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Assignment: Planning a Needs Assessment II

One of the many reasons social workers conduct needs assessment is to provide support for new programs. Social workers have many methods available to collect necessary data for a needs assessment.

Social workers can use existing data from a wide range of sources, including local and national reports by government and nonprofit agencies, as well as computerized mapping resources. Social workers can gather new data through interviews and surveys with individuals and focus groups. This data can provide the evidence that supports the need for the program.

To prepare for this Assignment, review the needs assessment plans that you and your classmates generated for this week’s Discussion. Also, review the logic models that you created in Week 7 and any literature on needs of caregivers that you used to generate them. Consider the following to stimulate your thinking:

·        Getting information about the needs of the target population:

o   Who would informants be?

o   What is your purpose for interacting with them?

o   What questions would you ask?

o   What method would you use (interview, focus group, questionnaire)?

·        Finding potential clients:

o   Who would informants be?

o   What is your purpose for interacting with them?

o   What questions would you ask?

o   What method would you use?

·        Interacting with the target population:

o   Who would informants be?

o   What is your purpose for interacting with them?

o   What questions would you ask?

o   What method would you use?

By Day 7

Submit a 2- to 3-page paper outlining a hypothetical needs assessment related to the support group program for caregivers. Include the following:

·        The resources needed to operate this service

·        The program activities

·        The desired outcomes

·        A plan for gathering information about the population served

·        Justifications for your plans and decisions

·        A one-paragraph conclusion describing how you might conduct a follow-up to the needs assessment at the implementation stage of the program evaluation

Resources (Attached)

Dudley, J. R. (2020). Social work evaluation: Enhancing what we do (3rd ed.) Oxford University Press.

· (For review) Chapter 6, “Needs Assessment” (pp. 115–143)

· Chapter 7, “Crafting Goals and Objectives” (pp. 149–168)


Needs Assessments

Leslie M. Tutty and Michael A. Rothery

eeds assessmen ts a re a for m of resea rch conduclcd to gather information
about the needs of a population o r group in a co mmunity. One of the
more practical types of research, needs assessments are used to develop
new services or to evaluate the relevance of exist ing programs. They may
also be used to establish a need to rev ise or create policy.

Th is chapter begins with a definition o[ needs assessment, how we define ” needs:’ and
how we determine who to ask abou t needs. Common methodological approaches to
n eeds assessments are described and evaluated using examples p rim arily from the social
work literature. The benefits of triangulation, or using more than one source or method
of gathering information, are presented, followed by a discussion of who shou ld digest
and weigh info rm at i.on about ne eds once the information is ga thered. Finally, we conside r
th e importance of developing a plan to implemen t recommendat ions so that th e work of
assessing needs is used to clients’ benefits, not relegated to the shelves occupied by other
dusty and neglected reports.

What Is a Needs Assessment?

Needs assessments have not changed much over the years. In 1982, Kuh (cited in Stabb,
1995) listed five general purposes commo nly served by needs assessment research that
remain relevant today:

l. Monitoring stakeholders’ perceptions of various issues, which can guide the devel-
opment of new programs or policies

2. Justifying existin g policies o r programs

3. Assessing client sa tisfacti on with services

4. Selecting the most desirable program or policy from several alternatives

5. Determining if needs have been met, a purpose closely akin to program eva luation

Two key q uestions are addressed when needs <1ssessments are undertaken: “Wh o?” and
” IIow?” The “who” questio n requires the researcher to be dear abo ut the membersh ip of
the group whose needs are to be assessed. Often, a study entails gathering information
from a variety of respondents, from individuals who may never have been clients to those



receiving multiple services. In almost every case, however, at least one set of respondents
will be the individuals who are most immediately affected by gaps in services or supports,
rather than relying so lely on the opinions of service providers, academics, or funde rs .

The “how” question addresses th e methods used to gathe r informa tion from the group
whose needs are of interest. These are not unique; rather, needs assessments borrow
familiar techniques such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups, all of which are high-
lighted in other chapters in this book. Quant itative methods such as surveys or standard-
ized m easures may be used, as may q ualitative m ethods such as in-depth individ ual
interviews or focus groups. Combinations of both arc increasingly popular since each
method has its advantages and limitations.

Defining Need
When we invoke the concept of needs, we may easily assume that we share with others a
common understa nding of what it is we are talking about. However, it is worthwhile look-
ing more closely at the defini tion of the te rm since usefu l characteristics and di stinctions
are highlighted when we do so.

The concept of need is not new: Researchers have been defining and red efining the
term for decades. Stabb (1995) distinguishes between met and zmmet needs. “Met
needs are necessary or desirable co nditions that alrea dy exist in act ua li ty. Unmet needs
arise when there is a discrepancy between desirable conditions and current actuality”
(p. 52). Both met and unmet needs could conceivably become the focus of needs assess-
m ent research, although unm et needs will be the main concern in the vast majority of

A different distinction (perhaps m ore usefu l for our purposes) is provided by Witkin
and Altschuld (1995), who define a need as “a discrepancy or gap between ‘what is,’ or the
present state of affairs and \vhat should be; o r a desi red state of affairs” (p. 4). In this
an alysis, needs equate with unmet needs, the most common fo cus fo r needs assessment
research. Revere, Berkow itz, Carter, an d Ferguson (1996) add the sugges tion that need is
defined by “community values, [a nd is) amenable to change” (p. 5).

From these perspectives (and wi th reference to considerations introd uced earlier), a
needs assessment gathers informatio n about gaps between real and ideal conditions, the
reasons that these gaps ex ist, and what can be done about them , all wi thin the con text of
t.he beliefs of the community and available resources for change.

Another distinction introduces the question of degree. Some needs are stronger or
more important than others. f undamental needs with relevance to people’s sur vival,
safety, or basic comforts are not the same as “wants” or less compell ing needs. A social
work professor’s desire for a week in Mexico as a break from winter is qualitatively very
different from a homeless person’s need for food and shelter in the face of the same cold
conditions. While it is often d ifficult to draw the line between rela tively impor ta nt needs
and less important wants, it is still important to do so. Needs assessments are focused on
needs that affect ind ividuals’ abilities to function well in important areas of their lives.
Wants associated with perceived quality of life (b ut not to the same extent with life’s real
essentials) are more lhe purview of market research.

