The Community Needs Network (CNN) is a community-university partnership between an RI institution, United Way, and consortium of more than 30 different community organizations and social systems within a medium sized locality situated in the South Central region of the U.S. The first initiative that CNN chose to take on was the creation and implementation of a community assessment, the first conducted in more than 25 years. The main objective of CNN’S community assessment was to work collaboratively to understand community members’ experiences with awareness, accessibility, and satisfaction with local resources, systems, and overall quality of life.
The CNN assessment used community-based participatory research and a cross sectional design, purposive sampling, and a combination of statistical and thematic analysis. The final sample size for this assessment was 452 responses. The demographics of the sample were comparable in terms of race, age, and gender of the overall community according to Census data. Data collection was conducted by CNN partners through distributing survey links through websites, newsletters, and hardcopy surveys. The data was analyzed using statistical analysis and primarily descriptive statistics and graphic illustrations to promote better accessibility of data for professionals and community members. Qualitative data included mainly short answer or narrative responses to questions related to the strengths and challenges within the community. Qualitative data was coded and analyzed using a combination of open coding and thematic analysis.
The overall results of the CNN assessment indicated that while most residents were satisfied with many aspects of the community including, the library system, local events and festivals, and university activities, residents were least satisfied with the quality of affordable housing, older adult services, mental health services, and childcare. Additionally, while 64% of residents felt accepted in the community, 22% of residents felt only partially or not accepted, thus indicating potential differences between different groups within the community. Qualitative data further supported the assessment results by indicating that housing, employment, social services, and childcare were the greatest needs within the community. An additional finding of the CNN assessment was that many community members lacked awareness about different services, resources, and features of the community.
The implications of the CNN community assessment are especially important for identifying the need for better communication of resources to residents. Additionally, while residents assessed festivals and events, parks, and the library system with high ratings, they also assessed those areas as being lower priority than social services, childcare, and affordable housing, which were some of the biggest gaps identified through the assessment, thus signaling a possible divide between where resources are being placed in relation to the deemed importance and needs of the community. Finally, given that most communities will struggle in some areas, it was notable to CNN partners during the analysis and presentation of data that more collaboration and sharing was needed between local organizations and systems to avoid overlap and duplication of some resources at the expense of not having enough support in other areas.