Needs assessment: A tool for program planning and community building

Needs assessment: A tool for program planning and community building

Paul Harkin and Jessica Smart

This webinar demonstrated how a needs assessment can inform program planning, as well as contribute to community building outcomes.

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 8 May 2019. 

A full recording of this webinar is available on our YouTube Channel.

The audio, transcript and presentation slides are available under Event Resources on this page. 

A list of resources related to this topic is available on our post-webinar forum.

Identifying social issues and community assets ensures that services, programs and policies are responsive to the community. A needs assessment is a systematic process through which data are collected on social issues and community assets, and issues are prioritised for action. Undertaking a needs assessment provides an evidence-based foundation for a program, policy or service. It is an essential step in a community development process. 

This webinar provided an introduction to needs assessment and briefly described the process. It explored and provided practice insights into how conducting a good quality needs assessment can enhance an agency or organisation’s understanding of community issues and assets for policy or service delivery; and build and strengthen community through the needs assessment process.

This webinar is of interest to practitioners, leaders and policy makers, particularly those who are involved in planning and designing services, policies and programs.

This webinar built upon a recent Expert Panel Project practice resource:


This webinar is co-produced by CFCA and the Families and Children Expert Panel Project, AIFS.


Featured image © GettyImages/shapecharge

About the presenters

Paul Harkin

Paul Harkin is Director of Community Development at The Benevolent Society. He has a Master of Community Development, 20 years’ experience working in the community sector in Ireland, the UK and Australia, and is a current MBA candidate at the University of Sydney. His present role with The Benevolent Society includes: supporting their community-focused services, so that each service understands and is connected to the individual communities in which they are based; understanding their impact; and creating partnerships with others that improve outcomes for clients and communities.

Paul’s career has given him the privilege of engaging with strong, resilient communities in urban and rural settings – communities that work with their strengths to address their challenges. He has engaged with communities to design new solutions to the issues they face, through needs assessment, collaboration and advocacy. Some of these have included: the establishment of social enterprise responses; multi-agency partnerships to tackle significant community disadvantage; community consultation and planning; service design and procurement; social action networks seeking to change views and systems; and innovative solutions to address access issues.

Jessica Smart

Jessica Smart is a Senior Research Officer at AIFS working across multiple projects with a focus on evaluation capacity building. Her previous work has been in the not-for-profit sector, developing, delivering and evaluating community development and population health projects. Recent projects have been in the area of sexual health and respectful relationships with people with intellectual disability, with a focus on engaging community members as partners in research, program delivery and evaluation. Jessica recently completed a Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne.