Six strategic steps for conducting a situational assessment

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. [2] 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?

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