March 2005

ICTD Project Newsletter

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Table of Contents

Needs assessment study helps to ascertain the specific requirements of a community and also to determine the stakeholders' willingness to use ICTs. Analysis of the data collected through needs assessment study will result in a well-defined project that addresses the needs of the target population. It will also lay a precise foundation for project execution and help decide the success metrics for quantitative measurement.

Needs assessment
The use of Information and Communication Technologies for Development is on the rise. Government agencies and Non-governmental organisations alike are increasingly embarking upon projects that extensively use ICTs to achieve development goals. The emphasis on the use of new technologies for social development, in regions where even basic amenities and education are lacking has led to much furore over the possible social implications of mindlessly applying ICT for Development projects.

Though the number of projects that currently use ICT for development is in hundreds, the ICT for development domain in India is still at a nascent stage. In such an atmosphere, it is comparatively easier to disseminate information and promote use of best practices such as conducting a needs assessment study in projects that promulgate the use of ICTs to create social change.

Needs assessment study involves assessment of the requirements of the target audience for whom the programme is being designed. In addition it will determine exactly how the programme should be designed in order for it to benefit and suit the local people. Needs assessment study thus helps to ascertain the demand for, willingness to use and possible outcomes of an ICT for development project.

A formal needs assessment study can be undertaken over a period of 2-3 months or be completed in 4 weeks depending on the nature of the project, availability of resources and requirement of quantitative data.

Importance of needs assessment
The necessity of a needs assessment study has not been recognised in India. The ones that have been conducted have not been available for general viewing or have not been documented properly. Thus the advantages and benefits of a needs assessment study for developmental projects are not understood.

Though development projects are implemented with the sole motive of making a positive change in the lives of the communities, more often than not, the community is not consulted, and is left out of the project planning, development and implementation processes. It has been seen that a lack of initiative on part of the implementing agency to create in the community a desire to see the project implemented, often results in the failure of the project, as the people do not identify with the intervention provided.

The benefits of conducting needs assessment study outweigh the effort spent in undertaking the exercise. By assessing the project and understanding the needs of the stakeholders, the needs assessment study paves the path to determine possible future issues and thus make suitable changes in the project plan. It helps to document the desires, questions and thoughts of the community and pre-empt problems by ensuring community readiness. It helps to make the project more people-oriented and mobilises the community in the process, creating in them a sense of ownership.

A needs assessment study has to factor the following:

  • Needs v/s Wants: Taking into account the existing social infrastructure, focus on what exactly is needed to empower the population for whom the project is being implemented. The project must provide them with something they need and not something they want merely for entertainment or social stature purposes.
  • Micro v/s Macro: Ascertain whether the ICT intervention provided will be more beneficial at a local micro-level (at the village) or at a macro level (district / state). Some ICT initiatives are too broad-based in their approach and do not pertain to the informational and other needs sought by the local people for whom the project is being implemented.
  • Technological v/s Social solutions: Often a technological solution for a social problem does not fully address the requirements of the population. An ICT for development project should be a simple technical interface, so that it can be easily used by the local providers and the population for whom the intervention is meant. It must not require an intensive investment in IT training by the locals, isolating them in the process, but should be designed in a user-friendly manner.

Pre needs assessment activities
Needs assessment study is most often conducted with the intention to understand and then address the needs of the target audience. But the scope of ICT for development projects is large. The sociological impacts of projects that use information and communication technologies to deliver services and provide interventions has largely not been documented or studied, and hence there is a need to pay special attention to the requirements in other project spheres. ICT for development projects have two areas in which Needs Assessment has to be undertaken

  • Social (Target Group) Needs Assessment
  • Project Needs Analysis (includes technology needs analysis, financial needs analysis and human resources needs analysis)

This paper though deals with the
primary area in which needs assessment must be conducted: Social (Target Group) Needs Assessment. Based on the results of the social needs assessment, the Project Needs Analysis must be studied and project plans suitably modified. Before undertaking a needs assessment study it is important to define the scope of the study. The scope of the study has to be clear with respect to:

1) Objective and description
The objective of the study must be to identify current gaps in the project plan and better the delivery of the ICT solution. A SWOT Analysis is/can be carried out at this juncture to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the project plan and of the possible opportunities and threats to the project, taking into account the resources, skills and motivations of the organisation implementing the project. The strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats must be ascertained both from the perspective of the ICT project implementing organisation as well as from the communities.

