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4. Assessment

The role of assessment in an emergency is a critical and ongoing step in determining humanitarian needs and meeting obligations to humanitarian principles. Assessments are used to make decisions and help to identify the most appropriate response to an emergency and what value CARE can add to an emergency response. Through assessments, humanitarian organisations gain accurate data about the needs and operating context. They engage with local communities and other humanitarian actors in the affected area. Assessment is a critical step in programme planning (Sphere definition).

1.1 CI roles and responsibilities for assessment

1.2 Role of the assessment team


  • Begin preparing for assessment immediately after the emergency alert.
  • Develop a clear assessment plan and methodology.
  • Consider appropriate team composition (for example, gender balanced, multi-agency and inclusion of disaster-affected population).
  • Ensure that the assessment team has agreed terms of reference and identify the geographic focus of field assessment.
  • Confirm that adequate logistics and administrative planning has been done to ensure safety and effectiveness of the team.
  • Plan and identify priority information needs, and data collection methods and tools.
  • Ensure participation of the affected communities in the assessment process.
  • Collect and analyse data from a range of sources.
  • Develop clear recommendations for how CARE should respond to the emergency.
  • Document and share assessment findings within CARE and with external stakeholders

In an emergency context, assessment is a continuous process that may be repeated many times with varying levels of depth and different focus areas. It starts at the preparedness stage with the collection of pre-disaster information (identification of stand-by assessment team, training of team on the assessment tools and techniques, collection of secondary data, gender in brief, etc.). Ongoing assessments help to ensure that responses remain appropriate and relevant as the situation changes. See annex xxx which presents the various types of assessments during the different phases of an emergency. The Assessment Framework (IASC guidelines) distinguishes between:

  • Initial assessments carried during Phase 1 (first 72 hours). Rapid assessments carried out during Phase 2 (first and second week).
  • In-depth assessments carried out during Phase 3 (3rd and 4th week).
  • In-depth assessments, including on recovery needs, carried out during Phase 4 (5th week and onwards).

The data sources in assessments evolve over time: from mostly secondary data and direct observation / remote sensing in the initial phase, with limited participation / feedback of affected communities, to mostly primary data sources in the next phases.

Typically, an initial assessment should be conducted as soon as possible after identifying the emergency (within 24-72 hours of a rapid-onset emergency). This assessment may lead to immediate implementation of response activities, followed by more detailed or sector-specific assessment as time goes on (rapid, and then in-depth sectoral assessments). In the initial phase of an emergency, speed is usually more important than attention to detail. An initial assessment should be well organised, but should not be slowed down or hindered by the need to get everything right at first. The precision and accuracy of assessments evolve with time, going from quick and exploratory to comprehensive and confirmatory (see Annex xx). Assessments should aim to take a ‘good-enough approach’ while addressing basic standards in 3.1 below.

3.1 Sphere initial assessment standard

3.2 OFDA FOG assessment process main points

3.3 Accountability and assessment

3.3.1 Accountability do’s and don’ts for assessments

The CARE International Board has determined that CARE will respond to emergencies as the rule, not the exception. Therefore, a CO should always conduct an appropriate level of assessment, no matter how brief, until there is a consensus that either a response should be initiated or that no response is required.

The assessment process should begin with a preliminary rapid review of all available secondary information, followed by a decision as to whether to conduct a field assessment, for the example ina rapid-onset emergency, such as an earthquake (section 4.1). In a slow-onset emergency, there may be more time to analyse and monitor the situation.

4.1 Rapid-onset assessment process actions and decisions

4.2 Types of assessments

4.3 Providing relief assistance during assessments

Rapid but adequate planning and preparation before deploying the field assessment team will help to make the assessment more effective. The effectiveness of assessment will be reduced, and assessment teams will lose time if prior planning is not carried out.

In particular, CARE team must have a clearly articulated Analysis Plan, based on the format below (from the MIRA guidelines – 2015):

CARE assessment team should design such analysis plan detailing what data to collect, where to access the information (secondary and/or primary data), and what type of analyses and comparisons it will be required to interpret it (i.e. geographical or group comparisons, trends over time).


