What is it, and why is it important for the entire process of working with welfare technology?
Understanding the needs of your organization and the end users provides the foundation for successfully implementing new welfare technology.
A needs analysis can, as we will see later in this document, encompass many different aspects and perspectives, and as such can be very complex. In its most simple form, however, it is simply a methodical examination of an organization and its end users, with the goal to identify areas that hold the potential for improvement.
A needs analysis lays the ground for later steps, but is closely connected (and often intertwined) with the marked screening process. Unfortunately, the needs analysis is often overlooked or underestimated. This, simply because many public authorities believe they know the needs of their organization and their end users by default. This preconceived notion can lead to failed projects and sub-optimal use of scarce public resources.
Apart from increasing your knowledge about the entirety of your organization and the end users, a thorough needs analysis has the added benefit of creating a feeling of ownership concerning new technology across sectors and professions. When staff has helped identify the problem and the need, the early involvement helps create a sense of ownership towards any technology covering this given need.
It is very important to stress that doing a thorough needs analysis will provide an organization with a better understanding of its true needs and thus a better idea of which initiatives will be the most effective, both in terms of quality and cost.
Though it is key to making smarter decisions a needs analysis is a knowledge gathering tool and we recognize that as such it is only a part of the decision making process. In a politically controlled organization there will be several other factors influencing the decision on which project to start or which area to prioritize.
These factors could be:
- Certain areas may have a very positive or negative public opinion, which can/will influence its prioritization.
- Marked screening may reveal innovative solutions with great potential.
- Certain areas may have administrative and/or political prioritization within your organization.
- Existing possibilities for external funding.
- Certain areas may have national or regional political prioritization.
It is recommendable to supplement the traditional needs analysis with a "technology based needs analysis" (intertwining needs analysis and marked screening). While a traditional needs analysis (even with the thorough methodology provided in this document) primarily provides acknowledged and observed needs a "technology based needs analysis" can be more innovative due to its external origin.
It is however important to stress the word supplement. Relying purely or overly on marked screening or "technology based needs analysis" is a common "fall pit" and often lead to the creation of new needs rather than fulfilling existing ones. It is easy to be impressed by new innovative technologies, but without a good traditional needs analysis its viability is hard to determine and you risk wasting resources on superfluous testing.
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Guidelines based on experience
- Your needs analysis must be followed by a prioritization process. A needs analysis will most likely point towards several possible focus areas, and it is helpful to the efficiency of the follow-up process if these focus areas are prioritized. It is recommendable to make this prioritization on a top level to ensure ownership and engagement.
- Because of the complexity and variety of a municipality, needs analysis needs to be focused and clearly defined within a department or professional subject area. Prioritize which subject area of your organization that has the largest potential and eventually work your way through that prioritized list. Including more subject areas at once will not necessarily improve your needs analysis, as it will require huge resources to compile and process the collected data.
- Identify and work with a range of needs analysis methods (see later section) to insure the right correlation between the resources you spend and your general efforts within welfare technology. Chose one or more methods that best suit both your organizational set-up and resource limitation.
- Make sure your needs analysis includes all perspectives in order to identify true needs. To do this, it is beneficial to map out which perspectives within the given subject area that should be included in the analysis, including all management layers, front staff, end users, relatives etc. (See section on available tools for more information about "partner analysis").
- Communicating your identified needs to the marked improves the understanding and dialogue you have with potential commercial partners.
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What has having a needs analysis meant to the CONNECT participants?
- In Odense anthropological studies has led to a better and wider understanding of welfare technology, from the end users to the top management within each department. Identifying and focusing on identified needs has strengthened our communication with the marked.
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Methods and tools
There are several methods for conducting needs analysis. This section list suggestions based on the experience of the participating organizations. Remember that a needs analysis needs not be limited to one method, but usually includes several of the listed methods.
With structured or semi-structured interviews, you can collect data and identify problem areas. This method is usable with different target groups, from top management to end user and relatives.
This is an observational study in which an anthropologist observes behavior and workflow of both staff and citizens. This is highly effective for identifying needs at particularly institutions.
In a workshop setting you can gather different stakeholders in a structured forms to work with the current situation descriptions and improvement areas where for instance technology could make a difference.
A focus group can be either cross composed of different stakeholders or consist of only one group. This requires careful leadership to avoid prejudice or putting the words in the mouth of the participants.
Enquiries/Follow up interviews
When needed, often as part of a larger process, you can use enquiries to clarify the importance of your finding, reconcile that we are on the right path and get help with prioritizing.
Is an often used tool to gather knowledge. For internal purposes using web-based questionnaires can be both swift and useful.
A day of inspiration
Invite suppliers to pitch their solutions. This can be in a structured form for relevant staff or include users, e.g. A day of inspiration could also include an exhibition or a workshop to clarify fields of use, target groups and important functions.
To ensure continued feedback from front staff and end users it can be useful to establish a formal network including staff from all areas of your organization. They report potential problem areas and articulated needs from throughout your organization.
Sometimes it can be useful to go back to previous measurements and different kinds of business statistics to get a picture of e.g. how common different kinds of actions or target groups are.
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Examples of needs analysis from the CONNECT participants
Needs analysis is a very important part of working with welfare technology in Odense municipality. They use multiple of the methods listed in this document, and have formalized documents/templates for different parts of the needs analysis. This includes: Questionnaires, outline for a workshop and reporting templates.
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