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Postcards from the people: a dialogue model for community needs assessment


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Orpin, P 2007 , 'Postcards from the people: a dialogue model for community needs assessment', paper presented at the 9th National Rural Health Conference, 7-10 March 2007, Albury.

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Available under University of Tasmania Standard License.


There is a growing focus in rural and regional health care on ensuring that priority setting and
planning is based on democratic processes and formal community needs assessments. The latter,
however, can pose major technical, logistical and resource issues for small rural health services. The
paper reports on the trialling of an alternate approach to the major periodic needs assessment based on
establishing a formal process of continuous open dialogue between services and their communities.
The model consists of three elements: a ‘postcard’ data collection system, a data management and
action system, and a feedback dissemination model.
The postcard data collection is designed to systematise and formalise the capture of what would
normally be called ‘anecdotal’ data. That is, comment that arises informally and spontaneously in the
course of day-to-day community interactions, especially those around service delivery encounters.
Such data, even if captured, normally have little or no standing within the formal processes of
community consultation because the lack of methodological rigour is seen to compromise validity. Yet,
these data can be superior in many ways—volume, authenticity and the breadth of sample
represented—to that generated in even the best formal data gathering exercise. By maximising the
accessibility and simplicity of the community input process—using a simple postcard feedback system
with very informal input protocols—while formalising and systematising the capture and management
of these data, the model preserves the breadth and quality of the data while enhancing their rigour,
validity and strategic value.
The second element, a data management and action system is designed to ensure that every instance of
community input is treated with full respect and subject to appropriate action and feedback, regardless
of its weight, the status of the contributor or the service’s ability to respond in the way desired.
The third element of the system is a dissemination and communication approach which seeks to build
trust and develop a dialogue with the community by responding publicly, promptly and specifically to
all community input.
The model’s focus on a set of principles—systematising the capture of ‘anecdotal’ data and
demonstrating respect for all community input through a rigorous system of data management and
extensive and timely feedback—rather than on fine methodological prescription, makes it adaptable to
a wide range of contexts.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Authors/Creators:Orpin, P
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