Do you know where to start?
Your first step is going to be working with your community to identify the issues that affect it the most. While you may be tempted to simply plan a project without any kind of outside input, your project will have a greater impact if you involve the community.
You may already have a passion for a particular issue, such as education, the environment or the economy. However, a community needs assessment is still an important part of designing a service project. A community assessment can be as simple as taking a walk through your neighborhood or as involved as surveying the whole city where you live.
What’s most important is focusing on the community when you’re trying to identify a need to address through service.
There are a lot of different ways to find a community’s need. You should select one that fits the scope of the volunteer project you’re planning. For a one-day project, you may want to choose an assessment method that doesn’t require a lot of time. For a long term project, devote a little more time to conduct an in-depth assessment to make sure you effectively use your resources.
Some ideas for doing a needs assessment:
Gather volunteers and community members to talk about community issues or needs. As a group, look at the causes and effects of the issue you’re trying to address, and then brainstorm potential projects that can address that issue.
As you spend time in your community, talk to other members of the community about the kinds of change that they’d like to see happen. What would they change if they had an unlimited pool of resources? What would they do to make that change happen?
Invite members of the community out for a walk through the community. On the walk, ask community members about the changes they’d like to see in their community. Being out in the community can help to highlight the needs that need to be addressed.
Conduct a formal or informal survey of community members to identify issues or needs. Ask questions like
- What problems do you see in the community?
- What are the most pressing issues in the community right now?
- What types of service projects would be most beneficial for the community?
- List two things you want to change in the community.
Finding out what your community’s needs are is the first step in making change sustainable. If there isn’t community support for your project, all of the work that you’ll put into planning your project won’t have as big of an impact. Learning what a community’s needs are and working to meet them in a way that is meaningful to the community is a great way to insure that your work will be supported after your project is finished.
What did you do to find a community need that you could address? What were your first steps in planning a service project? Let us know in the comments!