Conducting Needs Assessments: A Multidisciplinary Approach


Fernando I. Soriano

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Foundational Knowledge

    Part II: Planning

    Part III: Methods

    Part IV: Approaching Participants

    Part V: Finalizing the Study

  • Copyright

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    My first professional job after I obtained my PhD in psychology was as a research psychologist for the US Navy. It was during my tenure with the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center in San Diego that I first became interested and involved in conducting needs assessments. With the establishment of Navy Family Service Centers at Navy bases worldwide, concomitant with looming military budget cuts, base commanders were being asked to undertake needs assessments of military personnel and their dependents. At that time, the military was dramatically expanding its interest in military families, because studies were suggesting a link between their well-being and such military concerns as job performance, readiness, and retention. Similarly, my subsequent work with community-based agencies involved needs assessments. Altogether, these experiences demonstrated to me the importance of needs assessments and pointed to the lack of information available about this powerful assessment concept and tool. The success of the first edition of this book confirmed my suspicion that there is indeed a need for a book that articulates common methods of assessing needs.

    The decision to provide the specific information in this book came from my interaction with those needing to conduct and benefiting from needs assessments. Like the first edition, this one is written to be easy to read. Yet it is also technically sophisticated and comprehensive enough to address such critical questions as knowing the first steps to take in planning an assessment, determining sample sizes, conducting appropriate analyses, and using the best formats for reporting findings.

    It is my hope that readers will find this book as helpful, practical, and approachable as it was intended to be. There are several features of this edition worth noting. The first three chapters comprise the foundational knowledge necessary to undertake a realistic and effective needs assessment. Chapter 2 considers the sociopolitical realities found in many communities. Chapter 3 discusses the special considerations and measurement issues one must consider when working with culturally and socially diverse populations of both genders. From the start, the United States has been multicultural and socially diverse, and it is now more diverse than ever. Conducting successful needs assessments necessitates taking into consideration the inherent diversity of target populations—whether based on culture, gender, income, education, or regional differences.

    Many people helped with this book. First and foremost, I want to thank all who provided me with encouragement and support throughout its creation.

    I wish to thank Sissy, my companion, for being such a support and encouragement to me.

    I also particularly wish to acknowledge the support of my late mother, Ignacia Soriano, who was always ready to validate my efforts, no matter what they were—even if she did not understand or care to understand them. Whatever I did, she was always proud of me and always encouraged me. I miss her dearly, but feel her presence and positive influence in my life every day nonetheless.

    Also important are my boys, Anthony and Fernando, who served as an inspiration to me. They are so funny, fun, and entertaining and only sometimes challenging.

    I thank God for being blessed with these wonderful lifelong gifts of friends and family!

    I also wish to acknowledge the many military and civilian community leaders who helped me to better understand what type of information is lacking on needs assessments. Their influence continues to be felt by me.

    I wish to express my deep appreciation to series editor Armand Lauffer from Sage, who was abundantly patient and encouraging in the journey of writing the first edition and now this one. Last but certainly not least, I am thankful to Kassie Graves, this book's aquisitions editor, who believed in me and was patient as I worked on this edition. Without her encouragement and able assistance, this new edition would not exist—period. To her I owe great gratitude for skillful editorial assistance, and she helped accomplish the many detailed editorial and publication tasks involved. She also made the process very pleasant. This book, minus its shortcomings, is a tribute to Lauffer and Graves.



    “Anthony, things are so different now than in the past. Remember when we were assured of funding year after year? You were just out of graduate school, and I hired you as my associate director, and I didn't need you to have more skills than just the promise of learning quickly how to help me oversee the many programs and services for our youth and families. Now I honestly don't know what to do. The same grant proposals are being turned down, and we're about ready to lay off over 30% of our staff for lack of funding.”

    “But Nano, I've gone to the meetings too. You keep thinking that we're in a sinking ship that has no hope, but that's not how I see it. I keep telling you that the agencies that are getting funding these days are those that show evidence of the need for their services! They are the ones doing needs assessments.”

