SBCC for Emergency Preparedness I-Kit

Unit 2: Rapid Needs Assessment

This unit highlights the importance of conducting a rapid needs assessment to inform response efforts. Different approaches have been explored, with emphasis on trying to combine secondary data with primary research to obtain a snapshot of how the population is responding to the emergency in a specific point in time.

Importantly, needs assessments should occur in partnership with stakeholders to guarantee coordination and minimize duplication, and with community members to engage them and involve them in response activities. This Unit explores some of the ways in which communities can be engaged effectively.

Having completed this unit, you will have the following tools to assist in conducting a rapid needs assessment to inform communication activities.

What Is a Rapid Needs Assessment

Performing a scoping exercise and a desk review about key health behaviors, knowledge, beliefs and norms should be carried out as part of emergency preparedness. In this way, communication experts have quick access to important data that can guide a rapid communication response. Should this information not be available prior to the start of an emergency, Worksheet 2.1 provides a checklist of some key information sources to consider in support of the communication response.

It is highly recommended that a scan of available information sources and an initial desk review be conducted every few years in the preparedness phase so as to access epidemiological and social data rapidly when required. Even once the emergency erupts, a systematic approach should be adopted when reviewing secondary research.

Building on the preliminary needs assessment conducted during the preparedness phase, due to time constraints in an emergency, secondary research – data that has already been collected by other researchers or organizations – is a good place to start for a rapid needs assessment.

A rapid needs assessment involves carrying out primary and secondary research quickly to gain an understanding of key information that can steer program design and implementation. Primary research is firsthand data, gathered through the direct investigation of a topic or situation of interest. Secondary research is information that is already available about an issue such as studies, reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, gray literature and other documents. Both are recommended in emergency situations. Although rapid, the needs assessment conducted during the emergency phase requires nonetheless a systematic approach to the collection and study of data, findings and contextual information to understand the issue being addressed.

Why a Rapid Needs Assessment is Important

A rapid needs assessment can give insights and understanding about a range of factors that affect behaviors related to the emergency and about how to best support the population to reduce their risk. Dedicating even just a few days to a needs assessment is important to obtain information about how households and communities perceive a potential or existing emergency, what they know and do about it, what barriers and facilitators exist to the adoption of protective behaviors, and how cultural and social dynamics influence them. Equipped with this knowledge, program managers and implementers can develop targeted interventions to support the success of all response efforts.


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