Thematic Areas

Humanitarian Needs Assessment

HNA Step 1: Preparing for a needs assessment

HNA Step 1: Preparing for a needs assessment

There’s a lot that you can do to prepare for a needs assessment before a disaster has happened.

Develop a preparedness plan

All ActionAid countries, but particularly those that are disaster prone, should develop an emergency preparedness plan before a crisis. Preparedness plans may also be drawn up at local level in a participatory process led by local women’s organisations and Reflection-Action circles, for example. This sets out the basic information that is required to assess and prepare for likely disasters. It also includes an action plan to ensure that ActionAid staff, partners and communities know what to do in a disaster and are ready to respond quickly and effectively. Ultimately, the preparedness plan will be useful source of secondary data for your needs assessment as it will include information about the country and local context, hazard and vulnerability analysis and civil society actors, amongst others. The needs assessment part of the preparedness plan can be updated and further contextualised by the needs assessment team following an emergency.

Identify the staff and other resources for the needs assessment

It may not be possible to identify all the needs assessment team members at this stage, but you can identify and be ready to mobilise the ActionAid staff and other resources that you will need to support the needs assessment. A review of secondary data may only need one or two people (and can often be done by people outside the affected area). Primary data collection will need more people, support and funding. This information should be included in your emergency preparedness plan. If possible, you should also identify local women leaders, partner staff and others to be part of the needs assessment team if an emergency happens in their area.

Build the capacity of local women’s organisations

One of ActionAid’s core aims is that women and women’s organisations should be sufficiently empowered and engaged in decision-making processes from local to national levels to lead emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts. A key part of emergency preparedness, therefore, involves building the capacity, skills and confidence of women’s organisations and other local groups, such as Reflection-Action circles, to lead the needs assessment process. If women leaders and other members of these groups are involved from the preparedness stage, they are more likely to feel ownership and be prepared to lead the response when an emergency happens.

Familiarise yourself with ActionAid’s procedures

Make sure you know how to get an assessment started following an emergency and are familiar with ActionAid’s emergency response structure and standard operating procedures for emergencies. Whose approval do you need to get the process started and mobilise resources? What support is available from IHART and other parts of the organisation? What systems, tools, mechanisms and capacities exist within the organisation? All this information should be included in your emergency preparedness plan.

Useful participatory tools

A large variety of tools can be used to support context analysis as part of preparedness planning. These include: 

  • social map and problem tree for rights analysis, identifying people living in poverty and excluded groups and their situation; 
  • chapatti diagram for power analysis; 
  • the body map or daily activity chart for gender analysis, identifying the division of labour, decision-making power, patterns of violence and harmful practices; 
  • the map, seasonal calendar or timeline for vulnerability analysis,
  • the communications map or daily activity chart for communications analysis, understanding which languages are used in the community, how people access information and which are the most powerful forms of communication;
  • the balloons and stones or risk matrix for risk and feasibility analysis, exploring political, operational, socio-economic and environmental risks;
  • the agricultural map and seasonal calendar for livelihoods analysis, understanding people’s livelihood patterns, challenges and opportunities.




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Tools in this toolbox

Agricultural map

To show the different crops grown and / or livestock kept in a community.Steps in the processThe group may wish to begin the exer…

Balloons and stones

To help identify factors that might help or hinder you in your work or in your progress towards a goal. The stones represent thin…

Body map

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

Chapatti diagram

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

Daily activity chart

To help participants to analyse how their time is used each day.The processDraw a daily timetable from sunrise to sunset.Ask part…


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

Problem tree

To explore cause and effect.A tree can be used to explore cause and effect or problem and solution. The various elements of a tre…

Seasonal calendar

To help participants to analyse the distribution of agricultural work / crops / illnesses / etc. over the year.Cross referencing …

Social map

This is a bird’s eye view of a village that shows the demographic details and the social infrastructure available for the people …


To track changes or document the history of a community or organisation.By capturing the chronology of events as perceived and …