    Funding for human services has always vacillated depending on the economy and policy priorities in public and private sectors. However, the “great recession” has been unprecedented in the depth of its impact on all sectors of the economy. For example, it is estimated that at the height of the economic downturn in 2009, over $2 billion was taken away from California alone for human services at a time when need was growing to unprecedented levels (CWDA-CSAC, 2009). As never before, human service providers are confronted with the need to prove that their services are indeed needed. In the past, this proof could have been verification that services were being rendered. Now service providers are likely to be required to demonstrate a clear awareness of their target populations' need for programs and services. The above vignette illustrates the increasing demand for empirical data to justify funding for human service programs. As a result, many representatives of the social and human service fields will be involved in commissioning, conducting, or utilizing information from needs assessments—if not for justifying services, then for determining what services should be offered.

    The term needs assessment appears simple enough to understand. It refers to the process of assessing needs. To many, needs assessments refer to the collection of data bearing on the need for services, products, or information. In fact, it is the conceptually appealing nature of the term that makes its frequent application attractive. Unfortunately, the process of conducting needs assessments is far from intuitive. Rather, it is technical and sophisticated. And it requires an awareness of the scope and significance of the information collected.

    According to Petersen and Alexander (2001), “the role of needs assessment is to identify and also address needs” (p. 4). Kaufman and English (1979) called it “a tool for determining valid and useful problems which are philosophically as well as practically sound. It keeps us from running down more blind educational alleys, from using time, dollars and people in attempted solutions which do not work” (p. 31). From these definitions, we can conclude that needs assessments enable us to obtain valid and reliable information, which helps us to better target our services and efforts.

    Private businesses readily recognize the importance of evaluating the need for their products or services. A lack of need for what they offer translates into no sales. Their immediate criteria for success are sales and profits. On the other hand, in the human services realm, and in particular among not-for-profit organizations, the volume of sales and profits is not the driving force. Typically, the criterion for success is providing the services they recognize are needed in their catchment area. A need for social programs or human services is too often only assumed or believed evident, and efforts to measure it are lacking. Among those who attempt to conduct needs assessments, many lack the requisite knowledge of how to do so. An all too common result is the gathering of uninterpretable or unrepresentative information.

    The demand for a better understanding of needs assessments is increasing, largely due to fewer monies being available for human service providers. A lack of available resources has led to increased competition for funding among services. Subjective appeals from service providers for funding will no longer be sufficient. To ensure that limited monies are appropriated to the most useful services, funders are demanding clearer justification for programming budgets. The empirical demonstration of a need for services will undoubtedly continue to be a requirement for years to come.

    Many funding agencies and foundations are requiring that applications for funding include results from needs assessments that demonstrate a clear need for the proposed programs or services. This requirement has led to a significant increase in the number of needs assessments being conducted for and by agencies. However, as those who are engaged in assessments are finding, the term needs assessment is often easier to comprehend than to apply. Moreover, serious measurement risks can result from conducting improper needs assessments. A needs assessment conducted in the general community, for example, may reveal a need for drug abuse treatment services, but it may not be specific enough to point out the particular service needs of certain subpopulations such as the homeless, the highly transient, ethnic minority groups, non-English speakers, and so on. Needs assessments can be misleading when not carefully planned and executed.

    There are myriad reasons for conducting needs assessments, whether to meet requirements imposed by entities external to an organization or to comply with internal requests. The following are among the most common reasons:

    • Provide justification for funding.
    • Comply with regulations or laws that mandate needs assessments.
    • Inform resource allocation and decision making—determine the best use of limited resources.
    • Assess the needs of specific, underserved subpopulations.
    • Provide information that is part of program evaluations.

    As mentioned earlier, funding agencies are increasingly demanding empirical justification for the financial support they provide. Furthermore, a growing number of state and federal agencies, as well as private foundations, mandate that funded agencies and programs conduct periodic needs assessments to ensure that funds are being used for services that are most needed.

