Fit Key Area 1:


Assessing Community Readiness

If you are interested in more in-depth information, click on the links provided throughout this key area.

“Community readiness” refers to communities’ preparedness to take action to prevent suicide. Readiness is made up of three separate but related concepts that are all essential to effective community-led suicide prevention:

  1. Awareness: A community’s understanding that an issue exists
  2. Level of Priority: A community’s perception of how important it is to address a given issue
  3. Capacity: A community’s available resources, time, and skills that can be applied to addressing an issue

A community needs to address all three of these concepts to really be ready to engage in suicide prevention. With one or more of them missing, communities may not have the support and investment of their members that is needed to create change.

Before launching suicide prevention efforts, set aside time to assess your community’s current level of readiness. This assessment will tell you where you need to improve broad community support for suicide prevention.

Community readiness assessments can be conducted as part of a community needs assessment process. (For more on community needs assessments, visit Data Key Area 2: Gathering Information on Community Context.) Community readiness should be considered in all planning efforts. These efforts include your choice of prevention approaches, timelines for activities, and goals and objectives.

Key Steps

Identify who will conduct the readiness assessment

If your coalition has already formed a community needs assessment work group, or a strategic planning work group, community readiness assessment efforts can be incorporated into the work group’s responsibilities. If neither of these work groups has been formed, create a readiness assessment work group that will contribute to the strategic planning process.

Focus the readiness assessment

There are many health and wellness areas that can be assessed as part of community readiness. Identify your coalition’s specific areas of interest to inform your community assessment planning. Also use the goals and objectives you have laid out in your strategic plan to identify the areas of community readiness that need to be assessed.

For example, your community has a goal to reduce youth suicide attempts with objectives to reach youth from rural and Indigenous populations. Your first step is to assess the community readiness in these two specific populations and the organizations supporting them, such as schools. Use these focus areas to guide your choice of community readiness methods, participants in the community readiness assessments, and how the results are shared.

Fit your methods to your participants

Just as you can use multiple data collection methods to inform your understanding of suicide in your community, you can use multiple data collection methods for assessing community readiness. (To learn more about different kinds of data collection methods, visit Data Key Area 3: Using Data to Assess Progress and Make Changes.)

Pay close attention to the methods that are most appropriate for assessing the readiness of your participants. For example, it may be appropriate to hold individual interviews with teachers, but you may need to conduct surveys with students.

There are a variety of formal community readiness assessment tools available. These tools can support your efforts by providing evidence-informed and tested measurements for assessing community readiness. As you decide whether to use a formal assessment tool, keep in mind the time and money that may be required to use these tools. Sometimes it is necessary to take a formal training or purchase materials to use them. Other times they may be free. Also determine if the assessment tools have been tested with your participant populations.

Common formal community readiness assessment tools include the following:

Develop questions to assess community readiness

Regardless of whether or not you use a formal community readiness assessment tool, you will need to either create or adapt at least some assessment questions. For examples of community readiness assessment questions, see the Community Tool Box: Community Readiness.

As you identify what questions to ask, focus on developing ones that will help you understand your community representatives’ awareness, level of priority, and capacity related to suicide. For example, if you are seeking to understand rural communities’ readiness to prevent youth suicide, you might put together the following series of open-ended questions to discuss with school staff, students, and parents:

  • What have you seen or heard about the issue of youth suicide in the community? (Measures awareness)
  • Describe how pressing you believe addressing youth suicide is in the community and why. (Measures level of priority)
  • What resources, staff time, or money would your organization be willing to invest in supporting youth suicide prevention? (Measures capacity)

After community representatives answer these three questions, you will know more about the overall community readiness to take action to prevent suicide, and any differences in readiness between settings, organizations, regions, and demographic groups.

As you develop questions, be sure to consider how appropriate they are for different assessment participants, including the age, ability, and roles of the different community members. Some questions may need to be adapted for different groups. In the example above, a coalition probably would not want to ask students what resources and money they can contribute to suicide prevention. But they could ask students whether they would be interested in participating in a youth behavioral health advisory board.

