1.4.1 Needs identification / assessment

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Project is typically authorized as a result of one or more of the following:

A market demand (e.g. The Urban Buses of Nicosia Company authorizes a project to renew the bus fleet by buying buses running with natural gas in response to gasoline shortages and due to environmental reasons)
A business need (e.g. The Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance develops a new organizational unit for monitoring and controlling the collection of the contributions in order to reduce the contributions payment evasion)
A customer request (e.g. The Electricity Authority of Cyprus authorizes the project to build a new substation to serve a new industrial park)
A technological advantage (e.g. The Department of Information Technology Services (DITS) authorizes a project to upgrade the existing PCs of the Ministry of Finance in order to be able to run the new taxation software which is high demanding in terms of memory and CPU power)
A legal requirement (e.g. EU publishes new directives and the national legislation must be changed in order to adopt the new policy)
A social need (e.g. The Water Board of Larnaca decides to take advantage of the desalination technology in order to provide potable water and cover the increasing needs of its region). 

A project idea can be developed in three main ways:

combined way

In the top-down approach, decision makers, politicians or civil servants, who are responsible for the permanent analysis of economic and social developments under their authority, will identify situations that need improvement, and/or try to find opportunities for a more prosperous development. Then they request the executive public administration bodies to develop a project idea, e.g. to improve the public infrastructure, or public services in health and education.

The bottom-up approach starts by the general public, coming up with requests to the decision makers, politicians or civil servants to act. If such requests are accepted, the executive public administration bodies are again asked to act.

Probably the less frequent way of starting public administration projects is the combined way, when executive organs find reserves and start to act on the base of their own initiative.

Regardless of the approach according to which the project idea can be developed, a full and accurate analysis of the existing problems, needs and opportunities is essential for the achievement of a properly planned project addressing the real needs of specific target groups.

Problem Analysis1 [ The technique of Problem Analysis presented in this section is part of the Logical Framework Approach proposed by the EU in the Volume 1 Project Cycle Management Guidelines of the Aid Delivery Methods (March 2004). ]

Problem analysis identifies the negative aspects of an existing situation and establishes the “cause and effect” relationships between the identified problems. It involves three main steps:

1.Definition of the framework and subject of analysis;
2.Identification of the major problems faced by target groups and beneficiaries (What is/are the problem/s? Whose problems?); and
3.Visualisation of the problems in form of a diagram, called a “problem tree” (see Tool 1-1) or “hierarchy of problems” to help analyse and clarify causeeffect relationships.

The analysis is presented in diagrammatic form (see Figure 1-6) showing effects of a problem on top and its causes underneath. The analysis is aimed at identifying the real bottlenecks which stakeholders attach high priority to, and which they wish to overcome. A clear problem analysis thus provides a sound foundation on which to develop a set of relevant and focused project objectives.

Creating a problem tree should ideally be undertaken as a participatory group event.

Step 1: The aim of the first step is to openly brainstorm problems which stakeholders consider to be a priority. This first step can either be completely open (no pre-conceived notions as to what stakeholders priority concerns/problems might be), or more directed, through specifying a known high order problem or objective (e.g. improved river water quality) based on preliminary analysis of existing information and initial stakeholder consultations.
Step 2: From the problems identified through the brainstorming exercise, select an individual start-up problem.
Step 3: Look for related problems to the starter problem
Step 4: Begin to establish a hierarchy of cause and effects:
oProblems which are directly causing the starter problem are put below
oProblems which are direct effects of the starter problem are put above
Step 5: All other problems are then sorted in the same way the guiding question being “What causes that?” If there are two or more causes combining to produce an effect, place them at the same level in the diagram.
Step 6: Connect the problems with cause-effect arrows clearly showing key links
Step 7: Review the diagram and verify its validity and completeness. Ask yourself/the group “Are there important problems that have not been mentioned yet?” If so, specify the problems and include them at an appropriate place in the diagram.
Step 8: Copy the diagram onto a sheet of paper to keep as a record, and distribute (as appropriate) for further comment/information.