    The mandate for program justification is not the only driving force behind the implementation of need assessments. Interest in such studies comes from various sources and situations. Successful, established service programs often recognize that needs assessments can help them to prioritize their efforts for the greatest possible programmatic effect. Results from needs assessments are used to make decisions about internal programming and resource allocation. Tragic social upheavals, such as those due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also cause agencies and programs to reevaluate their effectiveness in meeting the needs of underserved communities. Well-targeted needs assessments can do much to identify the needs of frequently overlooked subpopulations, including ethnic minorities, adolescents, women, single parents, the elderly, and the homeless.

    Given the right planning, needs assessments can also form part of a program evaluation effort. Used in this way, needs assessments are conducted both before and after programmatic efforts are in place. The directors of a drug abuse prevention program may, for example, decide that the effectiveness of their community awareness campaigns can be reflected in both the reduction of use and in the perceived need for drug abuse prevention services. Hence, they may decide that changes suggested by responses to pre- and post-needs assessments will form part of their program evaluation. They can also use the results from each assessment to prioritize their services.

    Agencies and programs commonly have multiple reasons for conducting or commissioning needs assessments—some externally imposed, others internally derived. In many cases, needs assessments that are implemented at the request of an external agency would not otherwise be initiated. The perceived imposition of having to conduct an assessment leads to the term engendering strongly negative connotations—it is viewed as a threat, burden, or requirement. Consequently, programs required to conduct needs assessments by outside agencies are often the least motivated to utilize the information gained from the reports for their own purposes. In contrast, agencies and programs that recognize the value of empirical information are the most likely to benefit from assessments.

    Whether initiated internally or externally, whether viewed as a hassle or a help, needs assessments can help ensure programmatic success and efficiency by providing timely information about the communities being served. Human service programs and organizations are, by virtue of their mission, dynamic and evolving. Their effectiveness and survival increasingly depend on using objective data to guide their efforts. This book is designed to help agencies, programs, researchers, and others better understand needs assessment methodologies.

    This book is suitable for use in courses and workshops and as part of the reference material of human service agencies and organizations. It is designed to provide a basic but working understanding of needs assessments. I will focus on the methods commonly used in conducting needs assessments within the human or social services fields. This book is structured as a practical, how-to resource, guiding the reader through the steps required to undertake a comprehensive needs assessment. It begins with the formulation of realistic objectives and ends with a discussion of effective reporting formats. Each chapter contains examples, suggestions, and exercises for developing basic research competencies. A needs assessment guide, in Appendix A, guides the user through each conceptual and empirical step outlined in the book.

    This book is meant to complement other books on needs assessments that take a more comprehensive approach (Altschuld & Witkin, 2000) or discuss assessments' application in diverse areas (Reviere, Berkowitz, Carter, & Ferguson, 1996) or in specific fields, such as in health (Bosworth, 2000) and health education (Gilmore & Campbell, 2005). It builds on early volumes in this series by Sage (Berger & Patchner, 1988a, 1988b; Blythe & Tripodi, 1989; Coley & Scheinberg, 1990; Kettner, Moroney, & Martin, 1990; Lauffer, 1982; Neuber, 1980; Schaefer, 1987). The goal, particularly of this new edition, has been to present a practical and contemporary discussion of complex topics that are not discussed in other books, such as the sociopolitical and cultural context of communities, that can pose challenges to the conduct of needs assessments.

    As with the earlier edition, a special feature of this book is its multidisciplinary approach to needs assessments. Other publications have typically been grounded in a particular discipline, such as business or mental health. Another advantage of this book is that it assumes a candid and pragmatic approach to conducting needs assessments. Too often, those commissioned to conduct needs assessments fail to understand the organizational limitations on utilizing new information; thus, their suggestions assume organizational change is both easy and welcome. New information may not be accepted by the agency, however, for reasons that vary from political motivations (maintenance of the status quo) to pragmatic reasons such as budgetary constraints.


