It’s important to collect data using a variety of different methods in order to get the best understanding of your users and their needs. Below you will find a list of common methods used for space, service, and technology planning. Each method is coupled with an overview of the method and, where possible, sample instruments and guides. Refer to the Needs Assessment Guiding Principles to help you develop the best approach to collecting data and learning about your users.
Before you embark on a needs assessment project, you need to determine your research questions.
- Writing Good Research Questions – from the Libraryassessment.info blog outlines a useful process for helping a research team identify and create research questions. The process outlined was created at the Columbia University Libraries.
Trends and Reports
As part of needs assessment it is valuable to learn about trends in teaching and learning both at your institutional level and across higher education in general. These trends provide insight into dynamics such as students’ use of technology, trends in pedagogy, and campus priorities.
If you are renovating a new space or designing a completely new space, there might be data already gathered at your space’s organization that will be valuable for helping you make decisions. For example, it can be useful to gather data about (1) computer usage, (2) transactions at a service point, and (3) existing building use (gate counts, head counts, etc.)
- Suma is an open source mobile space assessment tool created by the NCSU Libraries. It can be used to collect, aggregate, and interactively analyze real-time data about the usage of physical space and services.
- NCSU Group Study Room Usage Report – An example report highlighting patterns in group study room usage (2008-2010)
Formal observation of users is an inexpensive method for discovering more about learners’ behaviors and uses of existing spaces.
- Overview of gathering data from observation
- Space Observation Template (PDF) – This document can be used to capture observation data in spaces. Use it as is or as inspiration for your own template
- Suma Space Observation Data Collection tool – Suma is a web-based app for collecting quantitative data about space uses. Learn more about this open source tool created at the NCSU Libraries.
Interviews can provide invaluable insight into the behaviors, attitudes, and preferences of a space’s current or potential users.
- Overview for gathering data from interviews
- Interviews: Things to Consider
- MIT Libraries’ Interviewer Training Wiki – an example training guide with many useful tips and strategies
- Example Interview Materials (NCSU Libraries) – The following interview materials were used for needs assessment research to help with planning for the James B. Hunt Library. Each example below includes a description of the research project and its goals as well as the interview questions used:
Photo Interviews / Photo Diary
The photo interview or photo diary is a qualitative research method in which the researcher gives the interviewee a camera and a list of prompts for taking photos. The images are then used as a catalyst for discussion during the interview. This method can be used to learn about students’ work practices, life experiences as members of a campus community, and their behaviors in and preferences for different learning spaces.
- Overview of gathering data using the photo interviews / photo diary method
- Photo Interviews: Things to Consider
- Example Photo Interview Prompts – Example prompts used at the NCSU Libraries as part of a photo interviews (photo diary) project focused on learning about their opinions and perspectives on existing spaces and services.
Focus groups can be used to understand participants’ work habits, types of assignments, gaps in existing spaces and services, and more.
- Overview of gathering data using focus groups
- Focus Groups: Things to Consider
- ARL Learning Space Pre-Programming Tool Kit – Contains a useful overview of conducting focus groups on pp. 14-16.
Surveys can provide a breadth of information about your users’ preferences and behaviors pertaining to existing learning spaces and technologies, which can inform decisions for planning a new space.