rlf4 - Assessing the Need for a Program Reading RLF Chapter...

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Assessing the Need for a Program Reading: RLF, Chapter 4. This chapter is broken down into the following topics: The Role of Evaluators in Diagnosing Social Conditions and Service Needs. Defining the Problem to Be Addressed. Specifying the Extent of the Problem: When, Where, and How Big? Defining and Identifying the Targets of Interventions. Describing the Nature of Service Needs. In an earlier lecture I defined a need as a gap between the actual state of affairs and a desired state of affairs. The evaluator is interested in making sure that there is a need for a program that may be developed as well as for a demonstration program (i.e., a program developed to test a concept). The evaluator is also interested in making sure that there is a continuing need for an already developed program. In RLF’s words, needs assessment “is a systematic approach to identifying social problems, determining their extent, and accurately defining the target population to be served and the nature of their service needs. From a program evaluation perspective, needs assessment is the means by which an evaluator determines if, indeed, there is a need for a program and, if so, what program services are most appropriate for that need” (from sixth ed.). In conducting a needs assessment you must examine the
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social conditions and the specific problem that a program is intended to address. Needs assessment is foundational for program evaluation because without a social or training need (or some other kind of need), there obviously is no need for a program! I like RLF’s point that a “needs” and “problems” are social constructions that are socially negotiated by a set of social agents. Deciding what is a need involves values and beliefs, and these interact is a political arena. What is not considered a need at one point in time may later come to be considered a real need, and vice versa. It is important to remember that at any point in time, different people and groups will often have different perspectives about any particular “need.” A key idea in needs assessment is that the evaluator should consider these different perspectives, especially the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, including the group that will receive the program services . I will now provide some summary comments on the major sections of this chapter. The Role of Evaluators in Diagnosing Social Conditions and Service Needs Evaluators are usually not the primary agent in identifying needs. Other agents usually have a larger role in defining needs, such as political bodies, interest groups, senior management, academics, investigative reporters, and religious leaders. In fact, the evaluator is often brought into a project after a need has already been established. Nonetheless, evaluators are also interested in needs because, as mentioned above, needs are foundational and the evaluator must be convinced that the program is needed.
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The evaluator needs to understand the program assumptions and the nature and scope of the problem it is intended to address.
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