    The presentation of topics in the book's chapters follows a conceptual and practical sequence that plots out the steps for conducting needs assessments. The book is divided into five sections. Chapters in Section I, Foundational Knowledge, provide baseline knowledge on the understanding of the nature of needs assessments and of the context within which they are conducted that determine their success. Specifically in this first section, Chapter 1 presents conceptual and theoretical foundational knowledge. The importance of theory is emphasized, and needs assessments are clearly defined and distinguished from other assessment and evaluation tools. Chapter 2 on sociopolitical and economic considerations presents the realities of social and political sensitivities and controversies within communities and society that agencies have to consider, because they can determine the viability, success, and impact of needs assessments. The chapter offers ways of working around these while keeping the focus on addressing the needs of vulnerable and underserved populations. Compared to the earlier edition, Chapter 3 is an expanded consideration of social, gender, and cultural factors that also need to be considered. It alerts the reader to the importance of these variables and offers ways of measuring and including them in needs assessments.

    One chapter comprises Section II, Planning. In Chapter 4, the reader is taken through a step-by-step process that begins with developing a clear focus for the needs assessment and ends with selecting the general type of needs assessment methodology, whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed.

    In Section III, Methods, Chapters 5 through 8 introduce the reader to commonly used quantitative and qualitative methods and suggest the most appropriate techniques for analyzing data generated using the various methodologies.

    In Section IV, Approaching Participants, Chapter 9 helps the reader understand socially, culturally, and ethically sensitive ways to recruit study participants. A treatment of privacy issues, also discussed in Chapter 9, is a new addition in this edition. Federal regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), are discussed here.

    Also encompassing a single chapter (Chapter 10), Section V, Finalizing the Study, focuses on helping the reader present the needs assessment findings in a final report.

    Finally, the Needs Assessment Guide described in this book is included in Appendix A, and the Pan-Acculturation Scale (PAN) is provided in Appendix B.


    This edition is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Marcelo and particularly Ignacia Soriano, who not long ago passed away. I most certainly would not have published any paper or book without the unfailing, unconditional faith and high expectations they had for me. Boy, do I miss you both! Can't believe I'm an orphan now!

  • Appendix A: Needs Assessment Guide


    This guide is designed to help you think about the information needed to conduct a needs assessment. The guide does not focus on a particular subject or field. It can be used for designing needs assessments in most social service and human service fields. The guide is divided into the following eight sections:

    • Purpose and Objectives
    • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Target Population and Subgroups
    • Stakeholders
    • Resource Availability
    • Use of the Information
    • Decision-Making Guide
    • General Checklist

    Answer the questions in each section as completely as possible and follow additional instructions in the guide. Place a check mark next to the questions you cannot answer at this time. Seek out the information needed to answer any questions left blank before conducting a needs assessment.

    At the end of the guide is a general checklist that can help you identify the sections in which all questions have been answered. This guide is not all-encompassing and should not be used alone. You will need to refer to other sources of information, such as the chapters in this book and the reading material in the reference section, before making final decisions about the design and implementation of a needs assessment.

    I. Purpose and Objectives
    • General Purpose: What is the purpose of conducting a needs assessment?
    • Objectives: What are the key questions for which you need answers? The key questions determine the scope of a needs assessment and are directed at the purpose of the study.

    Caution: These questions will guide the data collected. Key Questions:

    II. Roles and Responsibilities

    The following questions refer to those who are responsible for aspects of the needs assessment.

    General Responsibility
    • Who is responsible for seeing that a needs assessment is conducted?


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    Specific Responsibilities

    List individuals responsible for the following components of the needs assessment:

    • General planning and coordinating (all aspects of the study):


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Designing the study:


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Collecting the data:


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Coding or preparing the data for analysis:


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Analyzing the data (i.e., tabulating or noting the results without interpreting them):


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Interpreting the results (i.e., giving meaning to the data):


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    • Reporting the results:


      (More than one person, if appropriate.)

    Stop and consider those people delegated responsibilities. Ask yourself these questions:

    Are they being granted release time to accomplish these responsibilities?

    Do they have the needed interest and skills, or are they able and willing to acquire them, to accomplish their assigned task(s)?

