Assessing the Community

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Assessing the Community

I am not young enough to know everything.
                           --James Matthew Barrie

sally taking notesWho knows the most about what affects attitudes and sexual health decisions about youth ? The youth themselves! So...let's ask them!

There are several ways to get thorough input from your priority population about their KABB (knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors) regarding your topic area. 

Surveys or questionnaires - here's where you write KABB-related questions  that you would like to ask the designated priority population.You can use traditional hard copy surveys if assessing youth in a classroom, clinic, or on the street.
Online Surveys - a paper-free option which is easy to    
implement and analyze. Check out         
or for how to use these handy online  
resources which offer a free (limited) service.

Rapid Surveys - a quick and convenient method to gather open-ended (qualitative) data from your priority population. A brief questionnaire is given to randomly-chosen participants or "people on the street."

You do not have to re-invent the wheel to design survey questions. It's easy to search for existing questions that capture what you want to know. Look for questions that are...

  • used in other local program surveys (like program
    assessments, pre/post tests, training handouts). Click here to
    see several examples of KABB questions for HIV prevention
    used in a program planning training.
  • existing in surveys from national or state data collections. (See Data and Background.)
  • asked in research studies with youth. You can
    do a literature search at a local public health school or
    through PubMed and then ask authors if they would share
    their research questions with you.
  • featured in books like Handbook of Sexuality Related
    edited by Clive M. Davis, et al. (1998 Sage
    Publications, Inc.).
  • in the Youth Sexual Behavior Questionnaire (YSBQ) , a compilation of sexual health questions conducted in three California communities.

Focus Groups - traditionally, focus groups are conducted in person, by bringing together 7 to 12 people who represent the priority population. They can be a great way to hear new or unique perspectives on issues not yet considered or that were not reflected in existing data. Existing resources describe how to plan and conduct focus groups, including facilitator guides and logistical tips (like providing food!). The CDC has an extensive focus group guide:

Transformation Education - this assessment model, based on the work of Paolo Freire, is a holistic and effective way to find the root causes of the problem from the participants' perspective through listening, dialogue and action steps. Click here for a complete description of how to implement this effective model in social marketing.

Key Informant Interviews - interview leaders in the priority population who can provide you with valuable perspectives to more thoroughly understand the community. The process of interviewing also helps develop relationships with community stakeholders and allows them to give feedback on the campaign and other programs. Be aware of who you choose to be a key informant. There may be "self-proclaimed" leaders out there who do not necessarily represent the population you are trying to reach.


Be cautious: do not "over assess" stakeholders or youth from a particular agency or neighborhood. This is especially important if the idea for the assessment did not come from the community and/or you do not plan on sharing the results of your data collection with them. It can sometimes be easier with limited funds to seek out the groups that we already work with. Be aware that the input you collect from the "usual suspects" is balanced with other groups who also represent your priority population.

Share your results! Many youth and community providers could benefit from the results of your assessment. Even a result summary and/or data report could be a respectful gesture - one that builds community relationships and helps local programs better tailor their interventions. It is common courtesy and good practice to share information gathered with the community that provided these data. Be sure to have enough participants involved in the assessment, combine all the data and do not share any information that compromises confidentiality.

Use your current resources like email lists or Facebook/Myspace friends to create a list of stakeholders and colleagues to send out announcements about your social marketing campaign. Consistent communication with these existing connections can serve to strengthen community ties, act as a catalyst for forwarding the message on to other colleagues, and serve as a venue for helpful feedback on your campaign.

Create a Youth Advisory Group. Youth input brings an alternative view point that can enhance your program and its effectiveness. Form a group composed of youth to give you ongoing, creative feedback about your social marketing campaign or other youth programs. Organize an advisory group with formal, regular meetings, create a drop-in format at a community center, or develop a virtual chat room or blog forum.

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