Based on our needs-assessment efforts, we have identified three major research topics as priorities: ensuring college and career readinessimproving low-achieving schools, and supporting effective teachers and leaders. These major themes guide our research and analysis as well as align with those in other REL regions and the nation as a whole. Addressing these challenges and understanding their local nuances requires knowledge of the particular contexts in each of the four states and their individual districts and localities. Our goal is to provide research and additional information that help drive substantial improvements in educational outcomes for all students in the region and in each of the three thematic areas.

REL Appalachia’s Needs Sensing Process

The work of REL Appalachia, including the technical assistance we provide and our research and dissemination efforts, is guided by the needs of stakeholders across our region. Our approach to sensing and assessing these needs involves an iterative, six-step cycle.

Figure 1. REL Appalachia’s Six-Step Needs Assessment Process

Figure 1. REL Appalachia’s Six-Step Needs Assessment Process: 1. Identify Audiences: Who will use this information, and for what purposes? Do intended users have information, priorities, and timeframes that might influence the data collection schedule? 2. Define the need: What do stakeholders perceive as possible solutions for addressing this need? If the need is met, what outcomes would we expect? Where does this need fit into the scope of the REL? 3 Analyze the need: How widespread is the need? What do we already know about the need and possible solutions? What additional information would help us better understand the nature of the need and how to address it? 4. Characterize service communities: What are the characteristics of the communities served by the REL? What services are they currently receiving? Are there gaps in service coverage? 5. Create recommendations: Which needs are most prevalent, relevant, and important? How can we feasibly and effectively address these needs through technical assistance, research and information dissemination? 6. Guide service agenda: Are we addressing the needs we set out to affect? Are we responding to these needs in a coordinated and systematic manner? Are new needs surfacing? How can we communicate our response to our stakeholders? (Step 6 leads back to Step 2)

Step 1. Identify Audiences

To ensure the relevance of findings from the needs assessment, our first step is to identify the intended audiences and better understand how they might use the information.

Step 2. Define the Need

Needs are identified and defined in the context of specific regional issues. We look to our various stakeholders to identify the underlying cause of the need, and to get an understanding of the expectations for outcomes if the need is met. The diagram below outlines the sources we look to when defining regional needs.

Figure 2. Sources of Needs Information from REL Appalachia Stakeholders

Figure 2. Regional needs include information from educators; Ask REL Appalachia; regional news, publications, policy, and legislative reviews; state association and education officials; research alliance members; and Governing Board members.

Step 3. Analyze the Need

When analyzing the need, we assess the size, distribution, and density of the problem, and describe the nature of the service needs. We look to see what we already know about the issue, and determine what more we need to know in order to address it.

Step 4. Characterize Service Communities

Before creating recommendations for addressing needs, it is important to understand the communities REL Appalachia serves, and to define the characteristics that collectively give rise to their shared needs.

Step 5. Create Recommendations

We use the information gleaned in steps 1 through 4 to arrive at actionable, informed recommendations. We synthesize the data, using both quantitative and qualitative procedures to prioritize and categorize needs. We also evaluate whether or not other service providers can address the need.

Step 6. Guide Service Agenda

We use the findings from our needs sensing process to guide our technical assistance, research, and information dissemination. The diagram below details the various ways we meet the needs of our stakeholders. Throughout this process, we monitor outcomes and continuously identify new or unmet needs.

Figure 3. Services Delivered to Meet Stakeholders’ Needs

Figure 3. Meeting stakeholder needs includes: bridge events; Ask REL Appalachia responses;research briefs and newsletters, research studies, workshops, roundtables, and webinars, and Governing Board meetings.