    If the needs assessment is a group effort, are members of this group willing and able to work together, do they have the opportunity to do so, and and can they communicate with one another well enough to accomplish the entire task?

    If any responses to these questions are “no,” reassign personnel and responsibilities or consider contracting the needs assessment or parts of it to outside experts (e.g., university researchers, private research contractors, parent agency, consultants, etc.).

    Oversight Committee

    Form an oversight committee made up of internal and external members of the organization. At least one member of the target community should be a part of this committee, and the committee should reflect the diversity of the target population.

    • Describe the membership of the oversight committee.

      Number of members:

      Number of members from the target population:

      Number of members who are ethnic minorities reflective of target population:

    • Indicate how often the committee will meet.

      Will the oversight committee be used to oversee:

    • Ethics?

      YesNoNot sure (Please determine.)

      If no, explain who will oversee ethics:

    • Wording of questionnaire?

      YesNoNot sure (Please determine.)

      If no, explain who will oversee wording of questionnaire:

    • Cultural sensitivity and relevance?

      YesNoNot sure (Please determine.)

      If no, explain who will oversee cultural sensitivity and relevance:

    • General appropriateness of study design and plans to implement it?

      YesNoNot sure (Please determine.)

      If no, explain who will oversee study design:

    III. Target Population and Subgroups

    These questions pertain to the targeted population for the needs assessment and the relevant subgroups.

    • What are the physical boundaries delineating the target area?
    • Describe the target population. Use demographic or other key characteristics important for defining who is and is not a member of the target population.
    • Is it important for you specifically to compare needs among ethnic groups?


    • If the answer to (c) is yes, check off the ethnic groups from which you need information:
      • Anglo Americans
      • Hispanics/Latinos
      • African Americans
      • Native Americans
      • Asian Americans
      • Others:
    • For each subgroup marked, indicate how you will determine ethnic group membership (e.g., self-identification).
    • Is it important for you specifically to compare needs between gender groups?


    • If the answer to (f) is yes, will you want 50% of each in your sample?


    • Is it important for you to compare subgroups differing in education (e.g., high school vs. college graduates)?


    • If the answer to (h) is yes, describe the different education subgroups and how you will define each.
    • Is it important for you to compare subgroups differing in income levels (e.g., family income under $10,000 vs. more than this amount)?


    • If the answer to (j) is yes, define each subgroup.
    • Are there other specialized subgroups in your target population about which you need specific data?


    • If the answer to (l) is yes, list and describe each specialized subgroup (e.g., elderly, adolescents, females, drug users, gang members, violent offenders).
    IV. Stakeholders

    List all who have some responsibility for commissioning a needs assessment, whether internal or external to your organization. Place them in order of decision-making influence from the most influential in commissioning and directing the implementation of a needs assessment to the least influential, and list their names and relationship to the organization needing the assessment. Indicate also the general type of assessment they expect (quantitative or qualitative) and list the reason for their preference.

    Influential persons are those who need to be satisfied and from whom positive or negative consequences may come about (e.g., having to redo the needs assessment or receiving acclaim for it; generating praise or criticism of the implementing organization; experiencing an increase, maintainance, or reduction in the agency's funds).

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    • Name Relationship to Your Organization

      Type of needs assessment desired or expected by this person:

      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Doesn't care.
      • Not sure (Please find out.)

      Indicate reason for choice and list other requirements:

    V. Resource Availability
    • List the amount of funds you have to conduct a needs assessment:
    • List the people who will help conduct the needs assessment and indicate if they have training or experience in conducting needs assessments.
    • List any language capabilities they possess that can be used to interact with study participants who may not have a command of English:
    • List cultural training or experience these persons hold that may be used for collecting data for the needs assessment:
    • Check off the equipment and supplies you have access to (check all that apply):
      • Printing equipment (e.g., photocopy machine)
      • Computer with statistical analysis program
      • Computer with word processing software
      • Postage
      • Transportation—vehicle or reimbursement for car
      • Work space and storage space for study materials
      • Other equipment or supplies:
    • How much time, in months, do you have to undertake a needs assessment from start to finish?
    • Is the amount of time in (f) inflexible?

