Work Areas

Humanitarian Needs Assessment

HNA Step 2: Designing the needs assessment

HNA Step 2: Designing the needs assessment

As soon as possible after a disaster happens you should start detailed planning of your needs assessment process. The needs assessment should be big enough to meet the identified decision-making requirements but realistic given the available time and resources.

Mobilise the assessment team

Bring together your needs assessment team, the members of which may already have been identified at the preparedness stage. The team should be made up of at least 50% women, be balanced (for example, in terms of age and ethnicity), and be representative of the community in which the assessment is taking place. As well as ActionAid and partner staff, the team should include members of local groups, such as women’s rights organisations and Reflection-Action circles. It’s important to choose the team carefully to ensure a balance of skills, including relevant languages and knowledge of different sectors (WASH, nutrition, etc.). It’s essential also to be aware of the political, racial, ideological and religious beliefs of team members and to ensure that these don’t influence the needs assessment.

If the needs assessment is taking place in an area where ActionAid has been working for some time, then the team members are likely to already have been involved in preparedness activities and to have received training to prepare them to lead the needs assessment process. However, they will still need some briefing to ensure that they are clear about the purpose and methodology of the needs assessment, and about other issues such as safety and security. If the assessment is taking place in a new area, the team will need some training at this stage. However, given the urgent nature of the work, much of the capacity building will be carried out during the process, with the newer members of the team supported and mentored by the more experienced ones.

Consider what information is already available

Before starting the needs assessment process it’s important to identify what information is already available. You may already hold a lot of information about the area in your preparedness plan and other documents. Once you know what you have you can identify the gaps and think about how best to get hold of the additional information. What additional secondary data can you get hold of? What primary data do you need to collect in the field?

Engage with local government and other organisations

It’s important to speak to local government and other organisations working in the area to ensure that they are aware of your plans and you of theirs so that you are not duplicating efforts. If You may decide to carry out a joint or coordinated needs assessment or to share findings once the needs assessment is complete. If you are planning a needs assessment in an area where ActionAid has not worked before you may need to carry out a mapping of actors and institutions in the area to identify possible partners and allies. This will include identifying appropriate community institutions that can be involved in the needs assessment process and ensuring they are adequately briefed.

Review budget and resources

Part of the planning process will involve Identifying the resources (equipment, transport etc) that you will need to make available for the needs assessment. What resources do you have? What is missing? If this is an area where ActionAid is already working, many of these details will be included in your preparedness plan.

Consider safety, security and safeguarding issues

It’s important to consider safety and security issues involved in the fieldwork and link with ActionAid’s Global Security Co-ordinator if necessary. 

In particular, it’s essential to ensure that the whole team is aware of ActionAid’s Code of Conduct and understands our policies and procedures related to sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and other safeguarding concerns. Team members should be aware of their duty to treat others with respect and dignity, ensuring that those who we work with are protected from any form of injustice, discrimination or abuse. They should also be aware of their right to be able to work in an environment free of sexual harassment, exploitation or abuse. Everyone who we work with should be made aware of ActionAid’s complaints system and be confident that ActionAid takes all complaints seriously and carries out timely and robust responses to allegations of abuse.

  • Resource: ActionAid Code of Conduct.
  • Resource: ActionAid policy on sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and other safeguarding concerns.

Develop the needs assessment plan

Develop a detailed needs assessment plan and share it with IHART for feedback. This should be done within one week of the start of the disaster. It should include the following sections:

  1. Objectives: Terms of Reference with measurable goals and clear objectives, timeframe (including delivery dates and reporting frequency), the specific deliverables and which decisions they will inform.
  2. Scope: What data do you need to gather? 
  3. Methodology – How will you collect the data?
  4. Analysis – How will you analyse the data and present your findings.
  5. Resources – What resources do you need to implement the assessment.

Useful participatory tools

A number of participatory tools could be used to support the preparedness planning process:

  • A chapatti diagram or forcefield analysis might be used to identify and explore the relationships between different people or organisations in the community, which can help you identify potential allies and decide who to work with or try to influence.
  • A communications map might help you think about languages used in the community and potential barriers to communication.
  • A variety of tools can be used to explore issues around safeguarding, including the body map, safety map
  • An action plan matrix or timeline might be used to help develop the plan. You might also use maps to help you decide where to gather the data.



Links to useful documents will be shown here.

Tools in this toolbox

Action plan matrix

To support participants to develop a community action plan.Steps Community members develop action plans based on the solutions ...

Body map

To explore issues around health and sexuality, women’s rights and violence against women.Steps in the processDraw the outline o...

Chapatti diagram

To explore relationships between things – particularly the relative importance, influence or power of people, organisations or ...

Forcefield analysis

To identify helpers and spoilers – people, organisations or events that might help or hinder your work. For a similar tool, ada...


To present local information, problems and opportunities in a clear, visual way. A basic map of a local area can be overlaid wi...

Safety map

To identify safe and unsafe areas in a city or community.This exercise was designed as part of the Safe Cities Urban Book proce...

Safety walk

To identify areas in the community that are safe and unsafe for women.NB: This exercise should be facilitated by a trained trai...

Timeline - action planning

To plan for action by marking key activities on a timeline or 'yardstick'.StepsMap each of the actions in your action plan alon...

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.