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As part of a strategic approach to decommissioning it is crucial to know what the current and potential future needs are for a service, the existing usage patterns and any gaps and duplication in services.

Decommissioning decisions are often made due to changing policy priorities. At this beginning stage, it is important for commissioners to identify the key policy imperatives (as set out in national policy or local strategic plans) and assess how these may have changed.

Our research highlighted the importance of considering preventative services and the need to consider the priority of these in protecting outcomes whilst reducing the need for other, possibly more expensive, services.

Effective commissioning decisions, and hence decommissioning decisions, should have a sound evidence base, such as the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA). The cyclical nature of undertaking a JSNA ensures that needs information is regularly updated. Where there is a specific service – or group of users of a more detailed service – then more specific needs assessment will be useful and provide a more accurate picture.  Similarly, some groups of users, such as refugees, can have particularly complex needs that may require more analysis and evidence to understand.

As a minimum, commissioners can use existing data sources to understand the needs of users of a service but should avoid ‘manipulating’ or using needs assessment data in a selective way to justify decommissioning decisions.

As good practice, all needs assessments should involve users of the service, service providers and other key stakeholders, especially where a long time has elapsed since any previous needs assessment. Consultation with users can be a quick and effective way of gauging any changes in need or unmet need, gaps and duplication and in assessing future patterns of need. Such consultation can help commissioners understand the current failings or good practice in services as experienced by those using them.