Health Promotion Switzerland

Assessing and substantiating health needs

What is a normative need?

A public health need is established when research repeatedly shows an increase or cluster of certain diseases or health-adverse factors and if corrections are deemed necessary. It reflects the scientific assessment and judgement of a situation from the experts’ point of view, a professionally justified and in most circumstances scientifically established deficiency or shortage in defined population groups (external view). In contrast, a felt need is a subjective deficiency or shortage (expressed or not) as experienced by an individual or by a particular group of people (internal perspective). A need can refer to the international, national, regional or local level.

How is a need established?

International organisations such as the WHO or national institutes regularly collect data using different sources. From these data, once analysed and interpreted, priorities emerge and eventual need for action can then be derived and substantiated. Guidelines and implementation programmes are developed on the basis of such data.

For the justification of a project, data such as the following would be useful to compile:

  • State of the art reports from important organisations
  • National and regional health and social reports
  • Data from monitoring regarding general or specific themes
  • Research results via databases
  • Various statistical data

Need assessment for project justification

In order to justify a project, it is crucial to answer the following two questions:

  • Is there a need? If yes, what is it based upon?
  • Which groups are particularly affected?

If the project is part of a programme a strong enough basis is usually available for justifying the project. In this case, the project description will need to demonstrate how this particular project will contribute to the primary overall objectives of the programme. Accordingly, an individual project that is not part of an overarching programme will normally be required to provide more facts in order to clearly justify an intervention. The actual choice of the target group and the setting will need to be particularly well explained.


The statistics of a company show that it suffers from high absenteeism due to illness and that the number of burn-outs is on the rise. The company’s executives deem these figures to be alarming and define a need for action. It is their opinion that their reputation will suffer if nothing is seen to be done and they fear a decrease in productivity. They therefore mandate an external specialist team with the task of developing health management strategies for the company, with the explicit aim to lower the number of absentee days due to illness and the number of burn-outs.

You think that the project idea is convincing and plausible enough and that you can dispense with doing time-consuming research.

  • You will be able to give substance and legitimation to your project. You will gain insight and knowledge which will help you choose your methodology and implementation method.
  • You will gain acceptance and therefore improve the framework for your project (cf. Societal framework)
  • Use the Assessment Checklist to see if you have considered all of the important points.
  • Consult all the available latest data from national or regional health reports. They provide useful pointers.
  • Have you researched the most important data sources for your needs assessment?
  • Have you consulted experts in the field in order to identify other important data?
  • Have you carefully distinguished between normative and felt or expressed needs and have you clearly explained the difference in your project?
Last modification: 31 August, 2010 22:39