1.1 Assessing information needs

It is important to find out about the people who will use the resource centre. This includes finding out what information they need, what information is provided by other organisations, and how far their needs for information are being met. This is known as carrying out a needs assessment.

After the resource centre has been established, a needs assessment should be carried out every one or two years, to ensure that the resource centre continues to meet the information needs of its users.

A needs assessment looks at:

1. Who the users will be
Their age, sex, educational level, literacy level and type of work they do
2. What their information needs are
What main subjects they need information about
What other subjects they need information about
What they will use the materials in the resource centre for (in order of priority)
Which activities the materials will be most useful for
How important local/national/regional/international information is
What formats of materials will be useful:
  • articles (for writing reports and getting new ideas for activities)
  • books and other documents (for getting a comprehensive picture of a topic)
  • personal advice (to help plan activities)
  • training manuals (to assist with a training activity)
  • videos (for training and health education)
  • abstracts of published articles (to keep up-to-date on new developments and know what to follow up)
  • newsletters (to find out what new developments are taking place in the subject area, and what other organisations are doing)
3. What materials are available
What other sources of published and unpublished materials exist
How much materials cost, and whether health workers can afford to buy them
What gaps there are (in terms of subject, type of material, such as training manual, reference material), language, format (such as book, audiovisual), and educational level
What other sources of information exist:
  • government services and departments
  • non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • mass media (newspapers, radio, television)
  • e-mail and Internet services
4. How information can be disseminated
What methods for disseminating information would best suit resource centre users (such as resource lists, current awareness bulletins or document supply services)
How feasible these methods are

A needs assessment can be carried out by interviewing people individually, organising a focus group discussion (a structured discussion with a small group of potential users) or by asking potential users to complete a questionnaire. Interviews and discussions are better, as they provide an opportunity to meet people and discuss their needs. If a questionnaire is used, it should be made easy for people to complete. This can be done by listing the most likely answers, so that people only need to tick a box or circle a word.

It is important to collect only essential information. Too much information can be confusing. Tips for conducting interviews and an example of a needs assessment questionnaire are given in Section 1.4.

As well as assessing users’ information needs, it is important to find out what information is provided by other organisations. This will help to ensure that the resource centre will fill a gap and not duplicate the work of others. It will also provide an opportunity to contact other organisations working in related areas, which could be useful for future work (see Section 8.3: Networks and networking). Staff of other organisations can be either interviewed or asked to complete a questionnaire.