Best Practices for Field Days E-Tips for Environmental Educators
Welcome to this edition of the EE E-Tip for Field Days - the quarterly source for practical tips to raise the impact of field day programs. We want to hear your suggestions for improving this resource. Send your ideas to Nate Meyer.
EE E-TIP: Clarify your audience's need for your event.
Planning a field day event that meets the needs of your audience may seem like one part magic and two parts luck, but with some care you can develop a formula that works for you and your participants. There are many ways you can uncover needs of your intended audience. What you find out can help you make important decisions about how to structure and implement your field day.
What is a Needs Assessment?
A needs assessment is a process that helps you:
- Define your target audience;
- Identify what they want;
- Uncover problems or needs that exist for your target audience members; and
- Identify potential solutions to these problems or needs. (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2004)
Often called a front end analysis or market research, the goal of a needs assessment is to gather data that ultimately helps you design and create an effective program that addresses the needs and wants of your participants. (NOAA, 2006)
You might choose to conduct a needs assessment for several reasons:
- Previous events have revealed problems you'd like to overcome;
- You have a vision for a new approach to your event - or a new event;
- It is required for financial or other support for your event;
- You are unsure how to use resources such as funding or facilities;
- You sense a change in your audience or the context and want to check it out. (Krueger)
You might gather information about the age, background, preferences, qualities, values, and needs of your target audience, their preferences and expectations for the event, or their ideas for how the event could be improved.
When you take a fresh look at a program or service you find out what works well, and what needs adjusting. The data you gather can help target your resources more precisely, justify your program to funders, and energize everyone involved. By involving your audience in the planning process, you let them know how much you value them. (SAMHSA, 2003)
Ways to approach a Needs Assessment
The simplest way to conduct a needs assessment is to ask your participants, or potential participants, what they want or need from your program. There are several ways to approach this process, all of which garner information. But be mindful that the way you structure your questions will influence the type and usefulness of the answers.
If you ask your audience WHAT THEY WANT you will find out what they already know they want. These are called felt or expressed needs and may be limited because people don't always know what they want. This kind of field day needs assessment might survey teachers about how they like would help designing or delivering presentations, how long they would like a field day to last, or what food they would like served for lunch.
Slightly different is determining WHAT THEY NEED. This line of questioning is sometimes called a normative needs assessment, through which you identify a gap between how people think or act now and how you would like them to think or act on an issue. Here you are deciding what you think the audience needs, based on goals or desired outcomes you identify. With this approach, you might organize your event around driving behavior change (e.g. improved recycling practices) or helping an audience reach a certain goal (e.g. meeting academic standards).
Another option is to ask WHO NEEDS IT MOST. This is called a comparative needs assessment through which you try to identify whether some portion of your audience is experiencing some benefit that others are not. The ones who are not are considered to have a "need", and the selected program or service can help fill that need. For example, you may want to find out whether some students experience more success in their regular science class than others. The struggling students may become your target audience to help equalize their success in science.
Don't overcomplicate a Needs Assessment
A needs assessment doesn't need to be an elaborate, complicated process. You could just call a few teachers who regularly attend your program and informally chat with them about how they think the program could go better. You could also talk informally with student participants during the event to ask what they're enjoying. A few strategic questions on an evaluation form after an event can serve as a needs assessment for next year's program.
Ultimately, a needs assessment helps you get to know your audience and to gain their support by asking what they want (Krueger). When you are clear on what your audience needs, you can plan your event to meet those needs. That's a formula that needs no magic to be successful.
For more information on how a needs assessment fits into your event marketing, review the Integrate Marketing into Your Planning Process section of the Best Practices for Field Days: A Program Planning Guidebook for Organizers, Presenters, Teachers and Volunteers - pages 16 to 25. Curriculum copies, workshop and other information are available online at Environmental Science Education.
To learn more about the Best Practices for Field Days, read our short article in the online Journal of Extension
References and Resources
Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B. (2004) Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Johnson, Donald E., et al (1987) Needs Assessment: Theory and Methods. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
Krueger, R. Needs Assessment.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (2006, June 13). Needs Assessment Training.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2003) Too Smart To Start Implementation Guide. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.