The Needs Assessment Process
A Needs Assessment should be undertaken in stages to ensure that all possible factors are considered.
A simple five-step process, which covers all aspects of the study, is illustrated below.
The five step needs assessment process
Identify key community values and organisational philosophy
Review of existing provision
of current and
- Existing and
- Review of
- Local authority
Determination of basic needs
- Analysis and synthesis of the information gathered
- Identification of duplications and gaps in provision
Step one - identify key community values and organisational philosophy
The values identified may relate to:
- Access and availability
- Cultural relevance
- Efficiency and effectiveness
Useful information which could be used
to determine these values include:
- Sporting clubs and or association’s
development and marketing plans
- Local authority’s principle activity,
corporate and business plans
These documents will provide base value
starting points to enable common ground to be
defined and areas of conflict to be resolved.
Step two - review of existing provision
A review of previous reports and related material is
essential at the commencement of the study.
An understanding of what has occurred previously
will help provide an understanding of past decisions
and the basis for those decisions. It will also
provide information which can be of assistance
in understanding the issues raised. In essence,
previous reports provide background information on
current issues and the community to be studied.
Previous reports and information which may be
appropriate to the Needs Assessment may include:
- Council files and reports
- Previous recreation reports relating
to policy, utilisation and trends
- Recreation plans prepared for the
adjoining local authorities
- Reports from regional planning studies
- Commercial planning studies
- Academic studies and thesis
- Land use and statutory planning policies
- State government plans/policies
- Structure plans
- Sport Strategic Facility Plans
Additional to these formal documents, a scan
of issues in the local newspapers may also
provide useful supplementary information.
Step 3 - information sources
Identification of current
and future trends
The trends in sport and recreation need to be
identified. Changes in trends of sport and recreation
activities will obviously affect the demand for facilities.
Analysis of Social Indicators
A community or population profile is an outline of those
demographic, economic and social characteristics of
a community which are likely to influence demands for
facilities. It is used as a base against which community
needs and the assessment of services can be
measured. The profile may be of the whole community
or of a particular subgroup of the community,
depending on the scale of needs assessment required.
The characteristics used in the profile can be
grouped into the following three categories:
- Broad population groups that are likely to have
specific needs, such as groups at various
stages in life and special needs groups (e.g.
migrants or single parents for who access
to services should be a consideration)
- Functional categories of needs, such as
education, housing, and ethnicity
- Geographical areas in which specific
needs can be identified and satisfied
The profile normally includes the following information:
- A description of the demographic, economic
and social characteristics of the population
- An analysis of trends, over time,
of these characteristics
- Projections of population size and age structure
including anticipated changes in economic
and social characteristics in the future
The major characteristics of interest are:
- The size and spread of the population
- The age/sex structure
- The family structure
Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey
The Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey
(ERASS) is a joint initiative of the Australian Sports
Commission and state and territory departments of
sport and recreation. ERASS collects information
on the frequency, trends, nature and type of
activities of persons aged 15 years and over
for exercise, recreation and sport. The survey
is conducted quarterly throughout Australia.
Data should only be collected if it is directly related
to the study purpose. For example, there is little
value in providing detailed information on community
composition if the study is determining the need for
a bore on a reserve. However, the age composition
of a particular location becomes vital when
considering the development of a bowling club.
It is important to analyse and provide brief written
commentary on relevant statistics. Matters
to be considered include the following:
- Identify significant characteristics
For example “Over 52 per cent of the
population is under 25 years of age.”
- Identify significant trends
For example: “The 0–14 aged group has declined
consistently over the 1995–2005 period while the
over 55 age group has increased consistently.”
- Provide reasons for an apparent situation:
For example “The population density is centered in
the western half of the study area. This is due to
the Industrial Park occupying the eastern sector.”
- Indicate factors which may cause changes to
For example: “The population base is currently
quite small being only 6,500, but the recent
approval for a high density subdivision in the
area is expected to increase the population
which will have a significant impact on
the future needs of the community.”
- Draw comparisons of data
For example: “The population statistics
of the City of … indicate there is a high
concentration of 10–14 year olds when
compared to the overall state demography.”