The analysis plan must be developed before designing the data collection tools to ensure that only useful and necessary information is collected. This also helps to assess the feasibility of the assessment. When all information needs and available resources have been considered, it is possible to decide whether or not the assessment can be undertaken as initially planned.

The checklist in section 5.1 will help with planning.

5.1 Assessment planning quick checklist

All key stakeholders should agree on the terms of reference of assessment before deployment. Written terms of reference for the assessment mission should outline objectives, suggested methodology, timings and expected outputs, with reference to individual team member responsibilities. A generic terms of reference (TOR) for an assessment mission is attached for adaptation and use (see Annex 4.3   Generic assessment terms of reference, and Annex 4.4 Sample detailed terms of reference).

Objectives of the assessment mission should be documented clearly within the terms of reference (refer to section 6.1) and understood by all members of the assessment team and the CO, as well as interested stakeholders such as ERWG. The assessment team should also be able to communicate the objectives of the mission to stakeholders they meet in the field (see The good enough guide).

Based on the TOR, the team should develop a clear plan of what information is required, what tools and methods will be used in data gathering, who will be consulted, and how the data will be analysed to determine recommendations.

6.1 Typical objectives of a CARE assessment mission

CARE will need to make strategic decisions about geographical focus early in the response. Selecting priority areas for the assessment mission should be made on the basis of available secondary information and in close coordination with other agencies undertaking assessments.

7.1 Considerations regarding geographical focus

Getting the right mix of skills on the team is very important. The right mix depends on both technical and functional positions and skills, as well as the personal qualities that team members bring to the team, especially gender and diversity.

Assessment teams should be as small as possible (for example, three-person) as they are much easier to manage. However, a larger assessment team may be more appropriate when it is already known that a start-up team is also required immediately.

8.1 Attributes of assessment teams

8.2 Effective team management

An assessment team requires appropriate logistics, and administrative planning and support, to complete their job properly and safely. Be clear who is responsible for providing support. Administration/logistics from the CO should usually provide this support to the assessment team. Some support may also be provided by the administration/logistics team member(s)-however, not exclusively, because they also have a key technical part in the actual assessment. Encourage each individual to take personal responsibility. Use the checklist in section 9.1 to make sure adequate planning and support are provided.

9.1 Assessment team logistics and administration support checklist

10.1 Briefing on CO capacity

10.2 Basic information checklist

10.3 How to involve disaster-affected people in the assessment (adapted from The good enough guide, Tool 3)

10.4 Information sources

10.5 Data collection methods

10.5.1 Methods for information gathering

10.6 Assessment tools

10.6.1 Assessment format: UN clusters Interagency Rapid Assessment tool

Data is only useful if it is analysed. The assessment team must analyse the data to inform the development of recommendations. The team should work together to ensure the information obtained by different team members can be cross-referenced with others before reaching conclusions.

A digital data gathering tool (such as Kobo) uses mobile phones, tablets or computers to automatically collect and analyse data. Advantages include geolocation (for mapping), quick and easy data analysis, offline collection (for areas with limited connectivity), and multimedia data collection.

The CARE WASH unit has developed guidelines for the use of the Kobo toolbox:

11.1 Contextual analysis frameworks

11.2 Developing recommendations

11.2.1 Minimum requirement for recommendations


  • Communicate preliminary findings throughout the assessment process.
  • Ensure a completed assessment report is finalised and circulated to key stakeholders.
  • Include an indicative budget in the assessment report.
  • Prepare necessary outputs to accompany the assessment report.

12.1 Communicating preliminary findings

12.2 Final assessment report

12.3 Indicative budget

12.4 Other outputs

The CO is expected to cover the costs of the assessment process. Wherever possible, the CO should include assessment costs in emergency project budgets to recover costs. Country Offices may also request assistance for assessment costs through the CARE ERF, recognising that this also should be repaid through programme recoveries whenever possible. For more details, refer to Chapter 7 Funds mobilisation.

Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP-International)


ACAPS learning platform (Needs assessments etc.)

IASC Coordinated assessments guidelines

“SPHERE for assessment” handbook