Social workers generally find Maslow’s (1970) hierarchy of needs useful when consid-
ering the needs and priorities of their clients. It is also a framework that can inform needs
assessments. Maslow’s five levels of need are physical and life-sustaining needs (such as
air, water, food, warmth, and elimination of bodily wastes), physical safety (e.g., protec-
tion from physical attack and disease), love and support, self- esteem an d self-wo rth, and
self- realizat ion (e.g., needs to be productive and creative) . Maslow con tended that these


basic needs must be attended to before attempting to address higher level needs (or
“wants”). Needs assessments can gather information relevant to any one or more of these
five levels, b u t the hierarchy of priorities prov ides useful cr iteria fo r deci d ing on what to
focus first in data collection and recorn mending changes.

Finally, some authors argue that once an “expressed need” is verbalized, it becomes a
want or a demand (Stabb, 1995) . This is not the same as differentia ting needs from wants
o n the basis of the strength of the potential impact on someone’s well -being and is prob-
ably less useful for our purposes. However, a related point is noteworthy: Verbal demands
are not always the d irec t expression of need. Just beca use someone exp resses a want d oes
not mean that it represen ts a need. Thus, in needs assessments, it is important to gather
information from members of a population beyond those publicly advocating for specific
d emands.

Who Do We Ask About Needs?
The term stakeholders is often used to refer to clients or potential clients or the people who
actually n-perience the need thal is being studied. However, Revere and colleagues (1996)
suggest broaden ing th e d efinition to refer to “service providers and m a nagem ent, com-
munity members, certain politicians, the funding source, business/trade associations and
the actual research •..vorkers” (p. 7) since each of these has a vested inte rest in the study and
its o utcomes. Th is flex [ble use of the term is helpful, suggestin g a range of potential
sources of data and recognizing that needs assessments have ramifications for people
beyond those normally surveyed .

Needs assessmen ts tra ditiona lly look to three groups as sources of data: the target group
(i.e., clients or potential clients), key informants such as community leaders or service
providers, or a sample of aJI members of the relevan t comm unity. Each is described in more
detail below.

The target group or populatio11 comprises the very individuals about whom we arc con-
cerned and whose needs we w ish to assess. Common sense suggests that these are the
voices we most wish to listen to in o ur q uest t o gather the best an d most current infor-
mation. However, engaging with individuals to encourage them to share their needs and
op inions is not always easy. Highly d isadvantaged, socially m arginalized individuals and
grou ps, the typ ical focus of social workers’ interventions, are nol always accustomed to
being asked their opinions and may not easily articulate their needs to a researcher when
inv ited to d o so. Furthermore, they may have understandable reasons fo r n ot trusting
members of those who have mo re powe r in soc iety, a group to which researchers belong.
Consider the homeless as an example, especially the subpopulation that has been diag-
nosed with psychiatric disorders. With any such group, the researcher ca n not simply
approach and invite them to en umerate Lheir needs. Strategies (and time) for building
trust, rapport, and for encouraging engagement in the research process are prerequisites
for successful data gather in g.

McKi ll ip (1998) defines another gro up serving as a common source of data, key infor-
mants, as “opportunistically connected individuals with the knowledge and ability to
repor t on communi ty needs. Key in fo rmants arc lawyers, judges, physicians, min isters,
minority group leaders, and service providers who are aware of the need and services per-
ceived as important by a community” (pp. 272- 273). An advantage of gathering data
from key informa nts is that they may have a broad er knowledge of serv ices available in
the community than the target population, and they may be better at articulating what
needs must be effectively addressed. One disadvantage is that key informants sometimes
have a vested interes t in developin g new services or preserving esta blished resou rces even


though they arc less than adequate (we all develop loyalties, and these can affect our judg-
ment). McKfllip (1998) also notes that key informants may underesti1nate the willingness
of m embers of the target population to participate in programs while overestimating the
extent of the problems.

The third group, community members, comprises th e entire citizen ry of a comm unity.
This group encompasses members of the target population but also includes those not
directly affected by these needs. App roaching community members for information has
the advantage of identifying how broadly based the needs are, rather than assuming that
they are restricted to the ta rget population. lt also offers the opportunities to lea rn about
how needs (and the strategies Lo ameliorate them) are perceived in the commu ni ty at
large and to think about how that v.rill affect efforts to implement changes. A disadvan-
tage, though, is that community members m ay be relatively t111awarc of the needs of its
more marginalized citizens.

In summary, each of th ese groups may b e the focus of the needs assessmen t methods
documented in the next several sections. The choice of whom to engage may be based on
access to the group or limitatio ns of tin1e and resources. If possible, representation from
each of the target population, key commu ni ty stakeh olders, and members of the general
public is worth considering as each provides valuable but somewhat different information.

Methods of Needs Assessment

As mentioned prev iously, one ca n co nduct needs ass essm ents u sing a variety of strategies.
We will d£scuss methods in lwo broad catego ries, quantitative and qualitative.
Quantitative m ethods gather data th at are tran slated in to numerical form and described
using statistics. Using such methods, it is possible, for example, to conclude that in a sam-
ple of 102 shelter residents, 70.5% of these women abused by intimate partners were
abused themselves as childre n and described 73.7% of their pa r tners as also having been
abused (Tutty & Rothery, 2002). Such high proportions may be interpreted as suggesting
the need for early in tervention with children in sh elters in the hope of preventing the
cycle of violence from affecting a new generation.

Providing statistics about the extent of a need can be a powerful method of raising
awareness of the severity of gaps in services. The section on quantilative needs assessment
will describe three such methods: surveys, s tandardized needs assessment measures, and
using existing statistica l databases.

In cont rast, qualitative needs assessments ask questions that are more op en-ended and
allow the research in fo rma nt to describe in detail the complexities o f the issues at hand.
for example, a qualital ive needs assessment conducting in terviews with another group of
,63 abused women residing in a shelter noted that providing for their basic needs such as
safety and food was of great impo rtance (Tutty, Weaver, & Ro thery, 1999) . However, some
women expressed concerns about the fact that a few residents were difficult to live with,
and some mothers did not m anage lhcir children’s aggressive behavior or ignored them.
These results suggest a somewhat different focus for intervention by crisis counselors and
th e need to p rovide parenting progra ms for some residents.

