Using Needs Assessment to Choose the Target Audience

Melissa Cater, PhD

The central decision for [all organizations] is, What is the best way to portion out the available resources, including time, money, and organizational efforts to meet all the demands-the needs-that compete for them?

Such decisions may be based on intuition, political pressures, past practices, or personal preferences, and they may be made by boards or managers. But the most effective way to decide such issues is to make needs assessment the first stage in planning. (Witkin, 1984, xi)

Needs assessment is the very foundation of Extension program planning. A need is “something that is essential or desired to maintain well-being” . . . “or something that is necessary to relieve a state of deficiency or deprivation” (Pawlak & Vinter, 2004, p. 73). Today we will focus on three descriptors that help us better understand the needs of our clientele.

A common method of describing a need is by taking a raw count of the number of people experiencing the problem. This count is commonly referred to as the magnitude of the need (Pawlak & Vinter, 2004). Figure 1 illustrates that 3 of every 10 individuals (or 30%) are experiencing the problem or have this need. 

Figure 1. An illustration of the magnitude of a need.

While the magnitude is often very helpful in determining whether or not it is useful to address a need, it may not have the granularity needed to determine the target audience of a program. The distribution of a need is illustrated using demographic categories like gender, race, age, education, and other characteristics (Pawlak & Vinter, 2004). In Figure 2, the greatest need is among people in the 41-60 year old age range. Information like this provides both Extension faculty and advisory leadership councils with much needed evidence when making program decisions.

Figure 2. An illustration of the distribution of a need within groups ages 0-18, 19-40, and 41-60.

Another technique for describing needs is by considering the scope of the problem. Scope focuses in more closely on the number of cases of a given condition in a specific population and area during a specific time period (Pawlak & Vinter, 2004). Scope examines the current state of a problem by looking at both old and new cases. Prevalence is the term used for the number of existing cases while incidence refers to new cases. In the illustration below (see Figure 3), the need is measured from a gender perspective within Clover Parish. In boys, the prevalence of the need is 3 in 10 (30%) and the incidence is 4 in 10 (40%). Conversely, in girls both the prevalence and incidence are 2 in 10 (20%). It is easy to see that the greatest need, as measured by both prevalence and incidence, is for programming targeted at boys.

Figure 3. An illustration of the scope of a need in Clover Parish.

Program planning is never an easy task, yet having access to data which describes the magnitude, distribution and scope of a need provides program decision-makers with tools to make the process easier. For more information on how to collect this type of data for your program, contact any member of the Organizational Development and Evaluation team.


Pawlak, E. & Vinter, R. (2004). Designing and planning programs for nonprofit and government organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Witkin, B. R. (1984). Assessing needs in educational and social programs: Using information to make decisions, set priorities, and allocate resources. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Developing Leadership Skills of Advisory Council Members

Bradley A. Leger

I really enjoy working with people, whether I am teaching adolescents or adults, facilitating a group project, or designing a new program.  I am also a firm believer that I must always affirm the value of the people with whom I am working, either publicly or privately, as well as assisting them to realize their full potential.  In past blogs dealing with Advisory Councils, we discussed issues of empowerment, engagement and motivation of council members.  Another step in helping them in their journey to be their optimum selves, which should will correspondingly move the council forward in its mission, is to provide them with tools to improve their leadership skills. If we consider what we are asking them to do, such as organizing and conducting meetings, speaking in large and small groups and in public, building professional networks, communicating with stakeholders to assess local program needs, etc., we need to provide them with the proper tools. 

 So, let’s think about it: what can we provide to them to help them to be successful in this role?  (Of course, these skills that they’ll be attaining will also be useful in their overall lives as citizens.)  You’ll also quickly find that their respective skill and confidence levels will cover quite a wide range.  I recommend the following resources:

LSU AgCenterAdvisory Leadership System Manual      Meetings That Work

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Preparing Youth for Production Ag Careers

Bradley Leger, PhD

Throughout all of my years on this good earth, my life has been steeped in agriculture: growing up on a farm, member of 4-H and FFA, presently part-owner/operator of a hay operation, agricultural educator, and presently serving on State Extension Staff.  I have also seen many changes in ag technology and within our society as well.  In all of these situations, I have had the opportunity and sacred duty to tell the story of agriculture to youth and adults.  One of the major issues which we commonly discuss is the need to grow enough food to feed our growing world population.  Of course, this means that we need people who are willing to be engaged in the food production industry.  We are all aware that the average age of ag producers in our country is 57 years.  With each successive generation, fewer young people have been willing to enter the field of ag production.  Economists as well as sociologists can provide us with a multitude of reasons (which could be another great blog topic!)

So, what to do?  We do have excellent 4-H and agriscience/FFA programs and post-secondary agriculture programs throughout the country which provide instruction and hands-on experiences which expose young people to the various careers available to them in agriculture, including production agriculture.  However, even with these programs, we still have a shrinking number of people pursuing the ag production field.   AgCenter responded to this in 2010 by establishing an academy of sorts to work with high-school age students who are specifically interested in this field: the Louisiana Young Ag Producer Program (LaYAPP).  If you are not familiar with it, check it out at   I’m honored to serve as coordinator of this program.

