Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Conduct a Needs Assessment

Conducting a community health needs assessment can help rural programs determine where and how to use limited resources to address health-related needs.

A community health needs assessment serves as the starting point to address a rural community’s needs. The assessment identifies and measures factors that impact health, such as gaps in services, as well as assets and strengths available to help resolve these issues. This assessment will help to identify topics and issues relevant to a community.

Data for determining community needs can be collected through surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, public meetings, direct observations, and interviews. Secondary data sources such as demographic data, vital statistics, hospital records, morbidity and mortality reports, and literature reviews also provide valuable information.

Community health needs assessment data can be collected from a variety of sources.

Table 1-1: Sources of Local Data
Source Type
Chamber of Commerce List of businesses
Employment/Unemployment rates
Area economic data
Civic organizations Sources of involved community members
Lists of charitable projects
Community college/local university Enrollment/graduation numbers
Fields of study available to students
Academic research about the community
Employment Security Commission Employment/Unemployment rates
Faith-based groups Membership numbers
Lists of members and community needs
Health Department Immunization rates
Disease rates
Hospitals and healthcare providers Emergency room visits
Chronic disease prevalence
Large employers Products made
Economic impact to the community
Law enforcement agencies Crime incidence
Arrests/convictions numbers
Incidence of domestic violence
Motor vehicle crash information
Library Local history/Information unique to the county
Non-profit organizations Types of services performed
Number of people eligible for service
Number of people served
Plans for the future
Public School System Enrollment numbers
Graduation/drop-out rates
Test scores

Source: Community Health Assessment Guide Book, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health, June 2014

It is important to talk to members of the community to understand the data. For example, data gathered across several years may show that there has been a notable change related to health outcomes, educational attainment, or employment. Conducting a focus group with community partners or community members can help to explain the reasons for why the changes have occurred. Combining quantitative and qualitative data can help to explain community trends.

For more information on how to conduct a needs assessment, see Conducting Rural Health Research, Needs Assessment, and Program Evaluation.

Resources to Learn More

A Handbook for Participatory Community Assessments: Experiences from Alameda County
This handbook describes the process the Alameda County Health Department (California) took to conduct community assessments with the active participation of two neighborhood groups. It includes information about how to develop partners, choose data collection methods, collect the data, and share results.
Organization(s): Alameda County Public Health Department
Date: 2004

The Community Tool Box: Chapter 3 – Assessing Community Needs and Resources
This chapter of the Community Tool Box contains 24 sections, covering topics such as different methods for collecting information and how to use the data collected to identify community needs and resources.
Organization(s): University of Kansas Work Group for Community Health and Development

Conducting a Community Health Assessment
This website provides access to tools for identifying and selecting indicators for the community health assessment, data collection, analysis, examples, and presenting findings.
Organization(s): National Association of County & City Health Officials

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps
The County Health Rankings measure the health of nearly all counties in the U.S. and ranks them within their states. This tool can be used to better understand the health of a community in comparison to other communities. The rankings are calculated using a variety of county-level measures collected from national and state data sources.
Organization(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Warehouse of searchable databases that provide various health data.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services