Results from qualitative needs assessments often lack s ta tistical dat a that could convey
the extent of the problem, but they tend to be rich in detail that conveys the complexities
and uniqueness of the experiences of different individuals. T he quali ta tive needs assess-
ments methods described in the chapter include interviews (either face-to-face or by tele-

~!1~ll~h f8EU~ KrGUp~. nomtm1 groupg, ~nd t CMh halt meetings.


Quantitative Methods of Needs Assessment Surveys
Allhough surveys may ask open-ended qualitative questions, the great majority are devel-
oped for quantitative data analysis. Quantitatively oriented surveys, particularly those
employing questionnaires, are the most freq uent method of assessing needs. The tasks
involved in developing a survey to assess needs are ident ical to those undertaken when
surveys arc developed for other purposes, so they will not be detailed here. The major
steps involve

1. D eciding who Lo survey (e.g., target groups, key info rmants)

2. Selecting a method of sampling (e.g., random or systematic sample)

3. Determining the content of items (through reviewing the literature or holding
focus groups with key informants, as only two examples)

4. Ch oosing what type of question to use (e.g., open-ended, multiple choice, or scaled
with respect to the extent of agreement)

5. Selecting a method of distribution (e.g., the Internet, mail, or telephone)

The advantages of surveys include the ease and flexibility with which they can be
administered compared to other methods and th e relative lack of expense to collect a con-
siderable amount of data. Disadvantages include the extent to which a set questionnaire
can predetermine the issues that respondents address and the consequent danger of not
hearing about needs that would emerge in a more open-ended process.

With such risks in mind, Witkin and Altschuld (1995) recommend being cautious about
assuming that a written questionnaire is the most app ropriate tool wh en considering con-
ducting a needs assessmen t. While a questionnaire can be an important tool, they suggest
that it should not be used until after more exploratory methods have been employed to
ensure that the factors measured by questionnaire items are as well chosen as possible.

Furthermore, some cultural groups find surveys strange or difficult (especially if
English is not one’s first language) and respond negatively to them. Weaver (1997), for
example, described a questionnaire developed to assess the needs of an off-reservation
Native American community in an urban area. A large numb er of qu estionnaires were
mailed out, with virtually no returns. The alternative of a qualitative approach including
focus groups and individual interviews was adop ted with considerably greater success.

An example of a needs assessment that employed survey methods more appropriately
is Brennan Homiak and Singletary’s (2007) study that surveyed Christian clergy members
from 15 denomina tions in central Texas with respect Lo their perceptions of the number
in their congregation experiencing intimate partner violence and what clergy needed to
better address this serious concern. Of the 100 surveys mailed, 44 were returned, a some-
what low but not unusual return rate for mailed surveys.

The clergy members estimated that less than IOo/o of thei r congregation members
experienced partner violence–low when compared to incidence studies in Texas that
cited lifetime rates of 47%. Only about one third of the clergy had received domestic
violence-specific training; they were more likely to have resource materials in their
churches and were familiar with local agencies and shelters for abused women. While a
small proportion of the clergy considered themselves very equipped to counsel victims of
domestic violence or make referrals, the majority did not. The authors recommend th at
social workers take the lead in offering trai ning to assist the cl ergy in promoting violence-
free congregations.


As mentioned prev iously, surveys may usc both ch eck-lis t type, predetermined
resp onses and open -ended questions that allow for m ore context ual detai led responses
and arc analyzed using qualitat ivc m ethods. A recent exa mple of using open-ended ques-
tions is a survey with 206 agency-based social work field instructors, querying their initial
awareness, personal and professional needs, and field issues that arose in response to th e
World Trade Ce nter disaster of Septem ber lith, 2001. The field instructors had clearly
been weary but retained sensitivity to studen t and client n eeds. The res ults suggest th e
imp orta nce of develop ing an integrated crisis p lan to better lin k the school, students, and
field instructors in the event of future disasters.

Standardized Needs Assessment Measures
A relatively n ew needs assessme11t methodology entails developin g stand ardized measu res
to assess th e needs of a specific popu lat ion group. For exampl e, Wancata and colleagues
(2006) initially used focus groups and in depth individ ual interviews to develop a mea-
sure comprising 18 common p roblems exp erienced by caregivers o f adults diagnosed
with schizophrenia. The difficulties were translated into items such as “not enough infor-
mation on the illness, its symptom s and course,” ” fear of stigmatization and discrimina –
t io n ,” and ” burnout or illness of the carer.”

Using such a measure in other needs assessment research has the advantage of building
on the work that has gone into identifying and conceptualizing potentially impo rtan t
n eeds and of using a meas ure for whi ch reliabil ity and validi ty will often have been estab-
lished. A poss ible disadvan tage is that needs proven relevan t to caregivers of adults diag-
nosed \’l’ith schizophrenia in one location may not ha ve the same importance in others.
Conversely, items about other needs tha t are important in a new loca le may be m issing
from the standardized measure.

Using Existing Statistical Information
Another quantitative method of con du cting needs assessments is using da ta that h ave been
previously collected. Existing data may be available in agency fi les or governmen t data
banks, for example. Such secondary analyses have the advantage of sparing researchers the
tim e and expense of gathering new data. A d isadvantage is that one is lim ited to data th at
som eone else considered worth gath ering, and potentially important variables may be
absent or may need to be inferred indirectly from the data that were recorded.

Review ing case fil es can be challenging. As a follow-up to a previousl y completed study
on the o utcomes of a specialized domestic violence court (Tutty, McNichol, & Christe nsen,
2008), we are using district attorney files to collect a number of variables, including the
demographic cha racteristics of tbe accused and the victim, whe ther the victims testifi ed or
provided a victims impact statement to the court, and hov,, the trial was resolved.