 However, I firmly believe that we need to “think out of the box” to address this issue.  I’m confident that we’ll always have the presence of larger commercial producers; but instead of fretting over the seeming demise of our “traditional” farmers, what of smaller producers who market their products locally?  What about food production in urban settings – even growing crops on rooftops?  What about smaller part-time producers?  Need we mention people who produce for the growing number of farmers markets across the country?  How many of us are familiar with Community-Supported Agriculture?  I’ve long held the notion that we’ll always have producers around, but they will probably look differently.   All of these efforts – whether they be massive or small-scale, commercial or shared within the community – put food on the table.   

 I recommend these sites (good stuff!):

Community-Supported Agriculture:

List of Louisiana Farmers Markets:

Rooftop gardening:

 Any ideas to share?

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Personal Growth

Bradley Leger, PhD

In learning to know other things, and other minds, we become more intimately acquainted with ourselves, and are to ourselves better worth knowing.

Philip Gilbert Hamilton

I frequently refer to myself as a “sponge” – for knowledge and learning, that is.  Since the days of my youth, I have loved reading and buying books (I haven’t dipped my toe into the Kindle pond yet) and I have indeed amassed quite a collection. (I suppose that I should begin cataloging them.)  Online purchasing is a great invention!  Almost humorously, I often tell myself and others that I can look at particular books on my shelves that I have obtained over the years and pretty much pinpoint where I was personally, professionally, and spiritually at the time of acquisition (although you really cannot compartmentalize these facets of ourselves – they actually form concentric circles).  As professionals, we are usually encouraged (and, at times, required) to gain more types of advanced degrees, certifications or specializations. In all of our busy-ness, we may look at these achievements as just something to “check off of our list” and move on, rather than looking at these often challenging experiences as vehicles for growth.  It may take a number of years of experience and maturity to look back and have some “a-ha” moments when considering the bits of wisdom which actually proved to be of great benefit to us.      

 But, to what end is all of this learning?  What is happening amidst all of this often frenetically-paced activity in our lives? Speaking for myself, it is easy to lose myself within this whirlwind without seeking some type of balance, which includes personal growth.  We may agree that the three circles referenced in the above paragraph (personal, professional and spiritual) are really arranged in a concentric pattern, but are any of them “flat”?  I would dare say that we busy professionals and those of us who are tending to family obligations often end up neglecting the personal growth circle. So, what shall we do?  Although I certainly cannot claim that all of my circles are of equal size and composition, I recommend several things that work for me (sometimes easier said than done):

 Find some quiet time for yourself and nurture your spiritual side (not necessarily the same as “religious” – that’s another topic) – Depending on your life situation, try to schedule a routine for some “me” time on a regular basis.  It may be five minutes or one hour daily.  Find a special place in your home which can serve as sort of a sanctuary.  Try not to be productive – just be.

  • For those of your who like to read, try to obtain some quality reading material which is of an motivational or challenging nature, such as scripture or inspirational stories. Strive for quality, not quantity of reading.  How does it speak to you?
  • Support groups – what about joining up with some kindred spirits to reflect on what you have read and/or just to share your life experiences.  Perhaps do it over coffee or lunch.
  • Use the computer, even at work!  There is an increasing number of sources, such as eXtension and AgCenter, which offer free webinars/Live Meetings on a variety of topics.  Missed the live presentation?  Most groups will archive them for your future use.

We could certainly extend this list to a large degree.  Any ideas?

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Making learning fun: Using learning activities to reinforce key ideas

Debra Davis, PhD

In Extension, we are lifelong learners and we provide learning opportunities for people at every stage of the age spectrum—children, youth, adults and seniors. In order to be effective at this, we must have a variety of tools in our toolbox. One such tool is the effective use of learning activities that engage the learner and reinforce key ideas. Sometimes these learning activities may be games. Although many of us like to play games outside of work, some of may think that games are child’s play and not appropriate for working and actual learning. That could not be further from the truth! Think back to learning experiences you have had as an adult. The one’s I remember most are those that were fun. I REMEMBER those experiences…those times when I was somehow ENGAGED in learning.  

Melissa wrote a few weeks back about using questioning as one tool to engage the learner. In that post she related various types of questioning techniques to Bloom’s Taxonomy and demonstrated how you could use them at every level of learning—knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Presentation games or learning activities can be used in much the same way to:

  • Engage the learner and make learning fun
  • Reinforce learning while focusing on a single idea, skill or process
  • Appeal to various learning styles

Learning activities and presentation games can also be used at different points during a presentation for different purposes:

  • At the beginning to gauge existing knowledge or to focus learners on a particular topic.
  • In the middle to check the learners comprehension (understanding) and to reinforce learning
  • At the end to assess the learner’s ability to apply, analyze and synthesize the information

As you begin to think about how you can incorporate some fun into your teaching plan, consider activities which use the basic game principles of REPETTION, REINFORCEMENT, ASSOCIATION and use of SENSES. Not creative in this area? That’s okay. Learning activity ideas abound on the internet. Here are a few to get you started:

General games to reinforce learning

Icebreakers/inclusion activities (can be used at any time during the learning process, not just at the beginning).

