Needs assessment is a type of research which encourages social action, taking into consideration the special needs of the population it addresses to

Vassiliki Askitopoulou, Georgia Giourka, Sofia Karavassili, Archondia Valavani (2007). “Needs assessment is a type of research which encourages social action, taking into consideration the special needs of the population it addresses to”, in 9thEuropean Conference on Psychological Assessment, 3-4/5/07, Thessaloniki

ELPIDA (meaning ‘hope’) as a prevention body aims at developing actions to promote psychic health and to upgrade people’s life quality. The present paper refers to the application of a needs assessment project which has been realized in two areas of Eastern Thessaloniki by ELPIDA PC in cooperation with the Department of Psychology of the A.U.Th. More specifically, it presents the vital role that needs assessment can play in prevention by utilizing available factors in community and by promoting residents’ self-organization. Finally, it discusses the possibilities laid for prevention professionals by the adoption of an alternative way of working with community.
Η Έρευνα Αναγκών είναι ένας τύπος έρευνας που ενθαρρύνει την κοινωνική δράση, λαμβάνοντας υπόψη τις ιδιαίτερες ανάγκες του πληθυσμού στον οποίο απευθύνεται. Η ΕΛΠΙΔΑ ως φορέας πρόληψης στοχεύει στην ανάπτυξη δράσεων, οι οποίες αποσκοπούν στην προαγωγή της ψυχικής υγείας και την αναβάθμιση της ποιότητας ζωής των ανθρώπων. Η παρούσα ανακοίνωση αναφέρεται στην εφαρμογή ενός σχεδίου έρευνας αναγκών που υλοποιήθηκε σε δύο περιοχές της ανατολικής Θεσσαλονικής από το ΚΠ ΕΛΠΙΔΑ σε συνεργασία με το τμήμα Ψυχολογίας του ΑΠΘ. Ειδικότερα παρουσιάζει το σημαντικό ρόλο που η έρευνα αναγκών μπορεί να παίξει στο έργο της πρόληψης αξιοποιώντας τα υπάρχοντα δυναμικά της τοπικής κοινωνίας και προωθώντας την αυτοοργάνωση των κατοίκων. Τέλος συζητά τις δυνατότητες που ανοίγει για τους επαγγελματίες της πρόληψης η υιοθέτηση ενός εναλλακτικού τρόπου δουλειάς με την κοινότητα. 

ELPIDA PC is an urban, non-profit company, which has been active for about a decade; its members are Municipalities and social bodies of the Eastern sector of Thessaloniki Prefecture. Its main aim is to prevent drug abuse – especially of young people – and to promote health and to upgrade the quality of living for the residents of the area. It is scientifically and financially supported by OKANA and applies prevention programmes to parents, teachers and other social groups.

Our philosophy 
The way which our actions are designed and realized has been affected to a great extent by the principles of social constructionism. Social constructionism, as it’s very well known, is the philosophical trend that has upset the way we think, interact, talk; i.e. everything we used to know about knowledge, language, transformation.
We are talking about the theory which:
Invites the specialist to adopt a stance which is less hierarchical (established) or absolute, to learn together with other people, to explore issues mutually and to interact in order to co-construct new things.
Presupposes that the specialist respects the people they address, accepts polyphony and multiple realities, the richness of diversities and the potential they create, participation and mutual responsibility.
Such a specialist has no specific answers, does not judge the effectiveness or the directness of an action, does not own higher knowledge or the monopoly of the truth.
They offer their own voices, together with previously acquired knowledge and experience, as the spur for thought and dialogue.
They remain open to criticism and they can change their minds, even if it’s about their strongest beliefs. Rephrasing Anderson, a basic question to trouble a postmodern social scientist is: ‘how to create forms of dialogues and of relationships with the local community, such that allow both parts to get access to their creativity and the development of potential that never before seemed to exist.’ (Anderson, 2001, pp.1-9).

Choice of action research
Choosing to adopt all the above ideas, very early we looked for models of designing programmes for prevention which would not restrict themselves in spotting the problem (drug abuse), recognizing its causes or creating suggestions for change.
Drug-abuse prevention means intervention before addiction settles down, in order for the young people to lead a meaningful life, full of creativity and vision, where drugs are not needed or run after for. According to the contemporary definition of ‘prevention’, there lies need for citizens’ participation, either organized (community etc) or individual (activation of volunteers), so that every individual can intervene directly, meaningfully and under schedule in order to protect themselves and their fellow citizens.
On the other hand, a research action is:
A small scale intervention on real world and a close examination of its effects.
Thorough – it is interested in diagnosing a problem in a special framework and attempts to solve it in that framework.
Cooperative – groups of researchers and practitioners work together in a research programme.
 Participating – the group members themselves take part in the materialization of the research, directly or indirectly.
Self-assessing – modifications are continually assessed within the framework of current conditions, because the ultimate aim is to ameliorate practices with one way or another (Hasley, 1972).
According to all the above, we consider that this action research will help us to design prevention programmes that would suit the needs of every local community and will form an assessment tool for the utility of our actions, in our effort to expand them, develop them and even preserve them in the same framework. \