In contested cases, the files can b e very large, literally inches thick! The fi les are created
for the crimina l justice system, not researche rs, so there is no consistent organi zation. As
such, collecting data from one file can take several hours. Considerable information may
not be recorded. Lawyers are not necessari ly as interested in demographic cha racteristics
such as ethni city or age as most researchers are, and so lit tle of th is can be found in the
files. Desp ite these challenges, if we are to evaluate the specialized courts, paper flle
reviews are our only option to assess whether the courts are m eeting Lhe needs of both the
victim s and th e accused.

The followi ng needs assessment used case records to assess wh ether the needs of abused
and neglected children were adequately addressed by the child welfare int ervention . Tracy,


Green, and Bremseth (1 993) revi ewed case records of supportive services for abused and
neglected children in one U.S. state. Five hundred child welfare cases were sampled to
explore facto rs associated wit h decisions to offer one of two services, family preservation if
children at risk were still at horne, or reunification fo r families with children who had been
placed. The authors collected information on demographic variables, presenting problems,
service history, service needs, services planned and provided, service characteristics, and
serv ice outcomes. This en terprise, the aLlthors noted, consumed thousand s of hours.

The analysis uncovered significant stresses affect ing the chi ldren sampled, parental
substance abuse, economic difficulties, and poor liv ing conditions, which were infre-
qu en tly addressed in case plans, whi ch emphasized indications of child abuse. The
authors conclutled that “there was little one-to -one d irect corresponden ce between the
service need and the service offered” (Tracy e L al., L993, p. 26), raising serious questions
about the quality of service pla nning (and the training of child welfare workers).

Qualitative Methods of Needs Assessment
Qualitative needs assessment research may be conducted via individual interviews, small
group discuss ions, or even large town hall meetings, each of which allow for more open
exploration of issues than the q uantitative m ethods previously outl ined. Such studies
tend to involve a greater t im e commitment from respondents but offer much more
opportunity to identify and discuss issues in depth.

Individual Interviews

Face- to -face a nd telephone interviews are one method of gathering in-depth information
about the needs of particular groups. Preparation involves thi nk ing through the purpose
of th e interview, constru cti ng an in terview schedule, and train ing in terviewers (\Vitkin &
Ahsch uld, J 995 ) . When a goo d rapport develops between interviewer and respondent, the
result can be disclosure of informatio n and ideas about sensitive issues that would not
emerge when more formal, structured approaches are used. Also, in a more open-ended
process, respond ents may identify needs that no one had anticipated.

The disadvantages of this approach inclu de the fact that it is notoriously la bor intensive.
Interviews arc tim e-consuming to conduct, often lasting one to two hours, especially if
asking individuals to reveal their personal stories. As a result, often only a relatively small
sample of individuals may o r can realistica lly be interviewed. Training the interviewers also
takes time, and the job of transcribing and analyzing interviews is normally a lengthy, com-
plex task. The following needs assessment is an example of using face-to -face intervie ws.

In the past 30 years, intimate partner violence has become an issue of significant soci-
etal concern, resulting in specialized justice and physical and m ental health sh ifts to more
ad equately safeguard the women and children wh o are the primary vict ims. Yet certain
ethnocultural groups, including immigrants and refugees, are underrepresented among
those seeking assistance from formal supports such as the police and emergency shelters.

With respect to the question of what would constitute culturally appr opriate responses
t o domestic violence, Pan ct al. (2006) conducted 120 face- to-face inte rviews with
members of three ethnic communities in San Diego: Somali, Vielnamese, and Latino. The
interv iews were provided in the appropri ate language, and within each cu ltural group,
10 women, 10 men, 10 boys, and 10 girls participated.

Beca use of tl1 e sensitive na ture of the issue, the topic of dom estic v iolence was intro-
duced usi ng vignettes, rather than asking interviewees whether they had personally been
abused. This allowed the respondents to speak about abuse in their culture in more gen-
eral terms and to sugges t possible resolutions to the problem.


The analysis of the interviews highlighted six core issues, including “varying defmi-
tions of violence, specific definitions of family harmony, strict gender rol es, varying con-
flict resolution strateg ies, cultural ide ntity a nd spirituality” (Pan et al., 2006, p. 42) . The
differing perspectives from the three ethnic communities suggested the need to develop
diverse culture-specific services.

Foc u s Groups

Focus groups are rel a ti vely unstructured small group experiences, typically with about 8
to 12 participants. The group composition is usually homogeneous in that members share
a particular experience or interest, like the members of what we described earlier as the
target population. Focus group interviews typically take from one and a half to two and a
half hours, and a number may be conducted for a given study.

Witkin and Altschuld ( 1995) summarize the process of a typical focus group. Initially,
members hear a general statement of the purpose of the session and are given a question
related to this purpose designed to elicit perceptions about important needs. Often, par-
ticipants are asked to write down the ideas that the question stimulates and then to share
them wi th the group. The leader typically writes ideas as they are shared, summarizing
them and making sure th at there is agreement among members wi th what is bein g
recorded. This process is then repeated with other predetermined questions.

Leadership is important to a focu s group’s success, espec iall y since the re is no highly
stru ctured agenda (except for the pos ing and answering questions aspect ). According to
Witkin and Altschuld (1995), “The leader must be nonjudgmental, create a supportive
group atmosphere, be able to keep the interview process going, be a good listener,
and be alert to sense when a group is deviati ng from the prescribed question route in
meaningful and non-meaningful directions” (pp. 172-173). These are by no m eans easy

One advantage of group approaches over individual interviews can also be a disadvan-
tage. Whi le participants do not have the same opportunity to explo re their own perceptions
or experiences in depth as in individual interviews, a group approach can elicit information
that would not emerge without the stimulus of i nterC~cting with others and rea cting to their
ideas. When group discussions detour in innovative ways, th is may lead to original and cre-
ative ideas. Brainstorming, or encouraging members to present any solution to a problem
without prejudging it, is one way to encourage such innovation. Alternatively, withou t effec-
tive facilitation , the groups may pmsue unproductive tan gents, and there is a heightened
risk of interpersonal conflict detracting from the effectiveness with which research goals are
p ursued. The fo ll owing study used focus group methodology.