Crossword puzzles

Word search puzzles

Quizzes (scroll down to near the bottom for some fun online quizzes related to nutrition and agriculture)

Game show format

Online games

Now…READY, SET, GO and have fun teaching!

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How do we choose? Using a Decision Matrix to Weigh Alternatives

Debra T. Davis, PhD

A few posts back I wrote about using deBono’s 6 Thinking Hats process to stimulate thinking about a problem or an issue from different perspectives. In this post, I want to share an idea for a process that works well when you have a number of alternative ideas to consider and need to narrow them down or select only one—The Decision Matrix. Here’s how it works:

The group defines the criteria against which they desire to evaluate the alternatives and assigns a weight or value to each. For example, the group may decide that time, cost, audience reach, volunteer availability and expertise available to carry out an idea are all critical criteria against which to measure an idea. The group may decide that all criteria are equal and that none is more important than the others so a simple ranking process will work. If the group decides for example that audience reach is twice as important as the other criteria then the score individuals assign to audience reach would be multiplied by 2.

Using a ranking scale that mirrors the number of criteria against which the items are evaluated, each individual then fills out a Decision Matrix Worksheet. So for the idea that best meets criteria #1, it would get the highest score which is the total number of criteria. The idea that least meets the criteria would get a 1. Each number is used only once in each column. The individual scores are then tabulated at the end of the rows and averaged to generate an overall ranking.

Let’s look at an example. Here we are trying to decide the best way to get information to the clients in our parish. In this example, we are making the assumption that all criteria are equal so we are using a 1-5 ranking with 5 being the delivery method that best meets the criteria and 1 being the one that least meets our criteria. Working in one column at a time, we rank the ideas based on each individual criteria. So looking at Criteria #1 -volunteer support, for which delivery method do we have the greatest access to volunteers?  That delivery method would get a 5 because that’s how many criteria we have. Which one has the fewest volunteers available? That one would get a 1. The others would fall someplace in between.  Next we’ll consider Criteria #2-expertise available to implement each delivery method and do the same thing. Once we’ve worked through all criteria, we’ll add up our scores and average them with others in the group.

One word of caution: Clearly define your criteria—are you looking for the idea with the most or least of a certain criteria. Be sure everyone is clear on the ranking instructions. In some criteria, the highest score may go to the alternative that has the most of something and in others it may go to the one that has the least of something. It can get confusing! But it does work.  So the next time you have lots of great ideas and need to decide with your group which is best, try this technique.


Justice, T. & Jamieson, D.W. (2006). The facilitator’s fieldbook. Second edition. New York: HRD Press.

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Creativity Talks, Innovation Walks

Melissa Cater, PhD

When all think alike, then no one is thinking. ~ Walter Lippman

The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail. ~ Edwin H. Land

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. ~ Theodore Levitt

Innovation is the process of turning ideas into manufacturable and marketable form. ~ Watts Humprey

The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams. ~ W. Arthur Porter

We are often urged to think creatively, to think outside the box, and to embrace innovation. Yet many of us struggle feel either creative or innovative in our everyday lives. It’s not uncommon to hear people remark that creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of a few, and not the many. Yet research does not support this idea (Breen, 2004). We all have the capacity to think creatively and produce innovative solutions in a supportive work environment.

What factors do support creativity and innovation? According to Amabile and Kramer (2007), the answers are as simple, and as complex, as employee perceptions, emotions, and work motivation.

  • Positive emotions (happiness, joy) precede high levels of creativity. In fact, positive emotion has a carryover effect from one day to the next day and, to a lesser degree, even the following day. So one day of really positive emotion can influence creativity levels for one to three days (Amabile and Kramer, 2007).
  • Organizations which give affirmative reactions to creativity and innovation by encouraging collaboration and cooperation, exhibiting openness to new ideas, promoting a vision of innovation, and rewarding creativity establish an environment where employees are willing to create and innovate (Amabile and Kramer, 2007).
  • Intrinsic motivation trumps external incentives. Employees who really like their work and who receive personal satisfaction from a job well-done have the highest levels of creativity (Amabile and Kramer, 2007).

What are some secrets to increasing your own creativity and innovation?

  • Set aside time to think creatively. Working under pressure rarely supports creativity and innovation as the distractions of the time-crunch interfere with the ability to focus (Breen, 2004).
  • Brainstorm unreservedly. Write down ideas that seem both doable and far-fetched (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004)
  • Embrace collaboration. There are many benefits to working in teams, not the least of which is the synergy created when multiple minds are working together to create innovative solutions (Breen, 2004; The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004).
  • Create an action plan. Creativity becomes innovation when great thoughts are put in motion (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004).

As you reflect on the creativity and innovation needed to move your organization forward, what one step will you take – today – to increase your own creativity and innovation?

Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2007). Inner work-life: Understanding the subtext of business performance. World at Work Journal, 5, 10-23.

Breen, B. (2004). The 6 myths of creativity. Fast Company, 89. Retrieved from

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2004). Creativity and innovation. Retrieved from


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