Tool 1-1: Creating a “Problem Tree”

Important points to note about using the problem tree tool are:

The quality of output will be determined by who is involved in the analysis and the skills of the facilitator. Involving stakeholder representatives with appropriate knowledge and skills is critical;
A workshop environment involving groups of up to 25 people is an appropriate forum for developing problem tress, analyzing the results and then proposing next steps;
The process is as important as the product. The exercise should be treated as a learning experience for all those involved, and an opportunity for different views and interests to be expressed; and
The product of the exercise (the problem tree) should provide a robust but simplified version of reality. If it is too complicated, it is likely to be less useful in providing direction to subsequent steps in the analysis.

Once complete, the problem tree represents a summary picture of the existing negative situation. In many respects the problem analysis is the most critical stage of project planning, as it then guides all subsequent analysis and decision-making on priorities.

Figure 1-7: Example of a problem tree


Identification of needs Collection of information

Apart from organising workshop with stakeholders (refer to previous section “Problem Analysis”), information for the identification of needs can also be collected through desk research, interviews, surveys, or review of relative documentation or focused studies. The easiest way of obtaining needs assessment information is to interview people, but interviews have limitations as well. The ideal procedure is to collect information via more than one ways, like:

Questionnaires and interview with focus groups (management team members, users, end users, beneficiaries etc).

       Interviews and questionnaires involve asking individuals about their needs. Interviews can be implemented in several ways, as shown below, depending on the target group:

Mailing questionnaires to randomly selected individuals (especially suitable for identifying the needs of the residents of a certain municipality)
Performing telephone surveys (suitable for identifying needs/opportunities for the development of new improved products/ services for the public or for specific target groups like the public service employees etc.)
Conducting face to face interview (suitable for the Board of Directors of Organizations governed by public law, for Directors of Departments of the central government, for the Mayor of a Municipality, for the end users of a software application, for certain employees etc)
Organizing meetings or workshops in which focus groups can participate (suitable in cases that the beneficiary is not one entity).

       Response rates vary depending on the method used. For example mailed surveys tend to have the lowest response rates. Besides, the quality of the information gathered depends very much on the phrasing of the survey questions, on whether the randomly selected individuals constitute a representative sample or whether the people being interviewed are the ones that have the expertise and knowledge to identify and describe their needs correctly.

       As it has been proved in practice, what people are saying in an interview may differ from what they are actually experiencing. It is therefore important to verify the results of interviews with observations and document analysis.

Documentation review: This may refer to review of country studies (World Bank, OECD, EU etc), national development plans and other relevant policy papers, annual reports, sectorial studies, business plans of public/ private organizations, job descriptions, trouble reports, written complaints, studies from adjacent projects etc. For example, an Evaluation Report of the Cypriot Health Care System compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) could be the source for identifying projects that have to be implemented in order for the System to be effective and to cover the whole population. Similarly, the Report produced by SIGMA (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management)2 [ A joint initiative of the OECD and the European Union, principally financed by the EU. ]], dealing with the development of the Public Procurement System in Cyprus, is a good source for identifying the needs of the sector and ways to cover them.
Observations: They are sometimes considered the most direct method of collecting needs assessment data (e.g. in cases that the infrastructure of an Organization or Municipality does not function properly/ efficiently), although in many cases, a great deal of inference is involved in interpreting observations. For example, by observing an employee of a Ministry performing his duties, one can identify needs for redesigning and probably automating some processes in order to make them more simple and to reduce the administrative costs. In addition the residents of a suburb in Nicosia may observe deterioration of the pavement condition and send relative photos, complaints and suggestions to the Municipality.

The following matrix is a simple tool that suggests different ways of gathering the necessary information to be used for the needs assessment. In the first column, you should write the type of information that needs to be collected and on the next two the sources that can be used. At the end you can choose to use only one of the sources you have noticed or to combine more than one.


