How to Perform a Needs Assessment

March 02, 2018 By Zoe Youl

Conducting a rigorous needs assessment as part of the development of an educational intervention will ensure that your education will make a measurable, positive difference within your organisation.

What is a needs assessment?

A needs assessment is a systematic process of identifying a gap in knowledge, skill or practice that answers the question: ‘will education fix this problem?’

As nurse educators, a needs assessment should form the basis from which all education is planned, developed and implemented in our organisation. It will ensure that your educational interventions:

  1. Address a gap in knowledge, skill or practice
  2. Enable our learners to close or narrow that gap
  3. Increase the standard of care that our patients receive

How do we conduct a needs assessment?

At Ausmed, we ask ourselves five key questions when conducting a needs assessment:

  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. So what?
  4. How?
  5. How will you know?

Question 1: What?

In the first question, we ask:

  • What is currently happening that shouldn’t happen?
  • What isn’t happening that should happen?
  • What is the professional practice gap? And is this a gap in knowledge, skill or practice?

Answering these questions will enable you to establish an overview of the problem.

Question 2: Why?

Once a professional practice gap has been identified, we ask: why do we need to close or narrow this professional practice gap? To validate this, we can look towards numerous data sources including:

  • New and emerging evidence
  • New policies/standards released by professional bodies
  • Past learner evaluations
  • Patient/client feedback
  • Incident reports 

Question 3: So what?

This question focusses on the learning outcomes of the educational intervention. In healthcare, a learning outcome is defined as something that is the result of, or is the consequence of planned education. Learning outcomes describe the desired state and must be:

  • Reflective of a professional practice gap
  • Measurable

Defining clear learning outcomes will allow you to identify and qualify any change that reflects a closing of the professional practice gap.

Question 4: How?

In this component of the needs assessment we ask: how will you design an educational intervention to close or narrow the professional practice gap? A number of considerations arise including:

  • What type of education will you plan?
  • Will it be a one-off session? Or will it be ongoing?
  • What’s your target audience?

Question 5: How will you know?

Finally, we need to determine whether the professional practice gap has been closed or narrowed as a result of our educational intervention. This is done through evaluation, which provides educators with the opportunity to collect key data around return on investment. Evaluation also gives the learner a chance to reflect on the educational activity, consider how their practice will change and the barriers to implementing what they have learned.

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