In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Community-Needs Assessment

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Tools and How-to Guides
  • Data Sources
  • Journals and Book Series
  • Foundation Publications
  • Evidence Base for Community-Needs Assessment
  • Disaster Response and Planning
  • International Community-Needs Assessment

Social Work Community-Needs Assessment
Julian Chun-Chung Chow, Carol Peng
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0059


Community-needs assessment is a collaborative process that engages community stakeholders in determining the nature and extent both of needs and resources in a community. A community-needs assessment typically identifies and responds to a specific social problem or problems in a community. It elucidates the gaps in the existing service delivery system that need to be filled in order to address the problem. As part of the overall assessment, community-needs assessments may examine service access and availability, as well as service coordination between agencies. At the same time, the community-needs assessment identifies existing community assets and resources (e.g., skills, money, time, social cohesiveness, and other forms of social capital) that are available to address the problem. Most literature on community-needs assessment focuses on “needs assessment,” rather than “community-needs assessment.” There are two different kinds of community: functional communities are those in which members are engaged by a common interest, and geographical communities are those in which a group of people live in the same area or region. While the literature has not differentiated between the two types of community, the aim of this article is to focus primarily on geographical communities. The process of community-needs assessment actively engages community residents where they live, and is an important step in problem solving and capacity building at the local level. Typically, community-needs assessments solicit the viewpoints of key informants in the community, such as members of the population in need, service providers, community leaders, community residents, and other stakeholders. Community leaders can use data from the needs assessment to target funds toward priority services, to reduce unnecessary or ineffective services, and to expand critical and effective ones. Increasingly, both public and private funders are seeking empirical evidence to support resource allocation in their communities, and community-needs assessment is becoming a key part of strategic planning and evaluation processes. In an environment of limited resources, community-needs assessments can provide data to define what social problems require particular attention, to delineate the extent of the problem, and to outline the level of resources required to address it. Such assessments can be particularly useful for targeting underrepresented and underserved populations in their home communities.

Reference Works

For a general description or introduction to the field of community-needs assessment, social-work reference texts can be especially useful. These selections, including Fuchs 2008 and Mulroy 2008, are from leading social-work reference texts. Both chapters define the concept of community-needs assessment and provide an overview of approaches to the process.

  • Fuchs, D. M. 2008. Assessment of communities. In Comprehensive handbook of social work and social welfare. Vol. 3, Social work practice. Edited by W. Rowe and L. A. Rapp-Paglicci, 488–504. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This chapter presents approaches of social-work practice to the community assessment. Theoretical frameworks, historical background, and emerging issues in the field of community assessment are discussed. The evidence base for current approaches to community assessment and intervention, and the implications for practice, policy, and research, are described.

  • Mulroy, E. A. 2008. Community needs assessment. In Encyclopedia of social work. Vol. 1, A–C. 20th ed. Edited by T. Mizrahi and L. E. Davis, 385–387. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Principles of community assessment are outlined; new areas of assessment, such as partnerships and collaboration, public and private investment, and large systems, are described; approaches to assessment are discussed. It is particularly helpful for the general social-work audience.

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