Community Needs Assessment Toolkit

In contrast to traditionally deficit-based ways of understanding a community, this Community Needs Assessment (CNA) Toolkit is intended to guide community leaders through a process that considers community strengths and assets as essential foundations from which any change should take root. The creation of a CNA will allow community leaders  to articulate their community’s needs as well as establish a clear community vision for climate resilience and social equity, identify specific strategies to build capacity towards this vision, and advance potential projects, programs, and partnerships.

The CNA development process is designed to support community leaders in identifying actionable strategies to advance their community’s vision and build longer-term capacity to continue leading transformational change. The guidance and resources included in the CNA Toolkit is supplemented by additional presentations and resources developed through the PACE program.

The CNA Toolkit includes 10 key components, each of which includes a set of guided prompts, tips, resources, and templates to assist community leaders in developing a CNA. The order of CNA components follows the Partners Advancing Climate Equity (PACE) program’s structure, which follows the VAST design process: Vision, Assessment, Strategy, and Timeline. While each component in this toolkit is assigned to a VAST module, the overall CNA development process is intended to be iterative. Additionally, although the CNA development process can be completed independently, collaborating with partners, stakeholders, and community members can result in a more comprehensive CNA and begin to create the foundation necessary for collective action. While each component is assigned to a specific VAST module, the overall CNA development process is intended to be iterative.

CNA Toolkit Outline

Vision Module

Defining the scope of your CNA


Characterizing your community’s demographics, and crafting a compelling story of your community’s experience and aspirations.

Identifying racial equity issues in your community and how they could be exacerbated by climate change, and exploring your organization’s commitment to racial equity.

Identifying key partners and stakeholders representing and/or serving the community, including both existing partners and new partnerships that could be cultivated.

Understanding existing community priorities for social equity and climate resilience based on past and ongoing community engagement efforts.

Assessment Module

Deepening your understanding of community needs


Understanding  your community’s social and physical assets and how they can be best leveraged to achieve social equity and climate resilience goals.

Assessing key climate change risks facing your community and evaluating disproportionate impacts for marginalized populations burdened by historic and ongoing inequities, disparities, and barriers.

Understanding how decisions impacting your community are made, including assessing who holds comfort and control in planning processes and identifying key levers for change.

Strategy & Timeline Module

Identifying actionable solutions to address needs and build capacity


Creating a menu of potential solutions that could be implemented to build community and ecosystem capacity, address community needs, and advance your community’s vision.

Identifying your top priority solution and conducting an analysis of strengths, opportunities, and potential pitfalls.

Creating a clear, actionable game plan for the priority solution to build capacity and catalyze collective action to implement solutions and work towards your community’s vision for social equity and climate resilience.

Examples of CNAs

There are many different types of Community Needs Assessments that serve different purposes. Below are a few CNAs that community leaders could look to as examples.