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Conduct a needs assessment

Last edited: February 21, 2019

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Following the mapping exercise to identify existing services, a needs assessment should be conducted to compare the available services with those that are needed.  A needs assessment is also called formative research, and is used to collect information and data needed to plan programmes and initiatives. 

A needs assessment can be an important tool in planning and developing a coordinated response because it enables members to:

  • clearly identify need and demand;
  • conduct a review of existing and related services, including those delivered by the NGO sector (i.e., mapping);
  • identify barriers to access and opportunities to overcome those barriers;
  • gather information to refocus or design a service delivery strategy;
  • establish a baseline of need and current service provision, which can be used to evaluate and measure progress;
  • focus resources effectively and efficiently; and
  • stimulate more responsive services by involving staff, users and community stakeholders.

(Adapted from Department of Health, England, 2011, available here).

If data is available, a violence against women needs assessment can compare the prevalence of violence against women within a population, including the socio-demographic profile of victims/survivors and their geographical distribution, with the number, profile and location of those using existing services.  This analysis may reveal significant gaps that can inform future service development – for example, services may be concentrated in particular geographic areas, or certain groups of victims/survivors may not be able to access formal services. If data does not already exist, a needs assessment is likely to be an important piece of work that a coordinated response will commission in its early stages.

By informing the direction of future policy and service provision, a needs assessment may be one method for complying with national legislation on equality and discrimination, by ensuring that all citizens have access to services according to need. 

Tools and resources

Response to Sexual Violence Needs Assessment Toolkit (Department of Health, 2011), London: Department of Health.  This toolkit describes the key stages in the process of conducting a needs assessment in the field of sexual violence responses, including mapping need, examining demand, mapping service provision and analysing gaps.  It also contains a section detailing potential sources of data that, while specific to the UK context, indicates the types of information that may be available elsewhere.  Available in English.

The US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime has produced a Guide to Conducting a Needs Assessment, which includes sections on formulating needs assessment questions, reviewing existing data, collecting new data and reporting and using findings.

The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Toolkit includes a section on conducting a needs assessment that is relevant to any form of violence against women.

Examples from different countries

Sexual Gender-Based Violence and Health Facility Needs Assessment (Lofa, Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Grand Bassa Counties) Liberia (Omanyondo, M., 2005), World Health Organisation.  This needs assessment focuses on the scale of sexual violence in Liberia, the consequences on victims/survivors’ health, the needs of selected health facilities in order to provide quality care to victims/survivors and existing coordination mechanisms.  Available in English.

Florida’s Domestic Violence Needs Assessment for 2006-2007 (Vinton, L, Wilke, D., Griffith, A., Starks, Heffner, M. and Mack, J., 2006), Institute for Family Violence Studies, Florida State University.  This assessment focuses on the needs of women and children who have experienced domestic violence in Florida.  Methods include focus groups with victims/survivors and a survey with key professionals.  Available in English.