Needs Assessments

Emergency assessments are conducted as early as possible upon the onset of an emergency to inform our response. The purpose is to collect sufficient basic information to ascertain whether DRC should respond, and if so, how we can best possibly address the most acute needs. It is crucial to establish a basic understanding of the context to inform decision-making, and particularly with a view to the most critical protection issues, to avoid doing harm. We should aim at collecting only the most needed information in order to proceed with the emergency intervention as soon as possible.The scope of the assessment should be wide enough to be indicative of the full situation yet small enough to be manageable. 

Initial field assessments should be built on pre-assessments/desk reviews of already available information in the form of secondary sources and include issues such as the scope of crisis, scale and severity, relevance, history and context, situational analysis, security, demographics, scenarios, political landscape, humanitarian constraints, access, networks/potential partners. This information has to be coupled with DRC’s positioning and capacities.

Before embarking on any field assessments, we must be clear for what purpose we might need additional information (initial scoping, programme design or other). Once this is determined, the next step is to decide what additional essential information is needed for this purpose, which then determines the assessment’s design in terms of approach, methodology and locations. Assessments should be tailored to the needs they are to serve. A basic premise in many of the early assessments in emergencies is that speed is of the essence, and a practical “good enough” approach is required. In the early stages of an emergency we will never have a perfect picture as the scene is changing rapidly and much information will be conflicting. In reality, for decision-making purposes we will have to triangulate various available sources in order to respond best possibly.

In the early phases of emergencies DRC operates with three kinds of assessments:

  1. Initial Situation Analysis that feeds into an overall management decision whether DRC should respond to an emergency or not, and how this response should be managed.
  2. Scoping which further looks into relevance, feasibility and preliminary response design
  3. Needs assessments to further inform DRC’s programming and frequently at a more local level


Coordinated Assessments

DRC is committed to pro-actively engaging in a coordinated humanitarian response. Our response is aligned with the Humanitarian Programme Cycle and we strive to participate in major coordinated assessments such as the Multi-sector Initial Rapid Assessment (MIRA) and the Needs Assessment in Refugee Emergencies (NARE). Whereas the MIRA will be relevant under an IASC-led model, the NARE is its counterpart in Refugee Coordination Model (RCM) contexts, led by UNHCR.

The MIRA is an inter-agency process enabling actors to arrive at a common understanding of the situation on the ground. It is conducted within the initial stages of an emergency response to provide a first overview of the most pressing needs, affected areas and population groups, and should be finalized by the Humanitarian Country Team. The MIRA is a precursor to cluster/sectoral needs assessments and provides a process for collecting and analyzing information on affected people and their needs to inform strategic response planning. Depending on operational capacity, DRC may or may not form part of the MIRA. The critical issue is that it is a “heavy” exercise which requires a lot of resources and frequently takes time to complete. Further, most NGOs have a need for their own more specific assessments for the purpose of project implementation and to formulate new project proposals.

Whenever possible DRC should engage in coordinated assessments during emergencies as they:

  • Establish a shared understanding of needs and sectoral and geographical priorities
  • Facilitate setting of priorities in view of the bigger picture
  • Minimize “assessment fatigue” among affected populations


DRC can feed into coordinated assessments in two main ways:

1. Joint Assessments

In joint assessments several agencies both within or across clusters undertake assessments using the same tool and methodology. The results in the form of identified needs of affected populations are then shared within the broader humanitarian community. Depending on the situation, government counterparts at central and local levels should be consulted. The development of joint assessments is generally facilitated by OCHA. Joint assessments tend to be most useful at the outset of a crisis to provide a rapid overview of a situation.

Joint assessments consist of a number of steps including:

  • Agreeing on clear and concise collaborative arrangements around the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the assessment.
  • Joint design and planning of the assessment, including clear definition of the purpose, the analysis plan, agreement on sampling method (and geographic coverage), choice of data collection instruments, and identification of the questions in the questionnaire. Planning will include agreement on geographic coverage, timeframe, training of enumerators and the logistics.
  • Collection, analysis and interpretation of assessment data. Enumerators should be identified, organized and trained prior to going to the field. DRC should prioritize sending staff to join the assessment team – if possible.
  • Clearance of assessment results and establish communication strategy, including communication to beneficiaries.

2. Harmonized Assessments

Harmonized assessments are when individual agencies (such as DRC) collect, process and analyse data using their own tools and methodologies. Assessments are shared so that they can feed into the needs of other agencies, the overall humanitarian information handling system, and used as part of a wider and shared analysis.

When DRC sees the need for an assessment in a certain area and/or sector, it should be coordinated with OCHA and or the IASC Needs Assessment Task Force (NATF). The tools used to harmonize the assessments are the so-called Common Operational Datasets (CODs) which are predictable, core sets of data needed to support operations and decision-making for all actors in a humanitarian response, so aside from collecting information specific to DRC’s operational plans, other information is also required that will inform the overall humanitarian response. It furthermore consists of harmonized sectoral indicators, and a harmonized process for collation of assessment data that DRC should seek to follow.





Contact the HQ Emergency Unit: [email protected]