As an association you want to anticipate the needs of your members and provide them with valuable products and services in a timely fashion. To achieve this goal you decide to conduct needs assessment research.
This is an essential tool but it is the most difficult one to get right. Why? Because people are ill equipped to tell you what they might need or want in the future. Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Not only is it difficult for most of us to apply our imagination in a survey setting to our future needs, our thoughts about the future are unreliable.
Generally we’re accurate when it comes to our actions today. I know that I had cereal for breakfast this morning. But what I might want for breakfast a month from now is a bit harder to predict. Compound this with the fact that I want to appear to be making better choices than what I might actually be making. I will be more inclined to say that I’m going to have granola for breakfast rather than the truthful answer…Captain Crunch. The anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “what people say, what people do and what people say they do are entirely different things.”
So with all of these challenges in mind, how do we proceed? Here are three suggestions.
1. Rather than ask about future needs ask your members about their current challenges and headaches. Once you have a laundry list of challenges you can group them together into a handful of categories.
2. Look at the groupings and think of ways to creatively address these needs. Become a problem solver. Ask yourself, what can the association do for members that they can’t do individually on their own? Or, how do we help our members save money or be more productive?
3. Once you’ve developed a list of possible products or services, you may want to consider, where else might these products/services be available? What are peer organizations offering? What can we do that’s different?