S&S Assessments: Rapid Needs Assessments

The Rapid Needs Assessment is an initial appraisal of the situation and identification of the immediate humanitarian needs at the community level.

In the initial stage of a new response or an expansion of an existing program it is necessary to develop an understanding of the situation and the immediate humanitarian needs though a rapid needs assessment to inform the type of interventions needed.

Typically, the objective of the rapid assessment is to find out or to verify:

  • Where has been most affected/where are humanitarian needs greatest/where are needs unmet?
  • What is the type of damage to housing and the living environment, what do affected people need and what type of interventions could work in the context of the affected areas?
  • Who is most in need/the most vulnerable in this context? How can we verify this information?

Every response is unique and program teams responsible for assessments will need to review and adapt the outlined processes and tools as needed based on the context and the specific objectives of the assessment. The objective of the assessment will likely depend on the type and stage of the response, the scale and location and the pre-existing knowledge of the community and context.

It is likely that you may wish to focus your Rapid Needs Assessment at the community level in the first instance staff observations and photo documentation, community mapping and transect walks, Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), will enable you to develop a broad sense of needs and settlement structure in order to identify the most appropriate type of assistance options. This will then facilitate the development of more targeted, detailed assessments assistance options needed.

  1.2.a) Transect Walks, Staff Observations and Photo-Documentation

Transect walks and targeted observations through the target area with input of community members will give the assessment team and opportunity to become familiar with the setting, settlement patterns and typical shelter types/problems. Ideally the assessment team will use a contextualized checklist of potential problems to look out for to guide their observations. Photos of different shelter styles and problems observed should be taken by the team and integrated into the Rapid Needs Assessment report.

Tools & Examples

1.2.b)  Preliminary Mapping as part of Joint Multi-Sectoral Assessments 

Developing a map of the settlement with the community can be a very effective way of beginning a Rapid Needs Assessment. It can provide the opportunity for the community to define where they see the boundaries of the settlement, the spatial distribution of different community groups within the settlement, the location of key infrastructure and potentially highlight hazard/safety and security risks as perceived by the community within the locality. The mapping of settlements is particularly important in urban settings where boundaries between community groups may not be obvious.

Often other organizations may produce maps that could be useful.  Some of these are IOM DTM, MapAction, REACH and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.

Tools & Examples

  1.2.c)  Key Informant Interviews and Focus Groups Discussions

A series of FGDs and KIIs with different groups within the affected and hosting population should be undertaken as part of the Rapid Needs Assessment. It is important not to skip this step as not only will observations alone will not give us the full picture, listening to and engaging with targeted communities at the early stages of a project will lead to better relations and the selection of appropriate assistance options.

Consultations should ensure representation of different groups, this will mean organizing separate FGDs for women and girls and creating space to discuss the impacts on the elderly and people living with disability. In general, it is recommended to organize;

  • FGDs with potential beneficiaries in different geographical locations;
  • FGDs with potential host communities in different geographical locations;
  • FGDs with local skilled labor in the different geographical locations; and
  • KIIs with relevant stakeholders (cluster, local government, etc.) to gauge their opinion on the proposed approach, case load, appropriateness, etc.

Through FGDs and KIIs you will better define your understanding of the needs and preferences of the affected groups with respect to the type of assistance needed and the preferred modality.

It may then be necessary to assess the feasibility of the proposed assistance options through market assessments and piloting of design options prior to finalizing the Response Strategy

Tools & Examples

  1.2.d) Reporting on the Rapid Needs Assessment

The Rapid Needs Assessment may involve multiple methodologies, but it is important to draw them together into a written report documenting the methodology, findings (supported by photo documentation) and clear recommendations. The report will be key in the decision-making process determining which/if any shelter and settlements assistance options are to be proposed and which areas/groups are to be prioritized.

Tools & Examples