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When it comes to your needs assessment, do it yourselves

Team CSLXDec 4, 2023

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By now, many of you have dug far enough into the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) Implementation Grant RFA to realize that it requires applicants to conduct a needs assessment. The way we see it, you can look at the requirement in one of two ways: 1) as an administrative task to be completed – a box to be checked; or, 2) as an opportunity to start a recurring process that sustains strong community school development and infuses the perspectives and priorities of your community in the work, long term.

As you might have guessed, we urge you to look at the needs assessment requirement as an opportunity. Look at the grant requirement as a chance to ask new voices to be a part of the conversation, to engage a broader range to understand the experiences of students and adults connected to your school, and to strengthen your muscle memory to engage in continuous inquiry. Does it take time, effort and commitment? Yes. Is making the investment worth it? Also yes.

From time to time, school and district leaders ask us if we can recommend an organization to lead a needs assessment for their school community.

It’s a perfectly valid question. A needs assessment is an inherently arduous process and it can be daunting thinking about all of the work it takes to get done. It’s understandable why anyone might want to look outside of their own, often understaffed, team to tackle a needs assessment. Especially if the data is being sought solely to be in compliance with a grant application requirement.

The problem? We don’t recommend outsourcing a needs assessment. Under any circumstance. And we feel pretty passionately about it (one quick look at our team’s slack conversations on the topic will tell you as much…).

That might surprise you a little bit – especially given the short turnaround time for the CCSPP grant application – so hear us out.

Your needs assessment isn’t just about the product that you create, but about the process of collaboratively looking at data with your team and engaging in conversation with the people most impacted by community school development. Sitting down with your students, teachers, parents and caregivers and community members as a team and actually talking through what you’re hearing and learning is a very different experience than just reading a report handed to you by a consultant. It also produces very different results.

“Sitting down with your students, teachers, parents and caregivers and community members and talking through what you’re hearing and learning is a very different experience than just reading a report handed to you by a consultant. It also produces very different results.”

When you and your team sit down with parents, teachers, principals, classified staff, partners and others to pour over climate survey results, listen to staff or parent focus groups, connect one-on-one with a community member, or shadow a student for a day, you are taking time to build relationships and cultivate trust. You’re making an investment in relationships.

When you do this process “in house,” you collaboratively generate strategies with your team based on the data you’re receiving – sometimes, in real time. You build your data muscles and start to view the data collection not as a compliance chore, but as an exercise that informs practice. You’re setting up a routine for using all different kinds of data to drive change, and for analyzing data regularly. That makes all the difference!

And believe it or not, you already have your hands on A LOT more data than you might think.

In our conversations with schools and districts, we often find that the biggest problem they have is not that they don’t have the data they need, but that they’re not engaging with that data in strategic and meaningful ways.

So what do we recommend? Use the opportunity offered by the CCSPP implementation grant application to kick off an authentic, ongoing needs assessment and asset mapping process. Will the first bite of the apple be perfect? Nope. Will it set the groundwork for an increasingly informative, interest holder-led process? Yes – and that’s exactly the opportunity you should take, both so you can put together a strong CCSPP grant application, and so you can set the stage for strong community school work throughout and beyond the life of CCSPP funding.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to go the process alone. Take a look at some of the tools and resources we’ve compiled below, and get in touch if you have more questions.

CSLX’s The Basics: Needs AssessmentAll your basic questions about needs assessments and asset mapping, answered.

CSLX x Public Profit’s Rock Your Community Schools Needs Assessment Tools & Resources – A comprehensive list of helpful tools and resources to help you rock your needs assessment.

The CSLX x Public Profit Rock Your Needs Assessment Webinar Recording (3/22) – A one-hour recording of CSLX and Public Profit’s March 2022 webinar that covers everything you need to know about tackling your needs assessment.

The NYCDOE Assets & Needs Assessment – A sample online tool for principals, school leadership teams, and community-based organization (CBO) staff and partners to complete their own Assets & Needs Assessment.

NCCS’s Needs Assessment Toolkit – A brief and user-friendly guide, organized around the key steps of the needs assessment process.