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[#MeasureToGrow Series]: A practical guide to carrying out need assessment for CSR projects

[#MeasureToGrow Series]: A practical guide to carrying out need assessment for CSR projects

December 13, 2016

Given the sheer number and detailed nature of social goals and targets that various International and National Standards like SDGs, Schedule VII of CSR, programmes like the National Health Mission or Total Sanitation etc outline for business responsibility initiatives, it would seem time-efficient to pick critical social gaps and begin CSR interventions on the ground. Company CSRs also have their core interest areas outlined based on their stakeholder interests, founder vision, company CSR policy and so on. However, experience from across the social sector indicates that programmes can, in their best intentions, be completely ineffective if they don’t have an in-depth sense of what the community needs AND wants.

Performing a need assessment is an essential pre-requisite to good program design, monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment in the subsequent months.

Need assessment and establishing community engagement

Need assessment or a ‘pre-assessment’ baseline done on the ground can help organisations in:

  • The socio-cultural context of the community and the environment in which the project is going to be being implemented
  • Understanding the most important needs and wants of the community, both articulated and observed
  • Establish community engagement
  • Understand the dynamics of stakeholders and work in the area

This process also helps the CSR in discovering various innate strengths and opportunities that could exponentially enhance the program’s intended outputs and outcomes. Doing a need assessment is the first step to also building a good relationship with the community.


On the field with the community at Kesariaganj, Uttar Pradesh. Pic: Sattva

When to do a need assessment? Typically, need assessment is done as the first step before the start of the project. At Sattva, we have seen companies sometimes commence the need assessment process as a comprehensive exercise much before they have even fully set up business operations in the region.

Due to the nature of development interventions, it becomes important to conduct need assessments at regular intervals as the needs and priorities of the community keeps changing over time.

Commonly used tools for need assessment

There are various tools that are used for conducting need assessment. Usually a combination of these methods is advisable to correlate all data accurately. Primary considerations for carrying out need assessment are resources and time available.

1. Desk Research: Collation and synthesis of existing research through online and offline resources ( Establish a first-level understanding of the geography, demographics of the population, current social indicators in education, health, skilling etc, political history, assets etc). For example, a large Corporate Foundation working on sanitation in rural India used the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan data of gaps as a starting point for their community. They corroborated this initial number with door 2 door surveys and Panchayat meetings to validate gaps, leading to a shorter time to begin work in a village.

2. Surveys: One of the most popular tools for collecting information and opinions. Surveys is one area where technology plays a vital role in shortening times and making data collection effective and more efficient.

3. Interviews and Focus Group Discussions: We cannot stress enough on the importance of holding informal discussions and one-on-one interactions with the community to bring to light multiple issues and dynamics. A carefully guided discussion could help you determine a target group’s preferences and opinions about a particular issue or idea. At Sattva, there are 3 things we strongly recommend to make discussions more fruitful:

  • The use of interactive tools like games and thematic discussions to set the community at ease before you plunge into the questions.
  • It is also important to understand what the community is taking back as a result of having contributed time and effort to your need assessment process.
  • Social design research principles provide a great deal of help in understanding community needs and wants. Look through the Ideo field guide to get a flavour.

Eg: When a large Foundation working on healthcare in India faced resistance in obtaining community feedback on sanitation, they came up with the idea of conducting a ‘crafts and storytelling’ workshop as part of their need assessment, where communities created their needs and challenges as artwork out of clay and paper. It broke ice and brought out a lot of insights on sanitation needs and attitudes in the community.

4. Mapping Assets: Mapping assets identifies the various resources in the form of people, physical environment, natural resources, institutions, and services in a community. It gives a starting point to explore the interconnectedness of the assets and how they can be used to create an impact.

5. Stakeholder engagement: To obtain a diverse and holistic perspective on the issues, challenges, needs and priorities of the community, it is essential to interact with not just the community but also with the local authorities, village institutions, and civil society organizations which are working both for and with the community.

6. Participatory Rural Appraisal: Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is a technique for assessing group and community resources, identifying and prioritising problems and appraising strategies for solving them. PRA is particularly concerned that the multiple perspectives that exist in any community are represented in the analysis and that the community itself takes the lead in evaluating its situation and finding solutions. If done well, PRA is the most comprehensive way of determining need assessment in the community.

For eg: Every 3 years, the Srinivasan Services Trust CSR team performs an extensive door-to- door assessment in the villages, measuring indicators of life quality in the household including literacy levels, education, assets, incomes, loan status, sanitation behaviour, health status etc. They combine this data with observations in meetings held with a representative mix of the population – youth, elders, children, women, smallholders etc and community groups – SHGs, farmer groups etc. The village President always presides over the meeting, sets the context of the work being planned and emphasizes the importance of community participation. This also places the community at the core of the initiative and results in better participation later in activities.


Using interactive tools like games helps to ease the community into participating and giving inputs.

Using interactive tools like games helps to ease the community into participating and giving inputs.

Sattva’s recommended approach for CSR need assessment

Sattva believes in aligning to national and international priorities set out as standard indicators for various thematic areas and internalizing the following principles while planning CSR interventions for holistic improvement of the community:

  • Long term sustainable change happens only when you work with and engage local stakeholders
  • Collaborating with and strengthening existing community institutions and infrastructure is essential to scale and sustain CSR programs
  • Government is the largest development organization and integrating efforts is essential in bring about lasting impact


Figure: Need assessment process, Sattva

Steps to perform a need assessment

1. Develop the framework (PLAN): Design the basic framework for assessing needs based on which sector is being targetted – healthcare, sanitation, micro-credit etc. At the outset, it always helps to align with national and international goals and frameworks, national programmes and state-level programmes as CSR work will be complemented by other actors like the Government and philanthropies investing in the area and non-profits focusing on implementing working models. Two other factors to take into account while designing the framework are geographies in which the program is going to be running and the structures in the community of interest. For example, if working on maternal health, take into account the targets set out by UN SDGs, WHO, the National Health Mission.

2. Map Stakeholders: Identify all the possible stakeholders who will interact with the CSR programme once implemented. At the need assessment stage, it is critical to understand both the number and kind of stakeholders (internal team, employees, board, local panchayat, health workers etc), their role, how the program will impact them and their systems of interaction.

3. Collect data (DO): Carry out primary and secondary data collection

  • Secondary data: Identify gaps and opportunities in the local area by plotting quantitative data. Identify standard indicators through sources like Census, National Health Mission data, DISE and ASER for education infrastructure and learning levels, the 12th Five Year plan as well as the district or village specific data.
  • Primary data: Qualitative information should be collected at two levels – interaction with all stakeholders belonging to institutions like PHCs, Anganwadis, Schools etc as well as government authorities, local community-based organisations etc. These interactions should be followed by focus group discussions with community members in order to validate and corroborate the needs reflected by quantitative and qualitative data.
Figure: Stakeholders in the community

Figure: Stakeholders in the community


4. Qualify needs (ASSESS): After the quantitative and qualitative data collection, it is crucial to go back to understanding the actual need. Needs could be broken down into: Awareness, Accessibility, Affordability and Quality.


Figure: Need qualification

For example: the need for improving educational outcomes in a community, may stem from the fact that while there is availability of schools which are affordable, the community is unaware of the importance of education. On the other hand, while the community is aware, it may not have access to any schools in the vicinity. Thirdly, both the awareness and availability of schools are not enough, the facilities also need to be affordable to the community. Finally, the quality of the institution can also act as a deterrent to improvement of educational outcomes.

Need qualification helps you understand what kind of interventions and in what sequence to take up in order to solve for the common impact – say, learning outcomes for children in a particular area.

5. Design solution (REVIEW) : After the problem and its cause has been identified, the final step is to model the interventional project based on the information gathered and analyzed in the previous steps.

Here it is critical to take a step back and revisit the goals and objectives of starting the program. At this point, we recommend constructing a Logical Framework Model (LFA) which will map the goals, activities, outcomes and impact of the initiative.

Case Study: Need Assessment Study for planning CSR intervention

Sattva conducted a Need Assessment Study in the communities around  Plants of a  large global brand in the wood and laminates industry. While one Plant was located in Himachal, the other was in Rajasthan. Applying the above framework for need assessment, the implementation was carried out in the following manner:

Framework Design: Sattva built a framework that brought together the social areas of focus for the company with areas mentioned in the Schedule VII, SDGs, and National goals and programs.

Data Collection: Secondary research was done to understand background of the company, each of the Plants and their global and Indian vision for CSR. The team also conducted high level secondary research of the region to understand key development issues and gaps from data. The team then worked with the Plant team to conduct an area strategic mapping, which helps define the areas most relevant to the need assessment.

During the field visit, the team engaged with the company’s Plant officers to understand the region, the communities around the Plant and the level of engagement that the Plant officials and workers have with the community. With the help of the company’s Plant officers, the team identified the key stakeholders such as the village Sarpanch, Panchayat members, Mahila groups, experts such as doctors, teachers and government officials. Following are the list of stakeholders engaged across both Plants:

sattva's need assessment framework

Figure: Stakeholders met during one of Sattva’s need assessments

On the field, data was collected through focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews with the respondents and through field observations. With specific and detailed primary data gathered, the team worked on strengthening the primary data through secondary research from credible sources. Needs of certain sub groups such as migrant workers and truck drivers were considered separately and given priority.

Synthesis: Post the field visits, Sattva team consolidated the key results from the engagements with various stakeholders and the field studies into a unified framework.

Gap analysis in the communities around the Plant

An initial Sattva analysis for the Plant led to some of the following insights on gaps:

need assessment results

Figure: Sample results from the need assessment process

Result: The identified need translated to program definition in areas such as access to primary healthcare, improvement of primary education and access to clean drinking water. Each of these focuses was further detailed out into specific outcome based projects.

How have you carried out need assessments for your CSR program? Are there specific challenges you faced while carrying out need assessments? Get in touch with us at We would love to hear about your case stories and experiences of doing need assessment. If you have a need assessment experience, please let us know and we would love to showcase the same in our #MeasureToGrow compilation.

This is part of Sattva’s special series: #MeasureToGrow, looking at assessments as a way of steering social impact programs for impact.

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About the Author

Sattva is a social impact consulting firm focused on co-creating development models that are scalable, sustainable and globally relevant. We serve as a bridge between business and social goals, by designing and implementing solutions that can balance sustainable growth with long-term social impact. Follow us: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.