      YesNoNot sure (Please find out.)

    VI. Use of the Information
    • Indicate the expected uses of the results of the study. Check off all that apply. Results from the needs assessment will enable you to:
      • Alter organization functions and services as appropriate.
      • Fulfill a requirement by your sponsors.
      • Fulfill another externally imposed requirement:
      • Support existing views and perceptions.
      • Justify the existence of your organization.
      • Generate additional funding.
      • Other:
    • Are two needs assessments being planned for a pre- or postevaluation study?


    • How do you plan to report the results of the needs assessment? Select one:
      • A comprehensive, formal written report
      • A brief, formal written report
      • A short, informal written report
      • Only a verbal presentation
      • Other:
    • Who will be responsible for documenting the results of the study?
    VII. Decision-Making Guide

    Place a check mark next to the most appropriate response to each question below. Use your previous responses to help you respond to these questions.

    • Type of needs assessment:
      • Quantitative
      • Qualitative
      • Mixed
      • Other:
      • Not sure. Explain:
    • Type of questionnaire or data source:
      • Secondary data
      • Interview
      • Key informant
      • Focus group
      • Survey
      • Other:
      • Not sure. Explain:
    • Form of questions to ask:
      • Open-ended
      • Structured (fixed choice)
      • Semistructured
      • Other:
      • Not sure. Explain:
    • Will your sample be stratified (i.e., participants selected based on such demographic characteristics as gender, ethnicity, income, education)?

      YesNoNot sure


    • If the answer to (d) is yes, what are your stratifying variables?
      • Gender/sex
      • Ethnicity
      • Income
      • Education
      • Age
      • Other:
      • Other:
      • Other:
    • How many participants do you believe you need?
    • If selecting a stratified sample, how many participants will you need in each stratum (e.g., gender: 30 men and 30 women)?

      Stratum (Variable)Number in Each Stratum Needed

    • Participant selection method to be used:
      • Based on participant's expertise (focus/key informant)
      • Quota sampling method
      • Interval
      • Judgment
      • Snowball
      • Systematic
      • Other:
      • Not sure. Explain:
    • What types of demographic variables will you include in your questionnaire (e.g., gender, ethnicity)?

      If none, state why:

    • Will you conduct a pretest?

      YesNoNot sure

      If no or not sure, explain why:

      If yes, how many participants will you need?

    • Select the type of statistical analysis you will use:
      • Descriptive
      • Inferential
      • Mixed
      • Other:
    VIII. Sociopolitical and Economic Realities

    Describe in detail the population of focus–its social, cultural, and economic diversity.

    Mindful of the population of focus, list any controversies in the community, or among critical stakeholders that are likely to reduce the importance, use or impact of the findings from a needs assessment.

    List specific sources of funding that are realistically available to either support existing programs and/or services if a needs assessment demonstrates need.

    IX. General Checklist

    Place a check mark next to each section title below that you have addressed satisfactorily. Also indicate other concerns that need to be satisfied before the needs assessment is conducted.

    • I. Purpose and Objectives
    • II. Roles and Responsibilities
    • III. Targeted Population and Subgroups
    • IV. Stakeholders
    • V. Resource Availability
    • VI. Use of the Information
    • VII. Decision Making Guide
    • VIII. Sociopolitical and Economic Realities
    • Other:
    • Other:
    • Other:

    Appendix B: Pan-Acculturation Scale (PAN)

    —English Version—

    (Spanish Version Is Available)

    Fernando I. Soriano, PhD

    California State University–San Marcos Department of Human Development San Marcos, CA 92096

    Please Note:

    Please inform the author in writing of any planned use of the Pan-Acculturation Scale. Use of the PAN implies agreement to provide Dr. Soriano with a copy of your data set(s), which will be used solely for updating psychometric properties of the measures. Mail notifications of intended uses of the measure and completed data sets to the address listed above.

    Author holds copyright of scale. Used here with permission.