A relatively new role for sociaJ wo rk graduates is working with senio rs and their
ram ilies to assist these clients in a number of ways. Yet, how readily are social worke rs per-
ceived as resources to this population? Naito-Chan, Damron-Rodriguez, and Simmons
(2004) used focus groups to explore what skills social work practitioners need to ade-
q uately address the Heeds of older persons and their families. The four focus groups
included older adults and caregivers of older adults (consumers ) as well as providers of
care and recent social work grad uates, both wo rking in gerontology settings.

Notably, the analysis highlighted that a numb er of the consumers had little under-
sta ndin g of how social workers could assist them. Key among the consumer needs was
resource finding, which th e consumers did understt~nd as a social worker role. However,
other social work competencies such as assessments and case management were not men-
tioned by the consumers. The results suggested the need for public education abo ut the
roles of social wo rkers in the field of aging.


Nom i nal Groups

An al ternate group approach to needs assessment has been developed (McKill ip, 1998).
Nominal groups are more structu red than focus groups: The agenda allows group discus –
sion but with a more consistent attention to the goal of achieving consensus about needs.
Fewer needs assessments that use a nominal group approach can be found in the litera-
ture. Although more than a decade old, the following study provides a model of nominal
groups with respect to issu es that remain current.

It is com m on ly acknowledged that inter perso n al and so cial pro blems, whether at
home, in the neighborhood, o r on school grounds, can seriously affect students’ abi lity to
learn. Gerdes and Benson ( 1995) used a nominal group process Lo assess problems expe-
rienced by inner-city African American schoolchildren. The goal was to identify the most
serious problems faced by students from their own perspectives. The authors used a strat-
ified random sample of students from Grades 1 to 9 who were assigned to groups based
on whether they were from pr imary grades (l-3), middle grades (4-6), or junior high
grades (7-9). Ninth-gra de st udents who had experienced the no min al group process
acted as facil itators .

The group members were first asked to list the problems that they faced at school on a
sheet of paper. Using a round-robin format, every student identified one problem, adding
a new item to a list on a flip chart, until it was agreed that the list was complete. From this
list, each student identifi ed th e seven most serious problems and rated their severity. The
facilita to r then calculated the group ranking of the items.

The 1·a nkings of concerns varied across the d iffe rent age groups. Figh ting and prob-
lems with teachers were priority issues for Grades 1 to 3, fighting and drugs were the most
serious to Grade 4 to 6 students, and pregnancy, drugs, and drug deals were the strongest
concerns for the junior high students.

Teachers from the stu


Social Work Evaluation


Social Work Evaluation
Enhancing What We Do


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Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data
Names: Dudley, James R., author.
Title: Social work evaluation : enhancing what we do / James R. Dudley.
Description: Third Edition. | New York : Oxford University Press, 2020. |
Revised edition of the author’s Social work evaluation, [2014] |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2019032564 (print) | LCCN 2019032565 (ebook) |
ISBN 9780190916657 (paperback) | ISBN 9780190916671 (epub) | ISBN 9780190916664 (updf )
Subjects: LCSH: Social service—Evaluation. | Evaluation research (Social action programs)
Classification: LCC HV41. D83 2019 (print) | LCC HV41 (ebook) | DDC 361.3072—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019032564
LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019032565

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

Printed by Marquis, Canada

I dedicate this book to my students, who have inspired and encouraged me
over many years. I am deeply grateful to them!



CSWE’s Core Competency Fulfillment Guide: 
How It Is Covered in the Book xiii

Preface xvii
New to this Edition xviii
Other Special Features xix
Organization of the Book xxi

Acknowledgments xxiii


Chapter 1 Evaluation and Social Work: Making the
Connection 3

A Focus on Both Programs and Practice 4
Practice is Embedded in a Program 5
Introduction to Evaluation 7
A Three- Stage Approach 7
Different Purposes of Evaluations 7
Common Characteristics of Evaluations 10
Seven Steps in Conducting an Evaluation 20
Defining and Clarifying Important Terms 23
Summary 28
Key Terms 29
Discussion Questions and Assignments 29
References 30

viii C O N T E N T S


Chapter 2 The Influence of History and Varying Theoretical
Views on Evaluations 35

Relevant Events in History 36
Varying Views on Theoretical Approaches 40
Synthesis of These Evaluation Perspectives 44
Key Perspectives for the Book 50
Three- Stage Approach 50
Summary 52
Key Terms 53
Discussion Questions and Assignments 53
References 54

Chapter 3 The Role of Ethics in Evaluations 56
Ethics for Conducting Evaluations 58
Diversity and Social Justice 67
Summary 74
Key Terms 74
Discussion Questions and Assignments 74
References 76

Chapter 4 Common Types of Evaluations 78
Common Program Evaluations 78
Common Practice Evaluations 89
Common Evaluations and the Three- Stage Approach 93
Summary 94
Key Terms 94
Discussion Questions and Assignments 94
References 95

Chapter 5 Focusing an Evaluation 96
Important Initial Questions 96
Crafting Good Study Questions for an Evaluation
as the Focus 99
Guidelines for Focusing an Evaluation 100
A Practical Tool 106
Summary 110
Key Terms 110
Discussion Questions and Assignments 110
References 111

C O N T E N T S ix


Chapter 6 Needs Assessments 115
The Logic Model 116
The Link Between Problems and Needs 118
The Underlying Causes 120
Input Stage and Planning a Proposed Program 121
Why Conduct a Needs Assessment? 122
Some Purposes of Needs Assessments 122
Methods of Conducting Needs Assessments 125
Needs Assessments and Practice Interventions 140
Suggestions for How to Conduct a Needs Assessment 141
Summary 143
Key Terms 144
Discussion Questions and Assignments 144
References 146

Chapter 7 Crafting Goals and Objectives 149
Goals for Program and Practice Interventions 150
Characteristics of Goals 151
Limitations of Goals 154
Crafting Measurable Objectives 156
Three Properties: Performance, Conditions, and Criteria 160
Differences Between Measurable Objectives of Programs
and Practice 164
Summary 166
Key Terms 166
Discussion Questions and Assignments 167
References 168


Chapter 8 Improving How Programs and Practice Work 171
James R. Dudley and Robert Herman- Smith

