Needs and Resources Assessment

To understand a community’s needs and resources, it is helpful to conduct a needs and resources assessment.

Preliminary aspects

Definitions. Needs are the gap between what is and what should be. Resources or assets are anything that can be used to improve the quality of life, such as individuals, organizations and institutions, buildings, or equipment.

A needs and resources assessment is a study to understand the needs of a group or community. In the refugee context, the focus of an assessment is to: a) identify refugees’ needs; b) identify (overlooked) assets, and c) identify gaps in organizations’ capacity in meeting refugees’ needs.

When should an assessment be done? Needs and resources assessment should be done for various reasons: e.g. when an NGO engages in a new geographic location; when there is a new influx of refugees into a community; or when there is a change in legislation that impacts refugees. The assessment can be a one-time process or done periodically.

When NOT to do an assessment. Planning and conducting an assessment are important steps in designing the right programs to address issues the refugee communities face. The data collection and analysis must be followed by action though. Endlessly collecting data may mean unnecessarily spending time and money rather than actually working on different programs.

When to partially do it. In some cases, you might not need to go through the entire process of recruiting a team, making a budget, etc. When you only need to understand if changes in the community have occurred, a few interviews/focus groups/collect surveys might be enough.

How to do a needs and resources assessment in 10 steps

Step 1. Identify purpose of the assessment

The purpose of the assessment explains why the assessment is being conducted and how the results will be used.

Here’s why some organizations carry out a needs and resources assessment:

  • To gain a deeper understanding of the refugee community.
  • To define problems the refugee community faces when it comes to identifying,  understanding and using legal tools.
  • To assess existing organizations’ capacity: what are the physical and material, financial, information and intellectual resources, and human resources available? Are they enough to meet refugees’ needs?

How will the results be used? Among others:

  • To make decisions about priorities for future programs or interventions.
  • To prepare proposals for fundraising.
  • To develop the right advocacy messages.
  • To raise awareness among the local government of needs and potential interventions.
  • To evaluate programs. An assessment done at the beginning and at the end of an intervention can help you understand the outcome and success of your intervention.

Step 2. Write down objectives

Using the purpose of the assessment as your starting point, identify specific questions that you are hoping to answer. Below are some examples:

  • To what extent are refugee communities in Turkey currently able to identify, understand, and use legal tools?
  • How easy is it to identify and train refugee leaders?
  • How are host communities coping? What are some of the challenges they encounter?

Step 3. Get approval

Consider the following:

  • Is there a formal process to approve the assessment, both internally and/or externally (e.g. from a local municipality)?
  • Who needs to be informed about the assessment before it goes forward (e.g. UNHCR, government officials, refugee leaders, etc.)?
  • Are there any legal requirements you must comply with for any part of the assessment? (e.g. in Turkey you need to get the government’s approval to conduct surveys.)

Step 4. Recruit the assessment team

Ideally, the team members have the skills and experience to do the assessment; they should also be diverse and truly representative of the community (the most vulnerable groups should be included).

Staff may be from a group that is not well perceived by the people you will collect the information from (e.g., ethnic or religious group), or may have prejudices about other ethnic or religious groups. You can address this by:

  • identifying members of the refugee community and consulting with them to understand the community dynamics;
  • having a diverse team with different backgrounds;
  • having a balance of male and female members (e.g. having a male staff might be helpful in the initial outreach to get into the community in certain cultural contexts).

Two aspects you need to clarify at this point:

  • Who is planning and who is overseeing the assessment?
  • Do the team members need training? If so, how much and what kind of training?

Step 5. Consider the budget

The assessment might be a lengthy and costly process that requires trained staff. How much money is available for the assessment? At this point, you do not have to think about the details (e.g. duration of data collection or data analysis). However, being aware of the available budget will help you make decisions throughout the process.

Step 6. Determine what types of data must be collected and the sources of data.

Secondary data collection

Secondary data is existing data that your organization or others have already collected, such as previous assessments and analyses, UNHCR reports, country reports, etc. Secondary data can be used to:

  • identify information gaps that other data collection methods can fill;
  • build awareness among team members of the current situation in order to choose an area of focus (e.g. specific sites and target populations) for the assessment.

