This page is part of our successful commissioning toolkit.

A model of the commissioning process - Assessing Needs

There are many models of the commissioning cycle but all share some common features and all include, in some form or another, a stage where the needs of the population you serve are assessed. Assessing needs may form part of a higher-level process called ‘analyse’ or ‘strategic planning’ (for example, in the NHS commissioning cycle). There are other elements that can be covered in this ‘arc’ of the commissioning cycle, such as analysing the gap between needs and existing service provision, and identifying and agreeing local priorities.

The assessment of needs may be carried out in conjunction with other commissioners. For example, since April 2008 local authorities and primary care trusts (PCTs) have been required to produce joint strategic needs assessments (JSNA) of the health and wellbeing of their local community. [Note]

Assessing needs is a crucial step in the commissioning process. If your understanding of people’s needs is poor then your design and delivery of services is unlikely to meet their needs and achieve the outcomes required. This represents poor value for money. A good understanding of the current and likely future needs of your local population is crucial if a suitable strategy to meet those needs is to be produced and put into practice economically, efficiently and effectively.

Engaging with TSOs

However, assessing the needs of your population may be difficult: their needs may be many and varied; some people and their needs may not be apparent to you; some people may not be able to express or communicate their needs; or your understanding of their needs may be based on mistaken assumptions. Engaging with stakeholders, especially service users, will be necessary but this too can be difficult and costly (in time and/or money). Engaging with third sector organisations (TSOs) (among others) can help you overcome these difficulties. TSOs can be important intermediaries and, besides helping you assess needs, may also be able to help you identify how you might best meet those needs. See Engaging with TSOs for further guidance.

Clarifying your ability to intervene

Besides understanding what needs to be done, you should be clear that you have the ability to act to address those needs. Clarifying your ability to intervene requires you to consider three elements to ensure that you are able to act:

  • You need to have sufficient and appropriate legal powers;
  • You need to have sufficient and appropriate money; and
  • You need to have sufficient and appropriate authority vested in or delegated to you.

This link leads to further guidance.

Key questions to answer

Do I really know how TSOs could help me?

Are TSOs aware of me and my role in commissioning services?

Do I have the legal power or duty to commission the services I envisage?

Is there money available to fund these services?

Is it the right kind of money?

Do I have the authority to decide?


Note: Section 116 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.

Table of contents

Successful commissioning toolkit: Table of contents

Previous page

Applying the General Principles

Next page

Engaging with TSOs