Link the Intervention to the Clients’ Problems 172
Implement the Intervention as Proposed 175
Adopt and Promote Evidence- Based Interventions 179
Focus on Staff Members 184
Accessibility of the Intervention 189
Program Quality 194
Client Satisfaction 196
Evaluating Practice Processes: Some Additional Thoughts 202
Summary 207

x C O N T E N T S

Key Terms 207
Discussion Questions and Assignments 207
References 208


Chapter 9 Is the Intervention Effective? 215
The Nature of Outcomes 216
Varied Ways to Measure Outcomes 219
Criteria for Choosing Outcome Measures 222
Outcomes and Program Costs 223
Evidence- Based Interventions 224
Determining a Causal Relationship 227
Group Designs for Programs 229
Outcome Evaluations for Practice 236
Summary 247
Key Terms 247
Discussion Questions and Assignments 248
References 250


Chapter 10 Analyzing Evaluation Data 255
James R. Dudley and Jeffrey Shears

Formative or Summative Evaluations and Data Analysis 255
Stages of Interventions and Data Analysis 257
Summary of Pertinent Tools for Qualitative Data
Analysis 260
Summary of Pertinent Tools for Quantitative Data
Analysis 264
Mixed Methods and Data Analysis 271
Summary 274
Key Terms 274
Discussion Questions and Assignments 275
References 275

Chapter 11 Preparing and Disseminating a Report of
Findings 276

Considering the Input of Stakeholders 277
Format of the Report 278

C O N T E N T S xi

Strategies for Preparing a Report 283
Strategies for Disseminating Reports 287
Summary 289
Key Terms 290
Discussion Questions and Assignments 290
References 291


Chapter 12 Becoming Critical Consumers
of Evaluations 295
Daniel Freedman and James R. Dudley

Stakeholders Who Consume Evaluation Reports 296
Critical Consumption of an Evaluation Report 299
The Need for Multiple Strategies on Reports 310
Helping Clients Become Critical Consumers 311
Summary 313
Key Terms 313
Discussion Questions and Assignments 313
References 314

Appendix A: American Evaluation Association
Guiding Principles for Evaluators:
2018 Updated Guiding Principles 317
A. Systematic Inquiry: Evaluators Conduct Data-Based

Inquiries That Are Thorough, Methodical, and
Contextually Relevant 317

B. Competence: Evaluators Provide Skilled Professional
Services to Stakeholders 317

C. Integrity: Evaluators Behave With Honesty and
Transparency in Order to Ensure the Integrity of the
Evaluation 318

D. Respect for People: Evaluators Honor the Dignity,
Well-being, and Self-Worth of Individuals and
Acknowledge the Influence of Culture Within
and Across Groups 319

E. Common Good and Equity: Evaluators Strive to
Contribute to the Common Good and Advancement
of an Equitable and Just Society 319

Appendix B: Glossary 321

Index 329


C S W E ’ S C O R E C O M P E T E N C Y F U L F I L L M E N T
G U I D E :   H O W I T I S C O V E R E D I N   T H E B O O K


Competency Chapters
Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional
• Make ethical decisions by applying the standards of the

NASW Code of Ethics, relevant laws and regulations, models
for ethical decision- making, ethical conduct of research, and
additional codes of ethics as appropriate to context;

• Use reflection and self- regulation to manage personal values
and maintain professionalism in practice situations;

• Demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior; appear-
ance; and oral, written, and electronic communication;

• Use technology ethically and appropriately to facilitate prac-
tice outcomes; and

• Use supervision and consultation to guide professional judg-
ment and behavior.

1, 2, 3, 9,
10, 11, 12

2, 3, 12

1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11

3, 6, 10, 11

3, 4, 5, 8

Competency 2: Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
• Apply and communicate understanding of the importance of

diversity and difference in shaping life experiences in prac-
tice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels;

• Present themselves as learners and engage clients and con-
stituencies as experts of their own experiences; and

• Apply self- awareness and self- regulation to manage the influ-
ence of personal biases and values in working with diverse
clients and constituencies.

2, 3, 5, 7, 8

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12
2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 12

Competency 3: Advance Human Rights and Social,
Economic, and Environmental Justice
• Apply their understanding of social, economic, and environ-

mental justice to advocate for human rights at the individual
and system levels;

• Engage in practices that advance social, economic, and envir-
onmental justice.

1, 2, 3, 5, 6,
8, 10, 11

1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8,
9, 11, 12

xiv C S W E ’ S C O R E C O M P E T E N C Y F U L F I L L M E N T G U I D E

Competency Chapters
Competency 4: Engage in Practice- informed Research and
Research- informed Practice
• Use practice experience and theory to inform scientific

inquiry and research;
• Apply critical thinking to engage in analysis of quantitative

and qualitative research methods and research findings;
• Use and translate research evidence to inform and improve

practice, policy, and service delivery.

1, 2, 4, 5, 11

2, 4, 6, 7, 9,
10, 11, 12
1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 10,
11, 12

Competency 5: Engage in Policy Practice
• Identify social policy at the local, state, and federal level that

impacts well- being, service delivery, and access to social

• Assess how social welfare and economic policies impact the
delivery of and access to social services;

• Apply critical thinking to analyze, formulate, and advocate
for policies that advance human rights and social, economic,
and environmental justice.

2, 5, 6, 11

4, 6, 8, 11

1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Competency 6: Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups,
Organizations, and Communities
• Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social envir-

onment, person- in- environment, and other multidiscip-
linary theoretical frameworks to engage with clients and

• Use empathy, reflection, and interpersonal skills to effectively
engage diverse clients and constituencies.

1, 2, 3, 4, 6,
7, 8, 9

2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
8, 12

Competency 7: Assess Individuals, Families, Groups,
Organizations, and Communities
• Collect and organize data, and apply critical thinking to

interpret information from clients and constituencies;
• Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environ-

ment, person- in- environment, and other multidisciplinary
theoretical frameworks in the analysis of assessment data
from clients and constituencies;

• Develop mutually agreed- on intervention goals and object-
ives based on the critical assessment of strengths, needs, and
challenges within clients and constituencies;

• Select appropriate intervention strategies based on the as-
sessment, research knowledge, and values and preferences of
clients and constituencies.

1, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11

1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 10, 11, 12

1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 7, 11

1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 11, 12

C S W E ’ S C O R E C O M P E T E N C Y F U L F I L L M E N T G U I D E xv

Competency Chapters
Competency 8: Intervene with Individuals, Families,
Groups, Organizations, and Communities
• Critically choose and implement interventions to achieve

practice goals and enhance capacities of clients and

• Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environ-
ment, person- in- environment, and other multidisciplinary
theoretical frameworks in interventions with clients and

• Use interprofessional collaboration as appropriate to achieve
beneficial practice outcomes;

• Negotiate, mediate, and advocate with and on behalf of
diverse clients and constituencies; and

• Facilitate effective transitions and endings that advance
mutually agreed- on goals.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8,
9, 11, 12

1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8,
9, 11, 12

1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8

1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12

Competency 9: Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families,
Groups, Organizations, and Communities
• Select and use appropriate methods for evaluation of

• Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environ-

ment, person- in- environment, and other multidisciplinary
theoretical frameworks in the evaluation of outcomes;

• Critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate intervention and
program processes and outcomes;

• Apply evaluation findings to improve practice effectiveness at
the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

1, 2, 4, 5, 7,
9, 10 11
1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7,
9, 10, 11, 12

1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8,
9, 10, 11, 12
1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10,
11, 12

Note. CSWE = Council on Social Work Education; NASW = National Association of Social Workers.



Every social worker is expected to know how to conduct evaluations of his or her practice. In addition, growing numbers of social workers will also be assuming
a program evaluator role at some time in their careers because of the increasing
demands for program accountability. Yet, many social workers are still inadequately
prepared to design and implement evaluations. Social Work Evaluation: Enhancing
What We Do introduces social workers and other human service workers to a broad
array of knowledge, ethics, and skills on how to conduct evaluations. The book
prepares you to conduct evaluations at both the program and practice levels.

The book presents evaluation material in a form that is easily understood and
especially relevant to social work students. Research is among the most difficult con-
tent areas for social work students to comprehend. This is partially because it is dif-
ficult to see the applicability of research to social work practice. The statistical and
other technical aspects of research content also tend to be unfamiliar to students
and difficult to comprehend. This book is especially designed to overcome these and
other types of barriers more than other social work evaluation texts do because it
continually discusses evaluation in the context of social work programs and practice
and uses numerous pertinent examples.

The book is organized around a three- stage approach of evaluation. The stages
divide evaluation into activities during the planning of an intervention, its implemen-
tation, and, afterward, to measure its impact on the recipients. In addition, the text
describes seven general steps to follow in conducting evaluations. These steps offer
a flexible set of guidelines to follow in implementing an evaluation with all its prac-
ticalities. The book also gives significant attention to evidence- based interventions
and how evaluations can generate evidence as a central goal. Readers are also given
several specific suggestions for how to promote evidence- based practice.

This book can be used for several research and practice courses in both Bachelor
of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. It is designed
for primary use in a one- semester evaluation course in MSW programs. It can also
be a primary text along with a research methods text for a two- course research
sequence in BSW programs. The book can also be very useful as a secondary text

xviii P R E FA C E

in BSW and MSW practice courses at all system levels and policy courses. In add-
ition, it is an excellent handbook for the helping professions in other fields such as
counseling, psychology, and gerontology.


The entire book has been carefully reviewed, revised, and updated, and summaries
are added to each chapter. Also, new material is added in several sections. A strength
of the book is that it covers both program and practice evaluations. In the new ed-
ition, greater attention is now given to programs and practice as key concepts and
how the evaluation process offers more understanding of each of them and their
relationship to each other. Evaluations at both levels have much in common. In add-
ition, there is frequently a need to distinguish between these two levels of evaluation.
In the new edition, separate sections are provided for both program and practice
evaluations when there is a need to explain their differences and how each can
be implemented. A  symbol has been added to the text to let you know when the
material following the symbol covers only programs or practice.

Accreditation standards of social work mandated by the Council on Social Work
Education (CSWE) are updated and highlighted in a “Core Competency Fulfillment
Guide” at the beginning of the text. These standards are frequently addressed in the
content of every chapter. Content on the six core social work values of the National
Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics are also added in the new
edition and elaborated on in the ethics chapter to highlight how they provide the
foundation for the ethics used in evaluations.

Content is expanded on using the logic model as an analytic tool in conducting
evaluations. This gives practitioners the capacity to have continual oversight of
evaluation concerns. Most important, this tool helps remind social workers of the
importance of the logical links among the clients’ problems, needs, and their causes,
their goals, and the interventions chosen to reach their goals. The logic model is also
useful for supporting evidence- based practice and giving clients greater assurance
that that they will be successful in reaching their goals.

The seven steps for conducting an evaluation are emphasized throughout the
book and provide a helpful guide for the readers to follow. An emphasis on client-
centered change highlighted in earlier editions is strengthened in this edition in
these seven steps. Client- centered change is promoted through innovative ways of
assisting clients, staff members, and community groups in becoming more actively
involved in the evaluation process. Ultimately, these changes are intended to help
clients succeed as recipients of these interventions. Clients are presented throughout
the book as a key group of stakeholders who are often overlooked in other texts.

A new Teacher and Student Resource website has been added and is available
from Oxford University Press. It will contain all the resources provided with the
book in earlier editions along with some new helpful aids for both teachers and

P R E FA C E xix


Both qualitative and quantitative methods of evaluation are described and
highlighted throughout the book. While quantitative methods are pertinent to both
summative and formative evaluations, qualitative methods are presented as espe-
cially relevant to many types of formative evaluations. Criteria are offered for when
to use qualitative methods and when to use quantitative ones, and examples of both
are provided. Mixed methods are also encouraged and often suggested as the best

Many efforts have been made throughout the book to help students and
practitioners view evaluation as being helpful and relevant not only to programs but
also to their own practice. Throughout the book, the evaluation content on practice
interventions offers the readers practical insights and tools for enhancing their own
practice and increasing their capacity to impact their clients’ well- being.

The planning stage for new programs and practice interventions is presented
as perhaps the most critical stage before new programs and practice interventions
are implemented. Unfortunately, most agencies do not invest nearly enough time,
thought, and resources to the tasks of this critical planning period. The tasks of
planning include clearly identify and describing the clients’ problems and needs to
be addressed, along with the goals for resolving them. In addition, the proposed
interventions need to be carefully developed to uniquely fit the problems and needs
of their clients. Moreover, evidence that these interventions can be effective are para-
mount to develop and emphasize.

The evaluation process is described as a collaborative effort that encourages the
participation of the clients and other important stakeholders in some of the steps.
A  periodic focus on the principles of participant action research is highlighted in
some sections to emphasize how evaluation can be used to promote client involve-
ment, empowerment, and social change. Also, special emphasis is placed on staff
and client involvement in consuming evaluation findings and becoming more active

As mentioned earlier, another feature of the text is that it directly addresses all
the current accreditation standards of the CSWE, the national accrediting organ-
ization for social workers. The CSWE promulgates minimum curriculum standards
for all BSW and MSW programs, including research and evaluation content. This
book devotes extensive attention to several competencies related to evaluation with
a special focus on three areas:  ethics, diversity, and social and economic justice.
Because of the importance of these three competency areas, they are highlighted
in numerous examples and exercises throughout the book. In addition, practice, an
overall competency of the social work curriculum, is often highlighted as it relates
to evaluation. Evaluation is described throughout the book as a vital and necessary
component of practice at both the MSW and the BSW levels.

While a social work perspective is emphasized that helps in understanding
the connections of evaluation with practice, ethics, diversity issues, and social
justice, other human service professionals will also find these topics pertinent.

xx P R E FA C E

Professionals with disciplines in psychology, family and individual therapy, public
health, nursing, mental health, criminal justice, school counseling, special edu-
cation, addictions, sociology, and others will find this text to be a very useful

Technology skills are infused in different parts of the text. Social work
practitioners must know how to use various electronic tools like the Google, e-
mail, electronic discussion lists, and data analysis programs like SPSS (Statistical
Package for the Social Sciences). The book includes electronic exercises and other
assignments that involve students using such tools. Emphasis is given to electronic
skills that help students obtain access to the latest information on client populations,
practice and program interventions, information from professional organizations,
relevant articles, and helpful discussion lists.

Another distinguishing aspect of this book is the extensive use of case examples.
It has been the author’s experience that students’ learning is enhanced when they can
immediately see the application of abstract concepts to human service situations.
Specific evaluation studies from professional journals, websites, and books are fre-
quently highlighted to illustrate concepts, findings, data analyses, and other issues.
Numerous examples of evaluations that Dudley has conducted are frequently used.
Exemplary evaluation activities of social work students and practitioners are also
generously included. These illustrations reflect what students will often find in field
placement agencies and social agencies where they are hired. Figures and graphs
are also used and designed to appeal to students with a range of learning styles. The
book also contains a glossary of terms.

In addition, the book is user- friendly for faculty who teach evaluation courses.
Sometimes social work educators who do not have the time or interest in conducting
their own evaluations teach research courses. Such faculty may often feel less quali-
fied to teach an evaluation course. This text is understandable to both inexperienced
and experienced faculty. Also, discussion questions included at the end of each
chapter can serve as a focus for class discussions, quizzes, and tests.

A chapter, “Becoming Critical Consumers of Evaluations,” is also included
to stress the importance of the consumer role in reading and utilizing evaluation
studies of other researchers. The chapter walks the readers through each of the
seven steps of conducting an evaluation, pointing out strengths and weaknesses of
evaluation reports using a recently published evaluation report as an illustration.
This chapter and others provide guidelines for how to cautiously and tentatively
consider how to apply the findings of someone else’s evaluation to your own prac-
tice with clients.

In addition, a Teacher and Student Resource website is an online ancillary
resource that is available with the purchase of the book, available from Oxford
University Press. It elaborates on how the content of the book can be used and
suggests helpful ways to involve students in understanding and using it. The
teacher’s guide includes a sample syllabus, PowerPoint presentations for each
chapter, and a test bank of multiple- choice exam questions that includes questions
for each chapter.

P R E FA C E xxi


The book is organized into seven parts. Part I, the first chapter, introduces evalu-
ation and how it is described and defined in the book. The chapter begins with a
persuasive rationale for why social workers should be proficient in evaluation. The
concepts of program and practice are introduced along with how they are similar
and different. Definitions of program and practice evaluations, their characteristics
and aims, and the larger social contexts for evaluations are introduced. The misuses
of the term evaluation are also pointed out. Also, evidence- based interventions are
introduced as an indispensable concept in the context of evaluation.

Part II is an orientation to the bigger picture about evaluations. Chapter  2
highlights key historical events that have helped to shape current public policies and
stresses the importance of conducting evaluations. Also, five different theoretical
perspectives on evaluation are introduced to remind readers that evaluation is not a
monolithic enterprise; to the contrary, its purposes vary widely depending on who
is conducting the evaluation and what they are attempting to accomplish. Aspects of
all these theoretical perspectives contribute to the concept of evaluation adopted in
the book. Chapter 3 focuses on the ethics of evaluation, drawing on the NASW Code
of Ethics and the ethical principles of the American Evaluation Association. The
chapter explains how the accreditation standards of the CSWE can be implemented,
including the ethics of social work and the importance of diversity and social and
economic justice. Chapter 4 introduces readers to several types of program and prac-
tice evaluation that are commonly practiced in the settings in which social workers
and other human service workers are employed. They are introduced in this chapter
to help readers be able to identify them in various field settings. These common
evaluations range from client satisfaction studies to outcome studies, licensing
of professionals and programs, quality assurance, and judicial decisions. Finally,
Chapter 5 offers guidelines for focusing an evaluation and presents a tool that can be
used to craft a focus for any evaluation.

Part III covers the first of three stages of evaluation activities, the planning stage,
when a program or practice intervention is being conceptualized and important
details are being worked out. The planning stage is presented as a critical time
for evaluation activities, especially to document the need for a new intervention.
Chapter 6 is devoted to conducting needs assessments, especially during the plan-
ning stage. The chapter explains why needs assessments are so important, highlights
a variety of assessment tools, and describes the steps involved in conducting a needs
assessment. Crafting goals and objectives for a new program or practice intervention
are highlighted in Chapter 7. Characteristics