Start with a needs assessment.

Conducting a staff development needs assessment

What is needs assessment?

Needs assessment is defined in the Family Planning Manager's Handbook, a publication that provides information regarding how to run a family planning program (available electronically from the Manager's Electronic Resource Center), as:

An analysis that studies the needs of a specific group (employees, clients, managers), presents the results in a written statement detailing those needs (such as training needs, needs for health services, etc.), and identifies the actions required to fulfill these needs, for the purpose of program development and implementation.

Why are needs assessments important?

Needs assessments enable us to ground justification for development of a training program within the real world needs of our associates or employees. Imagine the reaction of business, organizational, or institutional stakeholders if an unecessary and potentially expensive training program was developed that did not fulfill the needs of staff. Needs assessments save money, time, and increase the potential for value in the outcomes training efforts.

Sample needs assessment document

P1 - Needs Assessment Document PDF.

This document demonstrates strategies for conducting a needs assessment to:

  1. Identify areas of need
  2. Needs assessment instruments
  3. Strategies for implementation of needs assessment

Literature review: Needs assessment


Nguyen, F. (2005). EPSS needs assessment: Oops, I forgot how to do that! Performance Improvement, 44, 33-48.

Summary of article

The Nguyen article describes an assessment conducted regarding an Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS). An EPSS was not described in detail; though, an EPSS appears to be an online help/training tool that can be utilized in conjunction with electronic diagnostic equipment used for performing maintenance on sophisticated mechanical equipment (e.g. jet engines).

The assessment was implemented using a two-part survey administered to 122 employees who were “identified as high-volume end users of online web-based training content”. The assessment measured the perceived value of different training scenarios and features of the training software.

Employees ranked training scenarios that were related to their specific job roles, context sensitive help systems, and Web sites with schematics and diagrams of equipment. The employees indicated that they would prefer a system that featured the ability to bookmark and/or print content. The use of a search engine to locate content, ability to e-mail content, and to rate information was rated very low.

The author concluded, “These results indicate that a performance support system that can intelligently provide content for specific job roles would be an invaluable performance intervention.”

Implications of staff development by author

From this article, in our exploration of staff development issues, we can conclude that developing training materials that provide contextual relevance to participants job roles will likely yield sustainable results and retention of material.

If we were to develop a new delivery mechanism for online staff development, it would be ideal to assess the features that our audience would prefer. In the case of Nguyen’s study, a search engine was not a desirable feature. Eliminating this feature, or other features specified by our target audience, will save significant development time – which can be allocated to other works that will yield a better return on our investment.

My reaction

I would have like to know a little more about the electronic training system Nguyen and his team developed. I think I would have been able to make better connections regarding their asessment tool with this extra information.

As far as content and practices go, I think that doing multiple assessments that include perspectives and desires of the target audience during the formative phases of development of the new tool would be desirable. In some cases, I wonder if the target audience would always be able to provide a sufficient assessment of the tool/method(i.e. if they aren’t familiar with the material, how can we be sure that their perceptions of the value/method are accurate – when they are not really familiar with the topic or new procedure?).


Learning more.

Learn more about needs assessment

Online resources

American Evaluation Association Topic Interest Group in Needs Assessment
Visit this site to find a list of userful publications, articles, presentations, and recent work done regarding needs assessment in both professional and educational evaluation settings.'s Training Needs Assessment has gained a reputation for providing easy-to-comprehend articles and guides on a variety of topics. This particular collection provides an introduction to needs asssessment, tools, methods, and analysis.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Needs Assessment online learning module
This online learning module has been designed to enable participants to "develop assessment instruments such as surveys and questionnaires, understand where needs assessments fit in the project development process, and the basic steps in conducing needs assessments".

Great books about needs assessments

Book cover: A practical guide to needs assessment.

A practical guide to needs assessment
by Kavita Gupta, Catherine M. Sleezer, and Darlene F. Russ-Eft

Book description

This thoroughly revised edition of the best-selling resource A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment offers a practical and comprehensive guide for practitioners who are responsible for

Designed as a resource for practitioners, this book is filled with how-to information, tips, and case studies. It shows how to use data-based needs assessments to frame people-related problems and performance, improvement opportunities to obtain support from those who are affected by the changes, make effective decision, and increase efficiency.

Book cover: Training needs assessment.

Training Needs Assesment: Methods, Tools, and Techniques
by Jean Barbazette

"In this volume, Jean Barbazette--a true training pro--shares her tips and tricks for conducting a training needs assessment. Theoretically sound, yet infinitely practical, Barbazette guides trainers through each phase of a needs assessment, from starting the process to reporting the data to management. This book is an essential tool for both trainers who need to learn about needs assessment on-the-job, and students in academic courses on instructional design, needs assessment, and training."
--Saul Carliner, Ph.D., CTDP, assistant professor, Graduate Program in Educational Technology, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada