The information that follows defines the elements of any assessment. Assessments are generally composed of the six basic elements or activities described below.
An accurate assessment depends on thorough planning, design, and preparation. Most information needs can be identified well in advance. The means of collecting the necessary data, and the selection of formats for collection and presentation of the information, should be established as part of an organization’s predisaster planning. Seek advice widely from survey specialists, statisticians, and epidemiologists. By preparing to undertake assessments before a slow onset emergency reaches a crisis stage, the data required and the process most appropriate for its accurate and speedy collection can be identified and refined before undertaking a major response. Proper design of sampling and survey methods can increase substantially the accuracy and usefulness of assessment data. Standard survey techniques, questionnaires, checklists, and procedures should be designed to ensure that all areas are examined and that the information is reported using standard terminology and classifications. Also, consideration of local factors, social organization, and hierarchies of power at this stage can help greatly in formulating interview methods, identifying useful sources of information, and avoiding constraints to information gathering.
The gathering of the information must proceed rapidly and thoroughly. In an initial reconnaissance, surveyors should look for patterns and indicators of potential problems. Using the procedures developed earlier, key problem areas must be thoroughly checked. Identify sources of all information. Examples include whether the information was observed, reported by an informant in a discussion, collected through a survey of a randomly or purposively sampled population, heard by rumor, etc. The information will be more meaningful to those interpreting it—especially if reports conflict—if a source is indicated.
Thorough analysis of the information gathered is critical. Those performing the analysis must be trained to interpret the information, detect and recognize trends and indicators of problems, and link the information to specific courses of action.
Using the data that has been collected, the Assessment Team must gauge how the situation might develop in the future so that contingency plans can be drawn up that will help prepare for and mitigate potential negative impacts. Forecasting requires input from many specialists, in particular those who have had extensive experience in previous emergencies and who will be able to detect trends and provide insights as to what course an emergency might follow.
When data analysis and forecasting are complete, reporting and disseminating the results in a format that enables managers to make decisions and formulate plans and projects is required. Essential information should be presented and structured so that the main patterns and trends are clear.
An assessment should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as one part of a continuing process of reevaluating the needs and capacities of affected populations as well as the effectiveness and appropriateness of responses to the disaster situation. This is particularly true in long-term, complex humanitarian emergencies.