Meeting the Needs of a Community
A week ago, we described the plans for assessing needs in Sierra Leone, and the survey we designed for Usifu to conduct during his travels. For a frame of reference, a needs assessment can be defined as:
“A systematic process of collection and analysis as inputs into resource allocation decisions with a view to discovering and identifying goods and services the community is lacking in relation to the generally accepted standards, and for which there exists some consensus as to the community’s responsibility for their provision.” -The United Way of America, 1982
A needs assessment is conducted before a project begins, to give the organization (or in our case, the individual) an idea of the challenges they might face, the resources they already have available, and the areas of impact that would make the greatest improvement in the lives of those whom they are seeking to help.
Although some of the questions Usifu has set out to ask are directed towards medical professionals, educators, village leaders, and local government officials, some of the most important questions can be answered by members of the community:
Where do you get the water you use for your everyday household needs? How long does it take you to collect this water?
Are your children in school? How far do they have to travel to get to school? What are the costs associated with sending them to school?
Where does your family buy food? Do you grow any of it yourself?
What is your occupation?
Simple questions such as these help to gain perspective in regards to the bigger picture. For example, we already know from readily available data that 75% of the work force in Sierra Leone is employed in the agricultural sector (United Nations Development Programme, 2016). However, from speaking with the villagers who grow crops for a living, we gain a better understanding of their specific challenges, from their own words, instead of from perceptions.
As Usifu continues to interview the individuals he meets, he will gain both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative will be figures such as the number of cases of waterborne illnesses recorded each year from the hospital personnel he is able to contact, or the possibly for the entire district of Kambia if he is able to speak with a representative from the Ministry of Health. The qualitative data, on the other hand, will be the testimony gathered on how limited access to clean drinking water and the threat of illness effects the quality of life, the ability to earn a living, or to attend school. It will be through combining both types of information that informed decisions can be made about how to best assist a community in need.