The needs assessment must ascertain what the community's development priorities are. The study has to ensure that information and services provided through the project must be locally relevant and applicable. External policies and legal mandates that will affect the project should also be taken into account.

2) Target audiences
There are various methods to determine sample size of population to be surveyed during the needs assessment. Simple sampling, Random Sampling, Stratified sampling, Systematic sampling are some of the techniques to arrive at sample size population. Random sampling is the easiest method but may not be the most accurate. Using a combination of sampling techniques for different needs assessment techniques would result in a broader section of the population being included in the needs assessment study.



3) Social inclusion
People from all economic strata and social hierarchies must be randomly selected and included to ensure accurate representation of the entire population.

4) Allocation of personnel
Most organisations opt for an external professional agency to undertake the whole needs assessment. But this could be a costly affair. And so if an organisation decides to undertake the study on their own, they must allocate the necessary human, financial and other resources for the exercise, as early as possible. It is essential to conduct needs assessment through people who are acquainted with the process. Tapping into community resources and selecting volunteers from within community can be beneficial, as the respondents are then more honest with their responses to the questions posed. Nevertheless it is essential that the personnel conducting the study, be it external consultants, internal staff or volunteers remain unbiased to ensure accuracy in the data collected.

5) Information

  • What are the services being offered?
  • What are their benefits?

These two questions would act as the motivator based on which the target group would be studied. The motive of collection of data during needs assessment would be to ascertain what intervention/service is needed to enable the population. It is thus essential to execute the study to validate the necessity for the intervention/service the project is trying to provide. Demographic, economic and social information must also be collected to evaluate and analyse the data in a correct light.

6) Tools and methods
There are various needs assessment methods to collect information. Depending on the duration of the study, arrive at a combination of methods that would provide most accurate data. Simultaneously also devise and decide on documentation process for the data collected.

Some of the commonly used needs assessment methods are:

Surveys
The survey method involves the use of questionnaires to assess the stakeholders satisfaction with the current service and the change they need to see. The questionnaire contains carefully worded, open-ended (requires answers), close-ended (yes-no) or explanatory (multiple-choice) questions. Care has to be taken to phrase the questions in an unambiguous and simple manner. A comprehensive survey of the informational needs, technological needs, readiness of the stakeholders, how and what intervention they would like to see implemented, and what their current status is with regard to the area of intervention; must be conducted using this method. The survey can be conducted by mail, telephone or personally by visiting people.

Key informants
This technique involves identifying certain people in the community, who are known for their social stature, are active in organising community events and who are well acquainted with the needs of the community due to their work. These people are termed as key informants based on their contacts in the local community. Interactions with them can be through meetings, interviews etc to elicit information about the needs of the community, and their perspective on possible solutions to problems commonly encountered by the community.

Focus groups interviews and group discussions
Focus group interviews and group discussions can be conducted by arranging a randomly selected group of people in the community and interviewing them as a group. The number of people in the groups should ideally be small (around 6-12) and must be conducted with different groups over a certain period of time. The community must be encouraged to speak openly during the interviews about what they feel about the ICT intervention being provided, if the use of technology would intimidate them and isolate them, about ways to overcome their inhibitions and make the intervention meaningful to them, etc. The output of the workshop depends heavily on the skills of the moderator/interviewer and his ability to draw the responses with simple but pointed questions.

People forum approach
This method of data collection involves conducting a series of meetings or events involving the whole community. The meetings are interactive sessions where the community is provided with a forum to speak freely. These can be held on various occasions with different groups in the community. Such discussions help build a sense of trust and local ownership within the community and encourage local involvement.

Previously published data
Old reports, studies and other published data in the region often provide good inputs about the community and factors that influence development projects there. Studying these reports often results in a deeper understanding of the economic, social and political influences on the community, which may also impact the ICT for development project on hand. Study of such data also helps establish contact with agencies that have already undertaken development projects in the area and may thus be a source of valuable information that could impact the project on hand. Local libraries, universities and media houses are good places to source such data from.