Tool 1-2: Tool for gathering information to be used for needs assessment





It refers to the information that must be collected e.g. Information about:

a Public Organization,
the users of an Information System,
a specific market sector (health care, trade etc),
a municipality,
the processes of an Organization,
a service provided to the public

It refers to the people or groups that should be interviewed since it is estimated that they are capable to provide information concerning the issues stated at the left column

e.g. Interview:

management team of a Public Organization, head of departments
end users
the management team of the Organizations which formulate the sectorial policy, members of the Board of Directors of relative Chambers
Municipal Council,

It refers to the documentation that can be reviewed to provide information concerning the issues stated at the column “Type of Information”.

e.g. Review:

Business process mapping and organizational structure,
business plan,
marketing plan,
financial data
sectorial studies,
Best Practices in EU,


Example 1-2: Information to be collected for the needs assessment

In the case of the project “Measures to Develop the Implementing Capacity of the Cypriot Authorities in applying the European Public Procurement Legislative Package” (refer to subchapter 1.1), undertaken by the Public Procurement Directorate (Treasury of the Republic of Cyprus), the main needs were first the adoption of the new legislative package, approved by the European Parliament, before the end of 2005 and second the application of e-procurement (also set in the Internal Market Strategy of the European Commission) by 2009. Besides, the fact that Cyprus has been member of the EU and therefore must fully comply with the best practices used in public procurement by other members of the Union as well as the fact that the existing auditing and control mechanisms have reported inefficiencies in the procurement procedures, alerted PPD to develop a Best Practice Guide and train on it all people involved in public procurement in Cyprus.

In this context, PPD could ideally have completed the following Matrix:






Interview General Accountant, Deputy General Accountant and Head of the Departments of the Public Procurement Directorate

Review EU Policy and new Directives on Public Procurement,  Business Plan of the Public Procurement Directorate


Interview managers of the Contracting Authorities

Review data concerning people involved in public procurement

(number, experience, duties, personal evaluation forms)


Interview employees in public procurement 

Review job descriptions, reports concerning the problems people in public procurement face in performing their duties



Review audit and control results, decisions of the Tenders Review Authority,


Interview Managers of National Organizations having similar responsibilities with Public Procurement Directorate

Review the situation in other countries and the practical application of the new processes and techniques


It should be noted that for projects concerning the development or purchasing of ERP3 [ ERP is the acronym of Enterprise Resource Planning. ERP software consists of multiple software modules that integrates activities across functional departments - from product planning, parts purchasing, inventory control, product distribution, to order tracking. Most ERP software systems include application modules to support common business activities - finance, accounting and human resources. The major ERP vendors are SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Baan and J.D. Edwards.] software, the development of training programs, the redesign of business processes or the total reengineering of Organizations, the interviews are considered preferable sources of information comparing to documentation review. 

Once the abovementioned matrix has been formulated, and interview has been selected as the best method for collecting information, the best option for conducting interviews must be selected. There are three options:

use of questionnaires
conduct face to face interview or via telephone
conduct interviews to focus groups


Table 1-1: Advantages and disadvantages of interview options





permit to the respondents to remain anonymous and so to describe their problems and needs without hesitation
permit the use of different types of questions like: open-ended, multiple choice etc
Their preparation needs investment in time and expertise
They can take considerable time to distribute, process, analyze and report
They only provide information directly related to the specific questions included to them
They usually present low response rates

Conduct interview face to face or via telephone

The questions to be asked can be modified “on the fly”
Permit collection of useful data from many respondents in a day
If a respondent raise up a certain problem or need, a new question can be added to the interview protocol that allows the next respondent to confirm or disconfirm the issue
Depending on the nature of the similarities between the interviewer and the interviewee, the answers to questions can be negatively or positively biased
Interviews can be difficult to schedule

Focus Group

The questions to be asked can be modified “on the fly”
A group of respondents can bounce ideas and issues off each other and reach a consensus about the nature of a problem or issue
Since more than one persons participate in the interview, focus groups can be difficult to schedule
If members of a focus group vary widely in status or position, there may be reluctance on the part of some respondents to participate fully.


From needs/problems/opportunities to project ideas

As soon as the problem has been analysed and needs or opportunities have been identified, objectives should be set in order to solve the problem, satisfy the needs or/and exploit the opportunities. The most common methodological approach is to convert the “negative situations” of the problem tree (refer to Figure 1-7) into “positive achievements” and develop the “objective tree” (refer to Figure 1-8). For example, the phrase “River water quality is deteriorating”, which constitutes the starter problem in the example illustrated in Figure 1-7 will be now converted into “Quality of river water is improved”. These positive situations are in fact the “Objectives” (i.e. the desirable future situation), for the achievement of which, project ideas are born.

Figure 1-8: Example of an objective tree



© 2007 Republic of Cyprus, Treasury of the Republic, Public Procurement Directorate
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