Needs Assessment: Analysis and Prioritization

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James W. Altschuld & Jeffry L. White

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    Preface

    At initial glance it may seem that this book does not quite fit with the first one in the KIT, which is an overview of the needs assessment process, and the other three that parallel the phases of assessment. Numerous useful tables are embedded in them, as are ways to analyze and portray the data and information that have been collected. This book may appear to be redundant and a bit of overkill.

    There is some overlap, not an undue amount. Our firmly held impression is that the two main topics of this text tend to be glossed over when needs assessments are conducted, prioritization in particular. The senior author never ceases to be amazed when he queries supposedly knowledgeable needs assessors about ways in which needs-based priorities are determined. Usually when this question is brought up in group settings, followed by others involving how one need was selected over another and upon what criteria such decisions were made, a pregnant pause (silence) is noticeable. It seems that the outcomes were sort of decided by an invisible mechanism without well-defined rules or even semiapparent structures to guide choices. For relatively small needs this isn't a problem, but in large organizations with competing needs, the absence of criteria and decision rules can have a serious effect on priorities.

    Indeed, one example in Book 1 is about an organization that funded work in an area that did not prove to be in accord with the needs of its clientele. A structured prioritization strategy would have prevented this wasteful expenditure of funds. All of the above observations underscore the perception that a separate book devoted to analysis and prioritization is a valuable addition to the four others in the KIT.

    It is our sincere hope that this volume provides a good overview of how to analyze two distinct types of data, pull them together in a meaningful way, and derive priorities from the collation of the information that has been generated by the needs assessment. What should result is a stronger foundation for needs-related decisions and one that will stand the scrutiny of involved and questioning audiences. If that foundation is not there and the priorities are challenged, they are difficult to defend. Having a basis for coming to final decisions is a step forward.

    By the same token, it is recognized that data obtained from multiple groups and methods may not fall easily or simply into alignment and even may be contradictory. Therefore, ultimate priorities often result from negotiations with key stakeholders and groups. The text offers guidance rather than absolute solutions to help needs assessment committees (NACs) and their facilitators work through the complexities of analysis and subsequent prioritization.

    A Few Notes about Content

    The content in the text is an overview of analytic and prioritization procedures and not a comprehensive treatment of all strategies in this regard. If the local circumstances require specialized indices and other aspects of the two processes, seek out sources in the literature.

    As indicated in its title this is Book 4 in the Needs Assessment KIT. The other books are:

    • Book 1: Needs Assessment: An Overview
    • Book 2: Needs Assessment Phase I: Getting Started
    • Book 3: Needs Assessment Phase II: Collecting Data
    • Book 5: Needs Assessment Phase III: Taking Action for Change

    Acknowledgments

    We would like to express our appreciation to Yi-Fang Lee with whom we worked (2003–2005) in a complex evaluation project that utilized surveys with needs types of questions in them. Her research, which is frequently cited, benefited us, and thanks are extended for her diligence and insights into what can happen with data. We would also be remiss if we omitted Belle Ruth Witkin's work of 25 years ago that still resonates and had a significant influence on the current text. We would also like to thank the following reviewers:

    • Stephanie Brzuzy, Xavier University
    • Valerie Larsen, University of Virginia
    • Kui-Hee Song, California State University, Chico

    Last, we express gratitude to all others whose endeavors have enriched our understandings of needs.

    James W.Altschuld
    Jeffry L.White

    About the Authors

    James W. Altschuld, PhD, received his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from Case Western Reserve University and The Ohio State University (OSU), respectively. His doctorate is from the latter institution with an emphasis on educational research and development and sociological methods. He is now professor emeritus in the College of Education and Human Ecology at OSU after 27 years of teaching research techniques and program evaluation. In evaluation, he developed and taught a sequence of courses on theory, needs assessment, and design. He has coauthored three previous books (two on needs assessment and the other on the evaluation of science and technology education), has written many chapters on needs assessment as well as others on evaluation research and issues, and has an extensive list of publications, almost all in the field of evaluation. He has given presentations and done work in five countries outside of the United States. In his career he has been the recipient of local, state, and national honors including the Alva and Gunnar Myrdal Practice Award for contributions to evaluation.

    Jeffry L. White, PhD, is assistant professor of educational foundations and leadership at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He teaches statistics, quantitative research methods, program evaluation, measurement and assessment. He received his doctorate from The Ohio State University in quantitative research, evaluation, and measurement. He has master's degrees in educational research evaluation, and public policy and management, and health services administration. He is a member of the American Evaluation Association and served as chair, cochair, and program chair of the needs assessment Topical Interest Group. He has published in a diverse set of journals.

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