The best way to find out what citizens need is to ask them. In municipal government, we can do that in a variety of ways. And, one way is to conduct a needs assessment. This type of assessment is a structured process for obtaining input from a target population.
Over the past few years, the Human Services Department staff in Manchester, Connecticut had been seeing some trends in the senior population they were serving. And, state and national data was indicating the impact of the aging baby boomer population on the workplace and on senior services. In fact, GovLoop featured contributors have written about that impact on the government workplace. The local trends and state and national data were the impetus for us to conduct a needs assessment focusing on seniors aged sixty and over.
We started by identifying four core areas of concern. Working committees were established to focus on those core areas and were chaired by division heads and the director of Human Services. Then, we identified professionals from the community who had a broad range of experience working with seniors. We invited those professionals to join one of the committees. Some of the professionals actually joined more than one committee. And, members of the Human Services Department staff were also included on the committees. We asked for volunteer co-chairs for each committee, however, only one person stepped up. We were fortunate because the volunteer had consumer marketing experience. So, her assistance was invaluable for the process and for completing the project.
The committees conducted a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis for each core area. In each core area, the professionals identified the issues affecting seniors, many of which were related to systems issues. And, there was overlap in the issues they identified. After completing the SWOC analysis, committees made recommendations for addressing the issues.
Next, our co-chair volunteer designed surveys based upon the core areas. The surveys were distributed to seniors at various sites where they live or attend programming, for example, at senior housing and the senior center. The co-chair volunteer conducted these survey meetings along with Human Services Department staff. She then tallied the results which were used as the basis for focus group discussions with seniors.
The focus groups were conducted by the co-chair and Human Services Department staff at various locations where seniors live or attend programming. Most of the seniors who participated in the focus groups had not taken the survey. Some of the seniors, however, participated in taking the survey and a focus group. The purpose of the focus groups was to determine if seniors who took the survey and those in the focus groups shared the same priorities, which they did.
Then the results from the SWOC analysis, surveys and focus groups were presented at an all-committees meeting. The professionals at that meeting offered further input about the results. That input was also added to the results.
The data collected from the senior surveys and focus groups and the recommendations from professionals was compiled into a 30-page report. Because of the length of the report, it was important to include an executive summary and recommendations at the beginning of the report. The report was sent to the local elected officials and to all professionals who participated in the process. And, a paper copy of the report was placed at the Senior Center. Other methods of distribution are under discussion.
Interestingly, there were some surprises in terms of what the seniors identified as their primary concerns. And, some of the recommendations from the participating professionals were outside the scope of local government authority. But, those recommendations highlighted systems issues that may be of interest to the state or federal government and to the represented professions. Some recommendations can be addressed by the Human Services Department and will become annual goals for the department. Town government can impact some of the other recommendations.
So, needs assessments are useful tools for addressing community needs and for planning purposes. But, if you conduct one, be prepared for the input you receive from the target population. And, be prepared to respond to the needs identified by those citizens.
Mary Roche Cronin is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is the Director of Human Services for the Town of Manchester, Connecticut and has held that position since January 2005. She is responsible for management of four divisions, provides contract oversight for community agencies receiving town funding, and represents the town on community, regional and statewide human services planning and advisory groups. She also provides oversight of the department budget and state and federal grant funding. She has a Master’s degree in Child Welfare from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut and a Juris Doctorate from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can read her posts here.