Innovative new methods
Use of suggestion boxes, polls taken during meetings, response sheets etc, help in arriving at instant data. Though not highly reliable, such methods work well as an ancillary data collection measure.

Needs assessment study activity
The needs assessment study process can be divided into three distinct phases.

1) Conducting the survey
It is essential to establish a dialogue with the audience. Ask relevant questions. Determine what they need by interacting with them and then talk to others outside the location to see what else you can provide, that will facilitate them further. Gauge the level of local participation and interest in the ICT for development project. Prepare questionnaires, conduct focus group interviews, group discussions, etc. with all individuals. All villages/blocks/mandals where the project is being implemented, must be covered under the needs assessment. Care must be taken to ensure that everyone present is encouraged to voice their thoughts about the project.

2) Compiling data
The way you document your findings is what truly influences the results. A needs assessment study would produce no definite results, if proper documentation methods are not followed. Thus is it essential to establish and maintain a filing system for each methodology used which will allow a viewer to easily read, understand and then arrive at rational and logical conclusions on data collected. The files should contain information about the results of the exercise, the dates, size of the people surveyed/ interviewed etc. Various tools are available for documentation of data obtained through research and studies.

 3) Data Analysis and Evaluation
Information gathered through needs assessment serves the dual purpose of providing the change needed in the communities and also arms the project implementation agency by equipping them with information about the stakeholders which they have to address through their project and allocate resources needed for the same. Compiling the needs assessment study data in a structured manner will allow for easy analysis. The data must be available for all to view. Before making modifications in the project, consult people in related fields to gain knowledge about similar ICT projects. Validate the results of the needs assessment study with other social organisations in the area. Experts in ICT may also be shown the results of the needs assessment to determine what changes can be made to the project to include the results of the needs assessment study.

The data collected will lay the foundation and determine the direction of the project. It will help the organisation ascertain if the goals of the ICT for development project are aligned with the needs of target population. The analysis will thus allow for positive modifications to be made to the project and the project scope can be modified accordingly.

The data after analysis must be documented to identify and ranked according to the most important development priorities of the community. This information must then suitably, to the extent possible, be incorporated in the project. It is essential to address the most pressing concerns raised by the target audience during the study and provide solutions for the same. This would help to increase the confidence levels further of the community in the project.

Needs assessment report
Needs Assessment Report should consist of the following:
  • Summary Document
  • Objectives of the Needs Assessment Study
  • Project Information
    (a) Organisational Details
    (b) Project Strategy
    (b) Operational Strategy
    (c) Financial Strategy
  • Target Audience
    Template for Tabular Representation of Data complied:
    Name of Project:
    Name of Organisation:
    Name of Needs Assessment Coordinator:
  • Needs Assessment Study Report
  • Changes in Project Scope post Needs Assessment Study
  • Conclusion
  • Annexure: Documents used during survey

Conclusions
The needs assessment study will equip the organisation implementing the ICT project with information such as

  • Identifying gaps
  • Arriving at solutions
  • Ascertaining target users
  • Identifying potential users
  • Allocation of resources and
  • Determining infrastructure requirements

It is important to recognise the necessity to identify the needs, concerns and capacities of the community throughout the project period. But the needs assessment study conducted in the initial stages of the project can help increase the impact of the project and the lay the foundation for use of ICT's as an enabler for the community.

References

Needs Assessment the first step by Robert H. Rouda & Mitchell E. Kusy, Jr.(C) copyright 1995 by the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.

Conducting A Community Needs Assessment: Primary Data Collection Techniques1 by Keith A. Carter and Lionel J. Beaulieu2 (The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences / University of Florida/John T. Woeste, Dean)

Needs Assessment Tools: by Peggy Sleeth, Health Sciences Librarian, Matthews-Fuller Health Sciences Library, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH

Questionnaire Design and Surveys Sampling: Professor Hossein Arsham, University of Baltimore

www.keysurvey.com/online_tools/resources/texts/questionnaire_ design.jsp
http://www.genomicstoolkit.org/moxie/gettingstarted/needsassessment.shtml
http://som.flinders.edu.au/FUSA/PARC/toolkitneedsassess.htm

NISG and i4d reserve the right to reprint articles produced for the ICTD section of the
i4d magazine and website, with due credits to NISG and i4d. Please write to the editor for
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