What does a needs assessment involve?

A needs assessment for training and support may be relevant for members of the public and researchers.

There are different ways to carry out a needs assessment for an individual or for a group. It can be as simple as having a one-to-one conversation with someone, or it may involve organising a group meeting (see case study nine) or conducting a more formal survey of a large group (see case study ten and case study 11).

The examples we found for the case studies describe the formal processes used for assessing training needs. Identifying support needs is likely to happen in a more informal way, through conversations, as people experience their role. Trying to develop an integrated training and support package is likely to be more effective.

You will need to:

1. Identify what skills, knowledge, experience and support are needed for a particular involvement role – look at the job description where relevant and / or talk to people who have been in that role for some time.

2. Ask people to reflect on the skills, knowledge, experience and support they have that help them to fulfil this role, and aspects of the role they may find challenging – this includes asking people about the activities they carry out, how important they feel these are and how confident they feel in this role.

3. Identify training and support needs – ask people to identify specific areas where they would like to increase their confidence and/or build on their skills or knowledge to help them become more effective. 

It can also be helpful to ask about people’s learning styles, for example whether they would prefer in-house training, attending external courses, e-learning, books, or shadowing as a method of learning.

It is likely that a needs assessment will identify more than one training and support need and different preferences as to how this is provided. Making a decision about what training and support to provide and in what format will then require a dialogue between all the stakeholders involved – training managers, budget holders and potential trainees. This can help to prioritise training and support based on the:

  • urgency / timeliness of the need
  • extent of the need – how many people need training and support
  • the resources available and potential sources of training and support.

 When is the best time to carry out a needs assessment?

Although it is helpful to provide some kind of training and support before people take on a new role, for example via an introduction/induction event, until they have spent some time on the job, they may not know what further training or support would be useful. In addition, people’s involvement roles may develop over time extending into new areas of responsibility. Therefore carrying out a needs assessment is not a one-off event. It is best carried out after people have had time to learn about their role, and then repeated regularly in parallel with the individual’s (or group’s) personal development. 

It is important to be realistic about training and support opportunities and not to raise expectations too high. If you ask about people’s needs, then you need to be prepared to respond relatively quickly. For example, if people are asked about training and then don’t receive any, they can get disenchanted. Think about the availability of funding and possible sources of suitable training and support when carrying out an assessment – you may need to limit what you ask about/offer. 

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