The research project The research started in December 2005 and has been in progress up to now.
Three areas have been chosen: a. the area of Mechaniona Municipality, b. the area of Agia Paraskevi, of Vassilika Municipality and c. the area of Nea Krene, of Kalamaria Municipality.
The reasons why we addressed three of the seven areas in our field were: After six years of successful development of various actions in the Mechaniona area, it was observed that the last two years, the population to respond was confined to a small and recurrent number of people. On this basis, the more specified goal has been to create conditions for the development of alternative actions that would result in involving the residents to a greater extent.
In the area of Agia Paraskevi, in contrast with the other areas of this Municipality, from the very start there had been no response from the residents’ part to any of the PC’s efforts to develop actions, not even to ask for cooperation with the PC. Therefore, our more specified goal has been to open up for the community and to create appropriate conditions for the development of actions in the area.
The area of Nea Krene has been chosen because this is where the PC is based and it is also an area hosting socially vulnerable groups. Therefore, our more specified goal has been to gain a thorough conception of all the issues of the area in question, to open up for the community and to create stronger bonds with the residents.

Research team 
This was comprised of ‘Elpida’ PC executives and of special cooperators from the University, who were the ones to work out the research plan initially. Co-researchers have been the Municipality’s representatives in the company of the PC, as well as representatives of various bodies (Parents’ unions, women clubs, cultural, sports and trade unions etc) of the areas.

Data collection 
To collect data, we adopted Kemmis and McTaggart (1998) model, which accepts the following as the basic stages of research: plan – act/observe – reconsider – replan.
More specifically, for each area we followed the steps below:
Telephone contact and direct personal contact (Face to face) with every member of the company and their substitutes, as they themselves know the needs and potential of the communities first hand. Direct contact with representatives of the bodies which have introduced us to the members of the company so as to cooperate with them and involve them in the research.
Focus groups, as a way to collect data based to a great extent on their members’ participation. (TABLE OF PARTICIPANTS)
1st meeting: the representatives of the bodies stated their opinions on the basis of: a. the needs of their areas in order to promote health and b. suggested actions. The discussion was recorded and observed. Processing and analyzing the data and then communicating them to the participants.
2nd meeting: through feedback common goals were defined, suggested actions were arranged and steps to follow were agreed on.
The scientific team discussed and evaluated the course of the research and the processing of the data at all the above stages.

Research Results 
The results concern the areas of Agia Paraskevi and of Mechaniona, since research in Nea Krene is still in progress. More specifically, the following have been realized :
A seminar and an event in order to sensitize the local communities on drug-abuse prevention and to publicize the PC.
Printing and distribution of a brochure for parents.
Support for the School Psychologist of Mechaniona Municipality.
Participation of the school teachers of the area in the research on the school community.
Meeting of the focus group with the students’ representative, as the beginning of cooperation to organize actions for young people.

Conclusions – Suggestions 
The course of the research up to now has showed that our goals about actions development and greater involvement of the residents have been fulfilled. Furthermore, the participants of the focus groups have taken up an active role in materializing the actions described. The benefits of this research can be classified in two levels :
As for the community, there has been noticed an enhancement of:
The coordination and cooperation among bodies
The development of social bonds and the sense of ‘belonging’ in a group, where individuals can share their every-day difficulties while getting support from their fellow-men.
The interest in the problems faced by the community
The development of a positive attitude and of positive patterns of life, which make people more fighting, positive, self-respecting, life-loving.
The interest in seeing other people function as ‘cores’ of prevention and expand this action.
The perception that the PC is a body which can be trusted and addressed as for reliable information on drug use or drug abuse and as for dealing with drug-abuse cases.
As for the PC and the professionals in prevention, the research has:
Created the conditions in order for us to get access to social life naturally, through observation and understanding of the ways people act and get organized.
Laid the foundations so that we can adopt a more open attitude, which enables us to shape and reshape our suggestions about the needs of the community.
Limited the feeling of isolation; the professional is not a ‘Don Quixote’, condemned to fight against imaginary windmills. They are parts of an active and dynamic whole, where people walk all together towards a common goal.