Book Review by Roger Hiemstra
Assessing Needs in Continuing Education By Donna S. Queeney (Jossey-Bass, 1995), 275 pp. ISBN 0-7879-0059-1.
There now are several books on the market related to assessing needs. Such titles or topics as needs assessment, clientele analysis, task analysis, front end assessment or analysis, and needs analysis are some of those addressed. Queeney does a thorough job of covering the basics pertaining to assessing needs, although she does not refer to some of the alternative terms being used in the literature. That may limit the usefulness of the book by other than adult and continuing educators, but basically she accomplishes what she set out to do.
The book has ten chapters. The first provides a comprehensive definition and description of needs assessment as viewed by Queeney and from her experiences as a continuing educator. A large proportion of the examples used in the book come from her Pennsylvania State University involvement. While this provided her with valuable first hand knowledge and experience that bolster many of her points, at times it would have been helpful to have a broader base of examples.
The second chapter describes some of the purposes of and considerations in choosing to carry out an assessment of needs. On the positive side this chapter has several excellent specific examples of different levels of purposes. The chapter, as well as other chapters in the book, could have benefitted, however, with some visual models. For example, she describes the classic discrepancy model but unless you are experienced with the needs assessment literature, it was difficult to visualize just from the words alone and a drawing or figure would have added clarity.
Chapters three and four provide some useful information pertaining to deciding when to assess needs, understanding the various types of needs that may be uncovered, deciding how to assess, and selecting an appropriate assessment model based on your planning requirements. Chapter Three contains information on establishing priorities, identifying content areas for needs assessment efforts, and types of needs. Chapter four describes some differences between individual and group assessments and includes information on selecting a variety of needs assessment methods.
The next two chapters provide some valuable information on various needs assessment methods. Chapter five is designed for beginners and provides considerable description of techniques or approaches that can be utilized without much formal training or experience such as working with focus groups, using the nominal group process, instituting the Delphi technique, using key informants, and obtaining supervisory evaluations. Chapter six is more advanced and provides information on surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. This chapter is somewhat cursory in scope but in still provides several good examples of questions and their wording and things to think about in designing such data collection tools. It could have been enhanced if she had made reference to some of the many resources that give a more expanded examination of such tools.
Chapter seven begins a series of three chapters that are almost a surprise in terms of what the topic of assessing needs implies. In many respects her work slides over into the broader program planning, implementation, and evaluation process. It is difficult to enter into a successful program planning effort without incorporating a thorough assessment of need, so the book with these three chapters actually has a broader appeal.
Queeney incorporates in the seventh chapter the notion that assessing performance is a part of the needs assessment process rather than the evaluation process as some authors would describe. She does make useful ties to the needs assessment process and facilitates bringing in several exercises or features that could be used such as case studies, in basket exercises, trigger films, etc.
Chapter eight continues along the theme of needs assessment as a part of the planning process as she describes how to interpret data that are gathered, how to report such information, and how to turn it into programs and educational activities. She even includes a few ideas on marketing.
The ninth chapter talks directly about evaluation in terms of understanding program effectiveness. Although evaluation is normally considered a separate step from needs assessment in most planning models, she makes an important case for continuous assessment of needs throughout a program's implementation. As noted earlier in this review, a program planning model portrayed early in the book could have helped the reader understand more clearly Queeney's integrating needs assessment with the whole planning, implementation, and evaluation process.
The final chapter talks about institutionalizing the needs assessment effort. This involves how to use and report needs assessment efforts and how to build an institutional commitment to needs assessment.
The book will make a useful addition to a professional library. In addition, it can be used as a supplemental text in a course or workshop on program planning. It would be possible, too, to build a needs assessment workshop around the book if the teacher or trainer provides some supplemental materials.