Keep in mind that it can be emotionally difficult for community members to describe how they see the issue of suicide and how important they believe it is. Be mindful of how you phrase and ask your questions. As people participate in the readiness assessment, provide them with access to mental health services or information on how to find support, such as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Line.

Conduct readiness assessments

Be sure to train your work group members in how to use any formal or locally developed assessment tools and questions before they use them. This training will ensure consistent information gathering across community settings and demographics.

Use your formal assessment tools or locally developed assessment questions and methods to assess your community readiness. As you conduct your assessments, monitor whether you are gathering the information you need or if adjustments need to be made to your assessment questions and methods.

Evaluate assessment results

Analyze the data to identify your community’s readiness for engaging in suicide prevention efforts. Most formal community readiness tools provide specific directions on how to measure levels of readiness, so use their guidance.

However, if you are not using a formal tool, focus on what you have learned about the community’s awareness, priorities, and capacity to measure readiness. If the community is low in all three areas, it would be at a “low level of community readiness.” If the community has high awareness but is not prioritizing suicide prevention or lacks capacity, it would be at a “medium level of readiness.” If your community shows high awareness; is willing to prioritize suicide prevention; and has the resources, time, and money to invest, it would be at a “high level of readiness.” More detailed descriptions of community readiness levels and associated activities that can be used to address them are included in Table 1 under Step 7.

Use assessment results to inform strategic planning

After you have identified your community’s level of readiness, use the information to guide decisions related to the following questions:

  • What goals and objectives are realistic in your strategic plan?
  • What prevention approaches are likely to gather community support?
  • What action steps may need to be taken before implementing desired prevention approaches?

For example, if readiness results show a low level of awareness in the community on youth suicide, you may want to set additional goals to increase awareness. If, on the other hand, you see strong awareness but a lack of key community partner willingness to contribute to suicide prevention in youth, you may need to draft an action step in your strategic plan on developing strong partnerships before the rollout of prevention strategies. Visit the Planning element to learn more.

In Table 1, we have provided possible activities you can use to address different levels of community readiness. The related Stages of Readiness are drawn from the Community Tool Box: Community Readiness.

Table 1. Activities for Different Levels of Readiness

Level of Readiness Related Stages of Readiness Possible Community Activities to Address Stages of Readiness Related Community-Led Suicide Prevention Elements
Low No awareness to a vague awareness of issue


Denial or resistance to addressing the issue

  • Increase awareness and understanding of suicide prevention through campaigns, awareness event, interviews with media, etc.
  • Recruit community leaders and individuals with lived experience to share their stories and help others see personal impact
  • Share examples of how other communities have been able to successfully take steps to prevent suicide
Medium Preplanning or awareness that something must be done, but not sure what to do
  • Develop strong partnerships and/or form a suicide prevention coalition
  • Identify community efforts that already address suicide risk and protective factors
  • Gather community feedback on how to address the issue
  • Provide input, if possible, from community leaders who understand coalition members’ experiences and views
  • Provide education on suicide prevention best practices in different settings and groups
  • Build relationships and collaboration across community systems to have a connected and comprehensive safety net
Preparation and planning prevention efforts
  • Gather and analyze data on the suicide issue in your community
  • Data, Key Areas 1-3
  • Engage in strategic planning
  • Develop funding sources
High Initiation and/or launching prevention efforts
  • Implement prevention approaches in strategic plan
  • Monitor and adjust prevention efforts
Stabilization and expansion or sustaining and growing prevention efforts
  • Engage in ongoing monitoring of prevention efforts
  • Equip and train additional community partners to aid in implementation of prevention approaches
  • Recognize partner progress
  • Identify funding sources to expand the reach of prevention efforts

Visit the Community Tool Box for more detailed descriptions of community readiness levels and a variety of strategies and considerations to help communities progress through different stages of readiness.

Key Resources on Assessing Community Readiness