Office for Victims of Crime
Community-level Replication Guide
 September 2012 Text size: decrease font size increase font size   Send e-mail icon

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Step 2. Assessing the Community’s Needs

Choose an Assessment Method

The pilot sites developed needs assessment methods that allowed them to get the most information from a variety of participants. Some people feel less pressured talking in a group situation, some prefer to meet one-on-one, and others feel more comfortable with written formats. Each site developed
information-gathering strategies and instruments with its target audience in mind.

Focus Groups

Focus groups guided by skilled facilitators tend to be more efficient than one-on-one interviews, as indepth information can be gathered from a wider range of people at once. Focus groups also allow participants to meet new people, network, and build community relationships. Effective facilitators are knowledgeable about various disabilities, including the fact that many persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities are brought up to submit to any person in authority. Facilitators also need to have some experience soliciting information from groups of people, including asking followup questions and being comfortable with silence to give people time to think about their answers.

tipsTips From the Field

Family Crisis Services staff will be the first to say that getting people to come to focus groups is difficult and time consuming. But in the end, it is also the method they most recommend.

Listening to persons with disabilities talk about their experiences with victim services—good and bad—had a powerful impact during the pilot sites’ focus groups. The groups not only provided rich information, they also brought momentum to the project.

During focus groups, at least one staff member should take notes—although two is best for accuracy—so that responses may be reviewed and considered after the fact. If the focus group includes people who are Deaf, ideally the facilitator will be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). If that is not possible, use certified ASL interpreters who are well-versed in the language of abuse and the issues of exploitation, domestic violence, sexual assault, neglect, stalking, and other forms of victimization.

Any notes taken should be treated as confidential documents and stored as such. They should not contain names or scenarios that could identify the participants.

One-on-One Interviews

One-on-one interviews provide more flexibility for respondents who use communication aids, need more time to answer questions (or need questions reworded), require a quiet setting, or prefer not to talk in a group. Individual interviews also allow information gathering at a deeper level because there is more time to discuss a topic extensively. The pilot sites were careful to let participants know that all information would be confidential, that notes would not identify them by name, and that any information obtained would be kept in a secure location.


Surveys allow for larger scale information gathering. Thanks to the Internet, this method now enables you to reach any number of people with a limited amount of effort. Even old-fashioned pen-and-paper surveys, however, provide the same clean form of data, as every respondent answers the same questions. Surveys are less time consuming and take less effort than interviews and focus groups relative to the amount and reliability of data collected. For this project, the pilot sites had mixed results with surveys. Those that were aggressively promoted—such as when supervisors asked patrol officers to fill out the survey before going on shift—had strong results. Without such strong promotion, the sites reported disappointing results. Other disadvantages of surveys follow:

  • Surveys do not allow for the give-and-take between respondents and interviewers that happens in person.
  • Written or e-mailed surveys may present serious barriers for people with limited reading skills, people who are blind or have low vision, or people whose first language is not English (e.g., people who are Deaf, immigrants).

Whether you distribute paper copies to specific recipients or use an online resource to reach a broader audience (e.g., SurveyMonkey®, FreeOnlineSurveys), there’s one more important point to consider: The data you collect will only be as good as the questions you ask.