A systematic procedure for determining the nature and extent of health needs in a population, the causes and contributing factors to those needs and the human, organizational and community resources which are available to respond to these.
Reference: Modified definition (Last, 2001; Wright, 2001)
Needs assessment is an early step in planning a health promotion initiative. It is accompanied ideally by an assets assessment (resources available to promote health). The scope of needs assessment in health promotion is broad, reflecting an understanding that health is shaped by individual factors and the physical, social, economic and political context in which people live. Information collected may include morbidity and mortality patterns, health-related cultural beliefs, educational attainment, housing quality, gender equity, political participation, food security, employment, poverty and environmental quality.
The opportunities for empowerment in health promotion begin in the needs assessment stage. Consulting communities is a key method for understanding factors which affect their health and quality of life, and is a means of recognizing the needs of disadvantaged groups which may not be represented in routine statistical collections. Participatory needs assessment methods, such as Rapid Participatory Appraisal, can be used to engage communities in the process of information collection, analysis and priority setting, and to build future capacity for health promotion.