Program Planning

Community Assessment: The Foundation for Program Planning in Head Start

The community assessment provides Head Start programs with a mechanism for ensuring programs remain responsive to the needs of the children and families they serve. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) refer to it as the "community-wide strategic planning and needs assessment." Community assessments provide a starting point for understanding community strengths and identifying gaps in services. They help mobilize necessary resources. When used in conjunction with other program data, it informs program planning. This comprehensive, step-by-step guide examines the regulations that direct a community assessment. It also describes recommended processes for conducting a community assessment and identifies additional resources to support these important activities.

Select the links below to download the topics of most interest to you. You can also download the entire guide.


Introduction to the Community Assessment explores the needs and benefits of a community assessment and how it helps Head Start programs more effectively serve children and families. Launch your community assessment by sharing this chapter with your staff and discuss: what a community assessment is; what is included in a community assessment; when a community assessment is required; and why and how a community assessment is done.

Step 1. Plan and Organize

Review all the steps and tasks involved with planning the community assessment process. Learn how to: form a community assessment team; determine what information to collect; establish a timeline and assign responsibilities; and prepare for the community assessment process and inform key stakeholders.

Step 2. Design the Work

Examine what can be learned through a community assessment and how varying priorities affect how data is gathered. Learn how to: align community assessment data collection with the HSPPS requirements; develop the primary questions to be answered; identify internal and external sources of data; and distinguish between open- and closed-ended questions, as well as quantitative and qualitative data.

Step 3. Gather Data

Review different ways to collect and manage data and how these processes directly impact the quality of the community assessment. Develop a deeper understanding of the data collection process, including: data collection methods, creating worksheets and surveys, logistics and cultural considerations, and managing the data.

Step 4. Analyze and Make Decisions

Learn to make sense of the information gathered and determine what possible actions should be taken based on the community assessment's findings. In this section, discover: the purpose and procedures of data analysis; common data analysis strategies; and how to use community assessment findings to inform decision-making.

Step 5. Communicate and Incorporate

Consider how to document the community assessment process, findings, and recommendations so staff, partners, and others can benefit from this research. Learn how to: prepare the community assessment report; communicate the data and recommendations; review and update the community assessment; and integrate the community assessment process into ongoing strategic and program planning.


Explore a library of worksheets, tools, and resources to support community assessment data collection and analysis.

Last Updated: January 6, 2020