- Identify any problems with the data
The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects
census data every five years. Publication of this
information is released over a period of 18 months.
Therefore, if studies are undertaken towards
the latter end of a census period, the situation
may change considerably in some areas.
In smaller communities be aware that a high
percentage increase in population may not
increase the facility needs of that community.
In conclusion, the development of a community
profile provides valuable information about the
study area but it should not be the only source of
information about the community. In most cases
the information obtained should be supplemented
with some form of community consultation.
Existing and comparative provision reviews
Inventory of existing facilities and services
The Facilities Mapping Project developed
by the Department of Sport and Recreation
should assist in this process.
Preparing an inventory essentially involves gathering
information on the availability and usage of services
and facilities provided for the community. The primary
function is to allow an assessment of the adequacy of
existing provision. Once existing provision is known
and recorded and potential demand identified from the
community profile, it is then possible to determine:
- Areas of need for which there are
no or few services provided
- Special needs groups for whom there
are no or few services provided
- Any imbalance in the distribution of
services in respect to potential need
What to include in the inventory
All services and facilities relevant to the study brief
and available for use by community groups and
individuals should be included. Those services and
facilities, that are located outside the area but cater
for the local community, should also be included.
The multiple use of facilities is common and all
activities must be identified. Some inventories identify
only the primary use of a facility and thereby risk
omitting small but important service provision.
The following details may be obtained
for each service or facility depending on
the nature and scope of the study.
- Contact person and telephone number
- Sponsor or provider
- Type of service provided
- Type and components of facility
- Age groups catered for
- Geographical area covered
- Opening times
- Cost to user
- Frequency of use
- Staffi ng levels, paid and voluntary
- Source of funding
- Building capacity
- Building condition
- Level of accessibility
Proposals that are likely to go ahead in the
foreseeable future should be noted.
The scope of the inventory
Preparing inventories is a resource intensive exercise.
Information should be collected only on services
and facilities related to the proposed project.
The need to create a full inventory will only be
necessary when undertaking a comprehensive
Community Needs Assessment.
A comparative assessment is based on participation
trends in other comparable communities or facilities
to that being considered. For instance, when
considering the use of recreation facilities within
a community of 10,000 it would be appropriate
to consider a comparative assessment of other
communities of a similar size and nature, also taking
into consideration the financial performance of their
facilities. Care should be taken to ensure that the
nature is indeed similar i.e. variations such as coastal
versus inland can make a significant difference.
Two reasons for using comparative information are:
- It will assist in providing an understanding of the
likely behavioural patterns in a particular community
- It will help to confirm the accuracy of participation
trends identified through consultation in the study
Standards are generally developed on an historical
basis which is unlikely to reflect actual or future need
given all of the other changes in the community. They
do not usually provide an adequate basis for planning.
Standards should be used with caution as they
do not recognise facilities provided in an adjoining
local authority which may be located within the
catchment of the facility. Also, there may be
numerous other factors which may influence
the use of a given facility in a given area.
They should never be used in isolation or as absolutes.
Geographic and facilities information systems
Major developments in collating inventory information
have emerged over the past few years with the
advent of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
and Facilities Information Systems (FIS).
Two of the most widely used GIS systems are
MapInfo and ArcInfo. Both are computer-based
tools for recording and mapping a wide range of
information, including recreation provision, which
will assist planners and managers with their work.
A GIS has considerable potential as a planning
tool, especially for municipalities with a large
diverse range of opportunities or where identifying
regional patterns of provision is important
to making effective planning decisions.
Computer based GIS systems require
resources including the cost of installing and
maintaining large integrated systems, the
need for considerable user training and a
commitment to regularly updating information.
While it is recognised that GIS and FIS systems
may not have an application in the ‘small’ Needs
Assessment, the existence of these tools for
large complex studies and their importance to
regional planning should not be overlooked.
In addition, the Department of Sport and Recreation
in partnership with the Department of Land
Information (DLI) has developed a sport and
recreation based Facilities Mapping Tool. The
Facilities Mapping Tool may assist in selecting
locations for new facilities, map and report on parks
and recreation sites, display and analyse land use
data, population analysis, update land development
and boundary data as well as provide information
on user groups utilising the facilities. This source
will require regular information updates from local
government authorities to ensure its relevance.
