Community Needs Assessment
It is well established that taking the time to examine the state of a community before developing a plan to advance community well-being is important. Community Needs Assessment (CNA) describes the process of using both qualitative and quantitative data describing a community to inform community improvement efforts, such as planning initiatives to increase walkability, or launching school-based health centers to increase health care access. CNAs are important because they help change-makers take local community conditions into account when planning and prioritizing strategies to improve that community rather than generalizing or making assumptions about what is needed. Ideally, CNAs are developed through a collaborative process (involving stakeholders from various sectors) and take into consideration the historical context of a community (e.g. whether gentrification is a local factor). Vulnerable populations are at risk for disparate access to community resources because of economic, cultural, racial, or health characteristics. Examining data across different populations is important and allows you to see that people in your community have different lived experiences, resulting in different risks and needs.
In any given community, it is important to understand the “why” behind the data—conducting community listening sessions are one way to hear the community stories behind the data, which provide important context. At the local level, conditions can be very different for people living in different neighborhoods. It’s important to examine data and listen to residents from all areas in a community about their lived experience.
CNAs have the potential to drive transformative community change. Adoption of a well-being framework as part of a CNA acknowledges the interconnectedness of our physical health to the community conditions in which we live. Specifically, many have used the Vital Conditions for Community Well-Being framework to examine data grouped into categories that reflect common community programming and organizational structures, such as transportation, housing, and urgent services, where the work actually happens in communities. The use of a well-being framework helps users more easily go from insight to action--from community assessment to community improvement.