    Pan-Acculturation Scale Scoring Instructions

    The Pan-Acculturation Scale (PAN) measures acculturation. Acculturation is defined as a measure of the psychosocial and cultural participation of individuals within the American or dominant culture and one's “other culture” or culture of origin. Using the PAN, one can derive up to six scores measuring one's affinities to either or both American or one's other culture. Alternatively, a single acculturation measure can be derived, as well.

    The following are the cultural dimensions possible and their operational definitions.

    American Cultural Orientation Subscale

    One's affinity toward American culture is measured by calculating the proportion of “Yes” responses among valid responses for the “American Culture Scale” portion of the PAN scale (exclude nonresponse items in deriving the proportion).

    Other Culture Orientation Subscale

    One's affinity towards one's other culture is measured by calculating the proportion of “Yes” responses among valid responses for the “Other Culture Scale” portion of the PAN scale (exclude nonresponse items in deriving the proportion).

    Keep in mind that scores on both American Cultural and Other Cultural Orientation Scales measure the proportion of “yes” responses to each subscale and do not assume a particular affinity to either (i.e., that the score is indicative of one's “Americanness” or “other-cultureness”).

    Acculturation Typologies

    One can derive up to four typologies based on responses to the PAN. These are (1) American Oriented, (2) Other Non–American Culture Oriented, (3) Bicultural (oriented in both about equally), and (4) Marginalized (oriented in neither).

    Operationally Defining Types

    American Oriented. An American-Oriented person is one who responded “yes” to over 50% of the valid responses on the American Orientation Subscale.

    Other Non–American Culture Oriented. An Other Non–American culturally oriented person is one who responded “yes” to over 50% of the valid responses on the Other Culture Orientation Subscale.

    Bicultural. A biculturally oriented individual is one who met the orientation criteria for both American orientation and for non–American cultural orientation. That is, he or she marked “yes” to over 50% of the valid nonmissing items on both the American and the Other Culture Subscales.

    Marginal. A marginalized person is one who is oriented toward neither American culture nor toward their Other Culture. That is, he or she failed to marked “yes” to over 50% of the valid nonmissing items on both the American and the Other Culture Subscales.

    Single Measure of Acculturation

    A single measure of acculturation can be derived by recoding responses so that “1” = My Cultural Group response option, “2” = Both response option, and “3” = American Culture response option. The Neither response option would be coded as “missing data.” Few respondents mark this response, so the number of missing responses should not be great and therefore affect the stability or reliability of the measure. After recoding responses as indicated, the total sum of valid responses (minus the “Neither” response) would be the single acculturation measure.

    Importance of Cultural Groups (PAN) English

    Everyone belongs to one cultural or ethnic group. Examples of cultural groups include Mexican American, Irish, German, Chinese, and African American, among others. Some people are a mixture of several cultural groups. When this is true, a person might find one cultural group more influential than another. Cultural and ethnic groups are important because they can influence our beliefs and traditions and how we think, feel, and act. These questions are about your ethnicity or your cultural group and how you feel about it or react to it. What cultural group is important to you besides the American Cultural Group?

    My Important Cultural Group (Besides American) Is:_____

    I will read to you a series of statements. Please tell me whether each of your own personal, individual characteristics listed below is like the cultural group you just wrote or just told me, or is more like American Culture, both cultures, or neither culture. Pick only one response for each item.

    * Use this item with bilingual spans speaking respondents only.


    Altschuld, J. W., & Witkin, B. R. (2000). From needs assessment to action: Transforming needs into solution strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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    About the Author

    Fernando I. Soriano is Professor of Human Development at California State University–San Marcos. An applied researcher and academician, he has written numerous publications focusing on such social problems as gang membership, youth violence, delinquency, substance abuse, and AIDS. He has sat on several national committees, including the Commission on Violence and Youth for the American Psychological Association, and assisted with the US Surgeon General's report on youth violence. A specialty of his is understanding and measuring the importance of culture and cultural factors in youth violence. He has been involved in community program development and evaluation for several years.

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