Beyond Individual Needs

26.01.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course Understanding needs by Ryan Watkins, PhD


Individuals have needs, as do groups of individuals. While most philosophical and psychological writings on needs focus on individual human needs, to fully utilize needs in guiding our decisions, we must understand them in the context of groups, teams, organizations, communities, and even our shared global society.


Societal Needs

Roger Kaufman, a leading figure in developing the field of needs assessment since the 1960s, urges us to initially consider needs at a societal level. What results do we want to accomplish together as a society? This is the starting place for assessing needs, since the required results to achieve our societal ambitions are defined like a cascading waterfall from this level. This is also the level of results where we commonly have the greater agreement on what to achieve. After all, most disagreements are about how, not what.

He defines needs at the societal level as absolute (not instrumental) and suggests that they be described in measurable terms as part of an Ideal Vision. His Ideal Vision begins with “there should be no losses of life nor elimination or reduction of levels of well-being, survival, self-sufficiency, and quality of life from any source.” Most anyone would agree to these as shared and desired results, and everyone in society would be the beneficiary of achieving these results.


Organizational Needs

Organizations then have instrumental needs with their purpose derived from gaps societal results. Here the organization (public sector or private sector, for profit or not for profit, national or international, large or small) is the primary beneficiary of the desired results to be achieved. For example, a desired result of your company may be to have no customers injured by defective products. Achieving this result is necessary to achieve elements of the desired societal results, and therefore it meets the definition of a need. Achieving these results is also good for the company and its bottom line.


Individual/Team Needs

Organizational results are built on the results of individuals, groups, and teams. Most of those who contribute results may work for the organization, but partners, suppliers, and other affiliated groups often also contribute necessary results. Here again, there are gaps between the desired results and the current results, and closing that gap has purpose since it is necessary to achieve organizational results. Thus, there are individual- and team-level needs.

Often overlooked is that needs at all three levels are equally important. The system only works if needs at all levels are recognized and attended to.


Today’s Main Point

1. Societies, organizations, teams, and individuals all have needs that should align.


Today’s Activity

Take a look at Roger Kaufman’s Ideal Vision ( Does this represent the societal results that you would like to work toward? Is this a good foundation for your decisions? Take a few minutes to reflect on what ultimately guides your decisions.


Today’s Resources resource site for the contributions of Roger Kaufman

Video interview with Roger Kaufman


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