Field Notes: Choosing and Using Assessment Tools

written by Kim Walker
November 6, 2013


Yesterday, the Center for Capacity Building put on a webinar titled “Coordinated Assessment: Understanding Assessment Tools.” The webinar dissected the assessment phase of coordinated assessment and gave people a chance to hear the Alliance’s take on various assessment tools that are being used across the country.

If you missed the webinar, as usual, we recorded it, and you can find the video embedded at the bottom of this post or on our Webinar: Coordinated Assessment: Understanding Assessment Tools page (where you can also download the Powerpoint slides). Our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit, with more resources on the topic, is available here.

For those of you looking for the condensed version, here are some key takeaways:

  • The assessment phase is the phase used to gather information needed to determine the best immediate next step for a person experiencing homelessness (or at-risk) that will get them back into permanent housing. It is NOT a reason to collect all the information you can about your client.
  • Your assessment phase will not allow you to collect perfect information. No tool, on its own, will change how your homeless assistance system functions. You must choose as a community to use the information you have collected to make positive changes to your system.
  • A good assessment phase is tiered (involving multiple tools with different purposes), consistent, and allows for consumer choice.
  • Your assessment tools should be used to determine priority for households for different programs.
  • Two important “tool rules” to follow: (1) An assessment tool should include a question only if the answer to that question is needed right then to determine what kind of assistance a person will receive. (2) If an assessment tool results in so many referrals to a program that it causes long waiting lists, then the tool should be modified.

This is a topic we’ll continue to explore in future webinars, blog posts, and at our annual conferences, because it’s a big one. Make sure you give assessment tools the thought they require, but try not to overthink your process.