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Community Needs Assessment Survey: Examples and Overview

April 14, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed health disparities across the country. People of color, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and rural communities experienced higher mortality rates. Community needs assessment surveys can help identify and address these health inequalities.

A community needs assessment offers comprehensive information about the health needs, critical issues, and resources of a specific community. During the assessment process, researchers engage with communities to best address their most pressing priorities. 

Public health experts rely on needs assessments to allocate resources and advocate for interventions. A successful community needs assessment survey also strengthens community-based partnerships, increases knowledge about community health, and fosters community engagement.

What Is a Community Needs Assessment? 

A community needs assessment evaluates the physical, mental, and social well-being of a specific demographic or geographic group. These assessments also examine the assets and resources available to address community needs. 

In a public health context, these data-gathering projects may also be called community health assessments or community health needs assessments. Public health departments, hospitals, and researchers conduct these assessments to evaluate health status indicators in a target population. 

In rural areas, community needs assessments may evaluate the availability of primary care providers, for example. An assessment focused on the most significant health issues facing low-income urban families may rely on community surveys to identify health barriers, such as lack of insurance or limited access to care.

During an assessment, organizations identify the gaps in resources that leave communities vulnerable, such as a shortage of mental health providers. Assessments measure community needs using demographic data, surveys of community members, focus groups, and feedback from community organizations. At the conclusion of a community needs assessment survey, the data collection and analysis provide actionable steps. 

Community participation is a key component of successful community needs assessments. Evaluations must encourage community engagement through a collaborative framework.

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Goals of a Community Needs Assessment

The ultimate goal of a needs assessment is to identify community needs and assets. Successful assessments leverage data on needs and resources to create an actionable improvement plan. 

Identify Current Needs

The primary goal of a community needs assessment is to identify the physical, mental health, social, or public health needs in the community. For example, assessments evaluate how social determinants of health — such as income level, education, and geographical location — affect public health.

Identify Current Resources

In addition to identifying needs, a needs assessment catalogs resources and services, including government agencies, community organizations, and hospitals. These resources can address current needs through an improvement plan.

Create an Improvement Plan

After gathering and analyzing data, including feedback from the community, a public health professional uses the assessment to devise an improvement plan. The plan takes into account community health needs and available resources.

Steps to Creating a Community Needs Assessment Survey

The process of creating a community needs assessment survey requires several actions. While the specifics vary depending on the community and assessment goals, most surveys include the following steps:

  1. Clearly define the community. A successful community needs assessment must begin with a clear definition of the community. An overly broad definition can miss community needs, while a narrow focus can create data collection challenges. Depending on the assessment, the community may be children in a particular region, residents of a rural location, or a racial or ethnic community.
  2. Build in community engagement. Throughout the assessment, community organizations must encourage community engagement. Before collecting data, organizations can build a collaborative framework to engage with the community. 
  3. Conduct an assessment by collecting data. Data from surveys, interviews, and other forms of community outreach can provide qualitative and quantitative data. The most useful data depends on the assessment target. Case studies, quantitative questionnaires, and census data can all provide useful information.
  4. Create a community needs assessment report: The report should summarize the data, methodology, and key findings from the analysis. The findings lead to the final step, which develops a plan to address the need.
  5. Develop an improvement plan. A needs assessment builds toward a plan to remedy the problems faced by the community. This plan creates actionable steps to address the need with available resources or a new program. 

After concluding the community needs assessment, organizations should also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their process. Measuring the impact of the improvement plan also provides valuable information to improve the assessment process. 

The Benefits of a Community Needs Assessment Survey 

Community needs assessments offer several critical benefits. In addition to gathering information about health disparities, access to care, and population health issues, assessments build critical partnerships to address urgent public health problems.

Prioritize Resources

A needs assessment offers a comprehensive look at a community’s public health, physical, and social needs. By evaluating both needs and assets, the assessment helps stakeholders prioritize their resources. Through data collection and analysis, the assessment may reveal pressing priorities that stakeholders can address with their existing resources. 

Gain Knowledge

In addition to benefiting a specific community, the results of a needs assessment can apply more broadly. Identifying a public health challenge, such as a lack of specialized care providers in a rural community, can give public health experts valuable insights into other rural populations. This research can fuel public health advocacy around telehealth services or recruitment strategies to bring care providers to underserved communities.

Strengthen Partnerships With Stakeholders

Needs assessments call for collaboration. Organizations conducting assessments work closely with local public health systems, nonprofit organizations, and communities. The assessment process fosters important community-based partnerships.

Encourage Community Engagement

Public health organizations cannot address challenges without understanding communities. For example, meeting with residents who live in a food desert provides an in-depth understanding of community values, assets, and needs beyond what data can show. Building relationships between communities and public health organizations can improve public health outcomes. 

Community Needs Assessments and Public Health Outcomes 

Community needs assessment surveys can improve public health outcomes. The conclusion of an assessment can lead to results such as:

  • Recommending a new health program that better meets the needs of a specific community
  • Creating a partnership between organizations that address community health issues
  • Setting new strategic priorities related to public health needs
  • Increasing awareness of a particular health issue and its impact on a community
  • Engaging with policymakers and other stakeholders
  • Increasing resources for a particular need, including increased allocation of grants

Lead Community Health Transformations With a Doctor of Public Health Degree 

Public health advocates draw on specialized knowledge to advocate for communities. Tulane University’s Online Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership, Advocacy, and Equity program prepares graduates for transformative leadership roles.

During the DrPH program, doctoral students explore public health research, social policy, and community organization. They also study leadership theory, health advocacy, and program planning. The flexible program accepts applicants without a master’s degree in public health. Learn how a DrPH can advance your career. 

Advance Your Public Health Career with a DrPH in Leadership, Advocacy & Equity

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

Black Maternal Health in the U.S.

DrPH vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?

Effective Leadership in Public Health: Essential Skills


BMC Health Services Research, “A Scoping Review of Community Health Needs and Assets Assessment: Concepts, Rationale, Tools and Uses”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Assessment & Planning Models, Frameworks & Tools

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Community Health Assessments & Health Improvement Plans

Child Welfare Information Gateway, Community Needs Assessment

Journal of Healthcare Leadership, “Health Inequalities During COVID-19 and Their Effects on Morbidity and Mortality”

Rural Health Information Hub, Using Community Health Assessments to Understand the Social Determinants of Health in a Community