Community consultation is a vital and integral
part of the Needs Assessment process. Involving
the community in the process is almost as
important as the outcomes and should not be
underestimated in its ability to be used as a
tool in the community development area.
No one consultative technique is likely to
provide all the answers. A range of techniques
should be used in conjunction with information
gained from literature reviews, community
profiles, inventories and other relevant data.
An important task in Needs Assessment is
separating ‘wants’ from ‘needs’. In many facility
developments it can be seen that sometimes the
‘wants’ have been translated into a need that has not
been tested and examined fully, leading to underutilised,
costly and/or poorly located facilities.
Through an extensive consultation phase, many of
the identified ‘wants’ can be tested against community
values and desired futures. That is, what may be a
need of one individual or group can be questioned
and analysed against other identified need in
order to determine the priority of a community.
Methods of consultation include the following:
- Public meetings
- Community surveys and questionnaires
- Consultative groups / charettes
- Press releases and advertisements
- service providers
- key community members
- Search conference
- Steering committee
Refer to the Department of Sport and Recreation’s
publication, “Community Consultation Guide”.
Review of state sports associations
(SSA’s) sport strategic facility plans
Beginning in 2003 a number of sports that
are large consumers of facilities are being
progressed through a Strategic Facility Planning
process. These plans will evolve in effectiveness
over time as a useful planning aid.
The plans seek to challenge existing facility provision,
especially in the context of demographic and
planning policy changes. They also challenge sports
to consider future needs in outer growth areas and
develop better partnerships with local and state
government. Facility planners and project proponents
should refer to these plans where they exist.
Local Authority Plans
Legislation requires Local Government
Authorities to produce leisure or activity plans.
These plans should assist facility planners to
ascertain a framework and the future direction of
facilities planning within in the local authority.
Step four – determination
of basic needs
Analysis and synthesis of
the information gathered
The information collected during the Needs
Assessment is of little use unless it is
effectively analysed. This means identifying
trends, patterns, relationships and themes
running through the information gathered.
It is at this stage that the ‘wants’ identified
in the community consultation are assessed
in relation to the other information gathered
and the ‘needs’ are identified.
These findings must be assessed in the
context of the purpose of the study and the
corporate and community values identified in
Step 1 of the Needs Assessment Process.
Identification of duplication
and gaps in provision
A number of differing methods can be utilised to
analyse the information gathered. The analysis
must ensure the study’s purpose is to the
forefront and avoid over-analysing the data.
Some analysis methods, which have been
found to be useful, include the following:
- A simple totalling of facilities by numbers and type
- The plotting of facility catchment areas on a map
- An analysis of the ‘mix’ of services
available at each facility
- The geographic assessment of
duplications and gaps
- The distribution of facilities by other characteristics
such as cost, management, flexibility in program
delivery and land availability for redevelopment
- Examine the appropriateness of facilities
and programs to the community in which
they are located, i.e. a sporting facility
located in an aged community may be more
appropriate to convert to a seniors centre
It is important that assessments are undertaken
within an appropriate catchment. They should not
be restricted by local government boundaries.
The information gathered should be presented
in a clear and concise manner. The listing of 200
or even 20 facilities and their services in a table
form will have little impact on the reader who
may not have the time to consider the detail.
A more appropriate method would be to
graphically depict the information on a study
area map thus clearly showing the spatial
relationship of one facility to another.
Step five - development proposal
It is important to keep an ‘open mind’ to the possible
outcomes of the Needs Assessment process.
The Needs Assessment should not be undertaken
with the preconceived idea that a facility is needed. A
number of options might be identified which meet the
needs of the community. These options could include:
- The development of a new facility
- The upgrading of existing facilities
- Providing new programs at existing facilities
- Increasing the advertising of existing
programs regarding costing
- Nothing is required
The Needs Assessment should provide as much
detail as possible with regard to any new facilities,
services or programs which are being proposed.
This will assist planners in the concept development
stage of the Feasibility Study, which is the next
phase in the Facility Planning Process.