Note: This is a part of a comprehensive step-by-step approach for creating a Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) program. Check out the main topic page, CBDRR Guidelines, to learn more about the full guidelines.
A context assessment is a high level assessment of general needs and capacities that forms the basis for a programme strategy or may be the first step in designing a project. It is generally examining things from a national or provincial level and not district or municipal level - however it depends on what the user’s purpose and starting point are; it is not, however, the same thing as a needs assessment. A context assessment is a higher-level, more macro review of a situation, while needs assessment are much more detailed and should include direct consultations with the community. Given the level of engagement needed to do a needs assessment they are generally done when funding is assured.
A context assessment is a high-level assessment to better understand the political, socio-economic, historical, cultural and hazard context of an area or areas potentially targeted by CBDRR programming. Such assessments are influenced by or filtered through existing strategies and organizational mandates to help determine the overall framework within which CBDRR programming will subsequently evolve. That is, context assessments should be in line with a National Society’s vision, strategy and mandates to help ensure their relevance and effectiveness. The common purpose of a context assessment is to help determine a general outline of a CBDRR programme. It can also help the team identify potential communities and geographical areas in which to work.
What do I need to know?
Why is this important?
A high-level assessment provides indications if CBDRR programming may be needed or even possible before too much time or effort is invested. It can help identify challenges that must be addressed in order for any future programming to be successful; this could include conflict, limited RCRC CBDRR capacity, or even low government support. Such difficulties can be mitigated through the programme design process but only if identified adequately in the beginning. A context assessment may also indicate that a stand-alone CBDRR approach is inappropriate when communities are faced with overwhelming needs in health, water and sanitation, livelihoods or other areas. Our perception of need may not always be the same as local realities and priorities; this does not mean that CBDRR cannot be included within other sectoral approaches.
A CBDRR context assessment is a high level assessment of the:
- history & severity and impact of disasters
- hazards (often analyzed using hazard maps and similar tools)
- levels of vulnerability
- potential needs
- potential tertiary impacts of climate change (physical, biological and social)
- political, legal, institutional & socio-economic environment which may support or hinder CBDRR programming
What are key questions to be answered through the context assessment?
- What are the key hazards in the potential target areas (including the longer-term, potential impacts of climate change if studied)?
- Is a CBDRR programme the most appropriate form of assistance?
- What is the level of exposure to hazards and are there specific vulnerable groups in the area(s) considered?
- Is there an established political, administrative and financial environment for CBDRR programmes within the national or local government? If not, what are some of the main gaps?
- What other agencies are working in CBDRR and where? Are there unmet needs or is there room for collaboration?
- Do RCRC staff at all levels have some skills and experience in designing and implementing CBDRR (or community- based) programmes? Is leadership motivated to undertake or expand such programming? Is there a long-term strategic intention to engage in CBDRR programs?
- What are the potential risks to CBDRR programme implementation?
- Are resources available or potentially available to support engagement on a long term basis?
What are the basic steps in a context assessment?
- Collect data: As this is a high level assessment, detailed data collection methods are generally not needed at this stage. Rather users will mostly collect a range of secondary data and some primary qualitative data. The purpose of the data collection and analysis is to determine the general parameters of a CBDRR programme (i.e. Should we do one? Where, what areas? What support can we expect from the government? What is the overall enabling environment? What organizations might we partner with? What types of hazards will we be trying to address and how might we do this? Which vulnerable groups are we going to target? etc.)
- Analyzing data: While the purpose of data collection is to broadly explore a wide number and variety of issues, the purpose of data analysis is to organize the data so that it is useful in decision-making. A variety of tools exist to support data analysis. Each is designed for a specific purpose and the reader should select their techniques and tools based on the intended objective of the analysis exercise. In all processes involving data analysis, it is important to cross check or ‘triangulate’ data when possible. The team may want to bring in additional help for this step. Analyzing the data is not always easy and an extra pair of eyes or two may help ensure the analysis is objective and comprehensive.
- Examples of data analysis tools that may be useful at this stage include: SWOT, ranking & prioritizing, gap analysis, mapping, vulnerability matrices etc.
What are some success factors or key determinants?
- Data and information collected should be accurate, timely and appropriate.
- Information collected should be relevant to National Society context and target the potential operating environment.
- Data collection and analysis should be holistic and comprehensive.
- Context assessments should be conducted periodically particularly for longer-term strategies, multi-year projects and in highly fluid or volatile situations; they should also be repeated when changing the scope of an existing project or when a project ends and before a new one begins.
What are some useful tools & methodologies?
For an overview of maps, risk profiles, disaster statistics, DRR policies, plans and strategies, relevant organisations, national platforms etc., in your country, see Prevention Web: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/countries.
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