by Allison Meserve, Health Promotion Consultant, Health Promotion Capacity Building Services at Public Health Ontario
*This is an exerpt from the recent Ontario Health Promotion e-Bulletin. Read more here.
Planning decisions often are made quickly and sometimes in the absence of a thoughtful analysis of the data available. A situational assessment is a systematic process to gather, analyze, synthesize and communicate data to inform planning decisions. Information from a situational assessment can be used to inform the development of program goals, objectives, target audiences, and activities. Situational assessments are carried out to:
Learn more about a population of interest (i.e., who's most affected by your health issue).
- Anticipate trends and issues that may affect the implementation of your program.
- Identify community wants, needs, and assets.
- Set priorities.
- Inform pending decisions regarding your program.
- Help write funding proposals.
According to the Core Competencies for Public Health in Canada, all public health practitioners should be able “…to collect, assess, analyze and apply information…to make evidence-based decisions…and make recommendations for policy and program development.”
Six strategic steps for conducting a situational assessment
Situational assessment is the second step in Public Health Ontario’s (PHO) six-step model for planning a health promotion program.  As a situational assessment can be a large endeavor, we have simplified the process into six strategic steps.
Step 1: Identify key questions to be answered
The first step in a situational assessment is to determine what you need to know to inform planning decisions. Use the three broad questions and sub-questions below to shape the direction of the situational assessment and develop your research questions.
What is the situation?
- What impact does the current situation have on health outcomes, quality of life and other societal costs, such as noise and air pollution or increased healthcare spending?
- What groups of people are at higher risk of health problems and poorer quality of life?
- What settings or situations are high risk, or pose a unique opportunity for intervention?
- How do local stakeholders perceive the situation? What is their capacity to act? What are their interests, mandates, current activities?
- What are the needs, perceptions and supported directions of key influential community members and the community-at-large?