Participatory Community Needs Assessment

The development activities that we want to work with are grassroots solutions for addressing community identified needs. In this first community-based workshop you are going to use a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) ranking tool. Workshop participants voice different problems, challenges and needs they experience in the community—and then vote on them with voting tokens (small stones or beans) to prioritize them. You will use drawings to illustrate needs so that marginalized and illiterate members can participate in this process equally as well as their better educated neighbors.

Getting Started
Working with your community contacts, set up a 4 hour meeting with 8 or 10 community members one week or more in advance. Communities are diverse and you need to be sure that you are working with community members that represent the ultimate beneficiaries (mothers, fathers, families, farmers, weavers—whoever best describes the community you are working with).

Avoid basing your assessment on a meeting with people in higher positions: mayors or city council members for example. It is important that women and marginalized members have a voice in the process.

Each subgroup will have their own set of needs; some members may even be self-serving. Ensure that everyone in the workshop is given an equal chance to voice the challenges that they see in the community. If there are cultural norms which may prevent some participants from speaking out, you may elect to form two groups out of one community—for example one of women separate from one of men—so that women can feel comfortable participating in the discussion.

Review the lesson plan with your team and adapt the activities so they are specific to your community context. You may choose to produce an illustrated handout or poster for the workshop—especially if some participants can’t read. Role-play the activities with your colleagues so that you are better prepared when you present the workshop, and so you can discover if there are any cultural or linguistic problems. In the workshop you need to play the role simply of a facilitator and not color the needs assessment with your own preferences.

Make sure that you have all of the materials that you may need such as pieces of paper, large sheets of newsprint and markers for drawings. Since this is a four hour workshop you may also need to plan snacks and drinks. Have two to three colleagues accompany you to help. This will be especially useful if you decide to break the participants down into sub-groups. If you are considering providing snacks put someone in charge so that you aren’t distracted with the details and are free to focus completely on facilitating the workshop.

How it works. After initial rapport building with the group, explain that the purpose of the activities is to understand and learn about their community from their perspective. Ask the group to imagine and discuss the problems and needs that are faced by the community as a whole.

As each need is identified by a community member, begin making simple illustrations that represent the challenges they describe on notebook sized sheets of paper (you can bring a selection of typical drawings to reduce time spent drawing). An example could be that if there is a housing shortage, draw a little house. After the group has come up with a good set of needs/problems, arrange the different illustrations into a rectangle side-by-side on the ground or on a table.

Have everyone leave the workshop area. Give each one of the participants voting tokens—10 or 15 slips of paper, or beans, or grains of corn. For privacy during voting, only one person should go into the workshop area at a time to vote. They should select the needs which they feel as an individual are the most important. It is their decision if they want to put all 10 tokens on one drawing or if they want to distribute them around several different challenges.

When the participants have finished voting, count the total tokens on each drawing and write up a prioritized list ordered by the number of votes each problem received—with the need that received the most votes at the top. This would be a good time for the participants to take a break so that you can take a few minutes alone with the list and to draw a two column matrix on a sheet of newsprint that everyone can see. In the left column write down the individual needs in their prioritized order (or draw little pictures again) and in the right column write the number of votes each one received.

This is a good time for the participants to have an open discussion about the results of the vote. Plus, if there are any unrelated needs competing for the highest position it would be a good idea to let the participants do a second prioritization. For example there might be two health-related challenges near the top and two microenterprise challenges near the top as well. You can ask community which would be the first project they would like to start with if you would like to keep your project simple and not be faced managing two dissimilar programs at once.

It’s very likely that the list will be a disorganized mixture of needs, challenges, underlying causes and grievances. Work with the group to connect needs and challenges to their underlying causes on the matrix so that they can see the relationship. If the matrix doesn’t have any underlying causes this would be a good time to ask the participants what they might feel the causes of the top priority challenges are. This will get them thinking in these terms, but also it’s likely that they might have more background information about a problem than you do—so this can be quite helpful for you.

Conclude the meeting by summarizing the two or three challenges that the community places their highest priority and their relationship with underlying causes. Ask for feedback of your summary in for verification from the participants. Use your best facilitation skills to make sure that no one has any questions.

Copyright © 2012, Tim Magee


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.