Office of Alcoholism and
Substance Abuse Services


Needs Assessment

A Needs Assessment is a systematic, rational process for collecting and analyzing information to describe the needs of a population.  For substance abuse prevention, it allows community planners to identify the levels of risk and protective factors operating in a given community that are predictive of substance use and related problem behaviors. This information can then be used to inform policy and program planning with the goal of reducing those risk factors, while enhancing protective factors to positively impact the problem behavior. In addition, the data collected serves as a baseline for monitoring the effects of programs and community efforts to address the problem behaviors. OASAS  recommends four methods for collecting needs assessment data:  Population Surveys, Archival Risk Indicators, Key Informant Interviews and Focus Groups.

1. Population Surveys:

OASAS recommends and supports periodic surveys of middle and high school students as the best method for assessing a community's risk and protective factors that impair healthy youth development and lead to chronic illness and other negative consequences such as addictions, academic failure, violence and teen pregnancy. Youth surveys conducted in schools can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our prevention efforts over time. Research on the social development of youth has identified specific risk and protective factors that communities can modify to reduce these problem behaviors and also positively impact the academic and long-term success of our youth. While it is not possible for a single social institution to address all the factors, we strongly support the Federal SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework planning process to help focus the efforts of our many community, county and state partners, who together can make a measureable difference in improving the health and well being of all New Yorkers.

OASAS continues to work with the nationally respected youth survey contractors, ISA PRIDE Surveys and Bach-Harrison LLC, to improve and update the NYS OASAS Youth Development Survey (YDS) and the Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) survey. The YDS and the PNA are both based on the 'Communities That Care' Youth Survey and both measure the factors that predict levels of multiple youth problem behaviors such as substance use, school drop-out, delinquency, violence, and teen pregnancy. Updated versions of the YDS and PNA are available for New York communities and include new items measuring underage drinking behavior and risk and protective factors to better support environmental prevention strategy planning.

To learn more about these updated youth surveys visit these partners:

To access the most recent NY state level data, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (CDC YRBSS) Link to external site..

2. Archival Risk Indicator Data:

Archival Data has been collected by government agencies or service providers for administrative or planning purposes.  Like population survey data, archival data can be rated against the population that it represents to give an estimate of the prevalence of various risk factors and problem behaviors.  Examples are: State Education Department’s (SED’s) School Report Card dropout rates, US Census Bureau statistics, local law enforcement statistics on the number of underage drinking arrests. Use the link below to go to the OASAS Prevention Risk Indicator Services Monitoring System (PRISMS) to access county level data, or try the links to other data sources.

3. Key Informant Interviews:

Key informant interviews (PDF Document) are structured meetings, conducted on a one-on-one basis with a person whose position provides access to specific information about a population, and who understands the risk factors or problem behaviors in that population. They can provide in-depth qualitative data to help you to better understand the meaning of quantitative population data from surveys and archival risk indicators.  When choosing a key informant, be sure to pick someone who knows what’s going on in the community and is articulate enough to share that knowledge. Create specific questions beforehand, but also allow for open ended questions. This will allow you to gather information that you may have not had prior knowledge about.

4. Focus Groups:

A focus group (PDF Document) is an interactive, small group discussion conducted in a controlled environment, where a selected group of people discuss a specific topic or topics. Like key informant interviews, focus groups also provide qualitative data to help you to better understand the meaning of quantitative data, or explore risk factors in more depth. Participants should include active members of the population being examined or persons involved in the subject being explored. The conversation is led by a moderator whose role is to foster interaction, keep the group on task, and encourage all to participate. A focus group discussion should be informal. Participants are encouraged to talk to one another about their experiences, preferences, needs, observations or perceptions. The moderator should follow up on participants’ comments to obtain further details and introduce new topics to the discussion. The moderator has the job of redirecting the discussion when it goes off the agenda but also keeping an ear out for “outside” comments that may lead to more insight into the issue being addressed.