Assessing Participant Needs (Pre-program Assessments)

A great way to find out what your target audience really wants and needs is to conduct screening surveys at recruiting events like Wild foods dinners and cooking classes. These screening surveys can identify the individuals who may be interested in participating in additional programs, and they also can help identify what potential participants may need to learn.

Screening surveys are different than the pre-program surveys that are in the “resources section” of Incorporating “Participant Feedback” And Measuring Success (Pre-, Post-, And Follow-Up Evaluations). The pre-program surveys are designed to establish a baseline knowledge/skills/motivations so that you can measure the impact of your program.

Needs assessments are designed to determine what a participant wants or needs to learn so that you can provide this information to them.

Incorporating participant input into the program’s design while you plan the program is extremely helpful to make sure your program is “on target.” Often, programs are developed from “an expert's point of view” with little direct evidence of what a true beginner may need or want. Don't assume you know what a beginner wants or needs - ask a beginner!

Inviting a member of the target audience to be part of your program planning team is a way of obtaining “participant feedback” right from the beginning. Creating opportunities for informal discussions is another way to discover the needs of potential audiences. In some instances, these informal discussions could lead to the development of more systematic assessments such as focus groups or participants surveys.

Any needs assessments conducted should be well documented, so you have a record of how they were conducted, as well what results were obtained. This information will help you and your colleagues learn from your efforts and develop better assessment tools the next time. Sharing the results of your assessments with other agencies and stakeholders will help the R3 (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation) community become more effective in developing assessment tools and ultimately improve the programming offered to potential hunters.

While these systematic assessments may seem intimidating, they do not need to be. Rather, think of them as conversations with potential participants to find out their interests and needs. For more suggestions see Incorporating participant feedback and measuring success.

When you have an opportunity to discuss needs with your target audience, consider questions such as:

  • “How interested are you in obtaining your own wild foods?”
  • “What is your primary motivation for obtaining wild foods?”
  • “What past outdoor experiences have you had?”
  • “What do you believe is preventing you from already obtaining wild foods?”
  • “What are the most critical knowledge and skills you need to obtain wild foods?”
  • “If a program were developed on obtaining wild foods, what would be the best format for it? Evening sessions? Weekend sessions? Webinars/distance learning sessions?”
  • “What is the best time frame (season) to hold the program?”
  • “How long (how many sessions) should the program last?”

While these questions may seem obvious, the answers – from the participants – may surprise you, and will provide insights into how your program should be structured and how the content should be presented.

Once you decide what type of program you are planning and who you are targeting, it is extremely helpful to include at least one member of your target audience on your planning team. Several existing programs have taken this idea even further, by hiring a program graduate as an intern or part-time contractor to assist with planning future programs.

Incorporating participant needs into the earliest stages of program planning will also help you develop effective program goals, objectives and outcomes.

In addition, using mid-program assessments to determine how well participants have learned the presented material is a good way to measure their progress and determine if you are meeting their needs. These assessments can be built into the program as reviews of material already covered and will allow you to make any needed adjustments along the way.

Finally, know that each individual and each group of program participants is unique. As you conduct the program, be flexible enough to adapt to specific interests and needs of the group and individual participants.