Jurisdictions must have a clear understanding of local needs, as well as existing service gaps, to develop community responder programs that are responsive to those needs. To do this, jurisdictions should conduct a comprehensive analysis—called a needs assessment—to identify the types of interventions and services that the community responder program should provide. As part of the needs assessment, the community stakeholder group should also inventory existing services and support in the community through a process called asset mapping.
Tips for Conducting Needs Assessments
1. Engage the entire community in the effort
Conduct needs assessments as an initial activity within a larger community engagement process to build and maintain relationships with community members long term.
2. Space for all stakeholders
Community engagement processes should involve an array of stakeholders including local agencies that have experience addressing crisis calls and social disturbances (e.g., law enforcement, 911 call center operators and dispatchers, EMS, mobile crisis teams). Read More…
In addition, people who have had direct experience with receiving crisis services and with police responses should be core stakeholders. Some other key stakeholders include: behavioral health and housing service providers, harm reduction providers, legislators, local government representatives, longtime community organization leaders, neighborhood watch groups, educators, counselors, family members of people with serious mental illness, faith-based leaders, and more. Engagement efforts should create opportunities for all stakeholders to come together—including residents of all cultural, racial, religious, and political backgrounds—to collaboratively identify challenges and design solutions to reimagine public safety in their community.
3. Break down the assessment into manageable phases
Comprehensive needs assessments are generally broken into four phases to ensure that they yield the most information, are useful for stakeholders, and can be managed when there are capacity concerns. Read More…
The four phases are:
- Crafting an information-gathering process with key stakeholders to get buy-in and learn community priorities.
- Understanding the current landscape of services, including existing programs and resources, that overlap with the goals of the community responder model.
- Engaging in data collection and analysis to define needs and determine what type of expertise is warranted to address community members’ needs.
- Prioritizing needs and program planning with key stakeholders to create a locally tailored model.
4. Identify community assets
A critical component of needs assessment is asset mapping, which involves identifying and categorizing the existing assets (e.g., private, public, and nonprofit institutions, physical spaces, community associations, and other individuals) that can address local needs. Read More…
The stakeholder group should also engage community members to better understand existing local services and the needs they have related to those services (e.g., access to health care, behavioral health, low barrier treatment, harm reduction providers, housing, employment, and basic necessities). Assets can include physical structures, such as schools or hospitals, that can be used as meeting or drop off locations; local businesses that can provide jobs; community associations such as neighborhood watch groups; or other private, public, or nonprofit institutions. Additionally, asset mapping can be a way for government agencies, philanthropies, and large organizations to better understand how they can reinvest in neighborhoods that have experienced legacies of structural disinvestment.
Community responder programs are being implemented across the country to provide immediate assistance to people in crisis, facilitate connections to support services, conduct wellness checks, and more. These programs position health professionals and staff trained in crisis response as first responders to behavioral health crises and social disturbances. While still relatively new, these programs are proving to be effective at maintaining public safety and connecting people to needed services.
Community responder programs are increasing nationwide as effective models for providing immediate assistance to people in crisis, facilitating connections to support services, conducting wellness checks, and more. These programs position health professionals and staff trained in crisis response as first responders to behavioral health crises and social disturbances.