, and voted no on the bond. They expected City Council to see how opposed they are to allocating resources to a commerical wing and stop the airport expansion.City Council, however, always had plans to move forward with the expansion. Approval of the expansion itself was not the question on the ballot: The ballot only asked whether or not residents approved the city to go into debt. Council did not view the no vote as a reason to stop the airport expansion, but a reason to continue to educate the public on the benefits of the expansion. As a result of not being approved, Council pursued alternative funding for the airport expansion, including corporate partnerships, which ultimately limited the economic benefit to McKinney. This is a prime example of miscommunication, and a disconnect between objective and response. One question was being asked, but another question was being answered. It's important to keep this in mind when establishing goals.

2023 Airport Bond Vote

In 2023, McKinney put an Airport Bond on the election ballot.

This may indicate an underserved population, a need for more interpreters, or an opportunity for ASL/English courses. This statement leaves room for detailed conversation to discover and implement an improvement.

Trying out new programs is fun and innovative, but a needs analysis is not the place to discuss experimental programs for the sake of trying something new or competing with local cities. This is one opinion, and not an area to improve in.


"I think skydiving classes would be fun"

"We've needed ASL interpreters in most of our after school programs"

Local Residents

Local residents may have concerns about an upcoming project that were dismissed or minimized at an earlier stage.


Consultant companies frequently have specialized training, certifications, or knowledge that internal staff doesn't have.

Tennis Club

The local Tennis Club may have helpful information about group dynamics and functional use.