When reviewing secondary literature, take into account factors such as sex, age, ethnicity, stage in the refugee cycle, or educational level. These factors might affect a refugee’s capacity to access and claim her rights.

In your secondary data review, identify (i) main findings with references, and (ii)  information gaps that your primary data collection should fill (if that is the case). You have to decide whether secondary data collection is or is not enough to inform your next steps. Below are some scenarios for both of these cases.

Secondary data is enough Secondary data is not enough
you are already aware of the issues in the refugee community. it does not provide refugees’ perspectives;
it presents more general issues (e.g. national or regional), rather than those of the community you are working with.





Primary data collection

In case the secondary data collected isn’t enough (and that’s very likely!), the team has to do primary data collection. It is essential that all stakeholders are involved in the process. This is especially true when it comes to vulnerable groups, who might face additional barriers in speaking up and/or accessing networks or resources.

Next, we’ll discuss: how to identify your stakeholders; the importance of sampling; reducing bias; characteristics of some primary data collection methods.

Whom will you gather the information from?
The first step is to identify the stakeholders and their interests. Stakeholders include individuals, community leaders, groups and organizations that will be impacted by the program or could influence the outcome. To do that, a useful tool is the stakeholder analysis. Below is a template.

1. Identify Stakeholders

Brainstorm who your stakeholders are. Think of all the people who are affected by your work, who have influence or power over it, or have an interest in its successful or unsuccessful outcome. This is an example:

Government Officials Refugees
Employers Schools
Private sectors Faith Based Organizations

Remember that although stakeholders may be both organizations and people, you ultimately communicate with people. Make sure you identify the correct individuals within a stakeholder organization.
2. Prioritize Stakeholders

Classify stakeholders by their power over your program and by their interest in it. Using the template below is a great way to visualize power/influence.

3. Understand Stakeholders

Get to know your key stakeholders – those with high power/high interest. Some questions you might consider:

  • How will they feel about and react to your project?
  • How can you best engage them in the project? What is the best way to communicate with them?
  • What motivates them most of all?
  • Who influences their opinions generally, and who influences their opinion of you?
  • If you don’t think you will be able to win them around, how will you manage their opposition?

Finally, using the map above, summarize what you’ve learned about the stakeholders by showing advocates and supporters in green, blockers and critics in red, and others who are neutral in orange.

Tip: Before doing the stakeholder analysis, you might have to interview someone who has a good understanding of the refugee community and who might provide insights.

Throughout the assessment:

  1. Engage stakeholders early in the process and communicate with them frequently.
  2. Consult as many groups of refugees as possible (women, children, older persons etc.); record groups that are absent.
  3. Understand the power relations in the refugee communities in order to find the right approaches.
Outreach methods

It is essential to collect enough and relevant data from diverse stakeholders to inform future programs. For that, you have to know how to approach the refugee communities and build relationships with them. Think about who you’re going to talk to first and what will you request from them. The approaches need to be culturally appropriate (see example below). For more information and an example of a successful outreach program, follow this link.


Sampling is when you select a subset of the refugee population, that allows you to generalize the results back to the population from which they were chosen.

The following rules apply to surveys. Although interviews and focus groups usually involve a smaller number of people, don’t forget, the participants should be as diverse as possible. Still, the sample size should reflect the population you are targeting. If the population is mainly young and male, approaching more males is probably more relevant, but do not omit the additional challenges women, children, and elderly people face.

Some rules on how to do survey sampling:

  • A good maximum sample size is usually 10% of the refugee community.
  • Balance feasibility and affordability against accuracy. The more accurate the results, the more resources are necessary and the less feasible it is to implement the survey.
  • Random sampling: choose people you will talk to (e.g. call every 15th person in the community phone registry, or knock on the doors of those who live 3 houses/tents apart etc.).
  • Talk to the same number of women and men, when possible and relevant. Hold separate focus group discussions for men, women, boys, girls, and groups from different social strata.
Determine the types of data collection tools that will be used

Select your data collection methods by considering possible data sources, time, available personnel, or financial resources. Below is a comparison between common primary data collection methods.


Method When to use


Time required Cost Resources Required
Collect Data Analyze Data
In-depth Interviews
  • To discuss complex issues that require explanations.
  • To obtain sensitive information confidentially.
  • To engage low-literacy population.
  • To distinguish between individual versus group opinion.
  • To refine future surveys.
High High Medium to High
  • Time
  • Skilled interviewer
  • Budget
  • Availability of participants
Focus Groups
  • To understand issues identified through a larger, quantitative study.
  • To refine future surveys.
  • To engage low-literacy population.
  • To get community’s input on a topic (implementing a new program).
Low High Medium to High
  • Time
  • Skilled facilitator
  • Note-taker or recorder
  • Budget
  • Availability of participants
  • To collect data from a large number of people in a relatively short time.
Low to Medium Low Low
  • Time
  • Knowledge of survey development
  • Budget
  • To observe behavior (some unconsciously do things or react to certain situations)
  • To understand interactions between community members.
Low Low to Medium Low
  • Time
  • Availability of participants
  • Observation form
  • Permissions, if needed
Photos and Videos
  • To capture visual images the current situations.
  • To complement data collected through other methods.
Low High Depends on cost of equipment and if experts are hired.
  • Time
  • Equipment
  • Permissions, if needed

Step 7. Budget… again.

You now have a clearer idea on what tools you will use, who will be on your team, who else will be involved in the process. It’s time to set priorities to make sure your resources are enough to do the assessment.

Trade-offs must be made in case the resources are scarce. For instance, it might take a long time to interview a large number of people if the assessment team is made up of only two people.

Step 8. Design the assessment tools

Keep your objectives and deliverables clear, and measure your progress against them continuously. The situation may change, so remain flexible and be ready to update the assessment to suit new circumstances.

 Approach example: Asylum Access Malaysia first reaches out to community leaders. Usually, they are the ones who suggest community members to talk to. Sometimes the leaders want to attend the meetings. The assessment team allows them to do that, but keeps the interviews short, takes the interviewees’ contact information and follows up later to ask the rest of the questions.

Develop and test the assessment tools
  • When designing your questions, make sure you are clear on how the data collected will be analyzed and how it will be used to inform your assessment objectives.
  • Consider factors such as the number of people you’ll talk to and their literacy level.
  • Test your tools and make changes if necessary.

When developing in-depth interview questions:

  • Start with general questions and then ask more specific ones; ask them in a logical order.
  • Place controversial or sensitive questions at the end.
  • Make sure the questions are clear, concise, and open-ended.
  • Be sure the questions are appropriate for the level of literacy of the participants.
  • Prepare answers for the questions you may be asked (e.g. how the information will be used, available resources for refugees, referrals to your own office or to another organization.)

When conducting in-depth interviews:

  • Introduce yourself and inform the purpose of the interview
  • Obtain written permission to record the interview.
  • Begin with rapport-building questions. For instance, if they have children, you can ask how old they are and what they enjoying doing.
  • Make clear that the discussion is confidential.
  • Make sure all questions are answered but be flexible: if the participant brings up aspects you haven’t covered in the question, feel free to ask follow-up questions.
  • Clarify responses when necessary, instead of interpreting ambiguous answers yourself; ask for examples when participants make statements.
  • Have a neutral attitude and don’t interrupt them.
  • Ask whether the participant has any questions or anything else to add.
  • Thank the participant for availability and ask whether she/he can be contacted again if necessary.
Focus Groups

A focus group is a small-group (6 to 10 people) discussion guided by a trained moderator. It is used to learn about opinions on a specific topic and to guide future action. More on how to conduct a focus group here.


When: Surveys are best done after initial needs identification (using interviews/focus groups).  

Why: To test hypotheses (you came up with after interviews/focus groups) OR to identify other challenges the community faces (through open-ended questions).

When developing survey questions:

  • Begin the survey with simple questions.
  • Use concise sentences and language that participants will understand.
  • Avoid leading questions.
  • Offer neutral response or/and “does not apply” as choices.
  • Create categories that cover all possible responses and are mutually exclusive, but don’t have too many options.
  • Keep the survey as short as possible, no more than 12 questions.There are multiple types of questions. Below there are suggestions on when to best use each kind of question.
    Type of Question When to Use the Question
    Open-Ended or Fill-in-the-Blank Obtain qualitative information

    Probe for more information

    Seek for more information as a follow-up to a close-ended question

    Closed-Ended Obtain quantitative information
    Two-Choice Obtain mutually exclusive answers
    Multiple Choice Obtain one response from a list of choices (with instruction to “check only one”)

    Obtain multiple responses from a list of choices (with instruction to “check all that apply”)

    Obtain responses with no rank order

    Likert Scale Obtain ratings
    Interval Scale Obtain interval-level data

 Adaptability example. Some tools might prove less useful than initially thought. Be flexible: see how the community responds and make changes if necessary. Asylum Access Malaysia first used self-referral forms with text in Rohingya refugee communities. Many were illiterate, so they used to pay someone who knew to fill out the form for them. They replaced text with images to make it easier for illiterate people to fill them out.

Train the data collection team (if necessary)

During the training:

  • Introduce the organization and the purpose of the tools; participants introduce themselves.
  • Select clients. This will be done depending on the sample size and methods chosen.
  • How to conduct interviews. Make sure it is clear how to:
    • get informed consent;
    • remain neutral and polite at all times;
    • ask the questions correctly;
    • probe without leading (avoid: giving example answers, negative questions, any implication of judgment).
  • Go through the questionnaire question by question as a group.  Everyone needs a clear understanding of each question.
  • Role play is a good way to practice focus groups, too.
  • Practice in the field under the trainer’s observation.

Step 8. Collect the data

You know who you’re going to talk to and what tools you’ll use. It’s time to collect the data. These are some aspects to consider when doing this.

  • Collect data from every type of stakeholders.
  • Find an appropriate location: will you be interviewing refugees at their homes? Are there any safety issues that you and interview participants should be aware of on the way there, during and after the interview? If the participants bring up other locations, will you be able to make any site visits?
  • What will you do if you want to interview a woman and her husband/neighbors want to be present as well? A solution is to organize a focus group with women and ask each one of them a few questions separately, if necessary.

 See what works. The Asylum Access Malaysia team prefers to do interviews and focus groups because it’s hard to identify issues through surveys. It might seem there is no problem when the community is actually facing with big challenges.

Step 9. Analyze the data

Qualitative data

For more on how to analyze qualitative data, see this guide.  

Quantitative data

For a quick introduction to useful data analysis tools and terms, please follow this link.

Step 10. Document the assessment

Imagine that someone who is not familiar with the assessment tries to understand it only by reading the documents you have developed in the process. Would they be able to? It is very important to keep records that document every step (e.g. how you chose the team, how and why you decided a specific methodology is appropriate, or the interviews you took.) Keep everything organized for future references.

Step 11. Present your findings

Present the findings to other staff in the organization and/or refugee communities to inform program design or improvement. The presentation (either written or oral) should include:

  • The team who planned/conducted the assessment and each member’s role.
  • Background information about the stakeholders involved in the needs and resources assessment and how you build relationships.
  • Explain what kind of data collection methods you used and what is the reason for choosing them.
  • For the qualitative data:
    1. Present the coding strategies used, the codes, categories, and themes.
    2. Support each theme with evidence from the data.
    3. Explain how the findings address the questions you set out to answer.
  • For the quantitative data:
    1. Present hypotheses you wanted to test.
    2. Present the findings and how they address the questions you set out to answer.
  • Make recommendations based on the information you collected.
  • Use participatory methodologies to analyze and discuss findings of the assessment and learn how the data will affect your work.

Step 12. Publishing findings

This is an optional step, that could be considered when the following requirements are met:

  • The findings add to the body of knowledge or update existing information.
  • The identity and dignity of refugees involved in the needs and resources assessment process will not be endangered in any way.

If you decide to publish findings, depending on the context, you might choose from the following two options:

  1. Clients sign a waiver. For each story and photo/video you create, have your clients sign a release waiver after walking them through the purpose and potential uses of the materials. In the case of photos/videos, clients can specify whether they prefer to conceal their faces or not. Lastly, names are always changed and details that might expose their identities are not included in final material (e.g. we’ll use Colombia instead of Buenaventura, won’t include specific company names etc.) The downside is that a waiver might deter people from sharing their stories. Signing contract-like documents intimidate people.
  2. Keep it anonymous. Another suggestion is to keep it all anonymous when collecting primary data (both quantitative and qualitative) from refugees and ensure that certain details are omitted from published work.