What is a Needs Assessment?

12 June 2022

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has a long history of responding when a situation occurs that forces people to flee their homes, such as the start of a conflict or a natural disaster.

In addition to providing urgently needed help, one of the very first things we do is conduct a needs assessment. Experience has taught us that projects which have bypassed a formal needs assessment study can often result in a sub-optimal outcome for both JRS (in terms of resources being most effectively utilized) as well as refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs) (in terms of unmet needs).

One of the main parts of a needs assessment is gathering information about the affected people. Refugee and IDP groups are not homogeneous, so it is important to gather information about each group of refugees/IDPs in order to provide relevant, efficient services.

To do this, we determine the composition of the refugee/ IDP population, the reasons that these persons became refugees/IDPs (war, persecution, famine, natural disaster), and the cultural aspects that influence how these persons interact with the world around them.

We also establish what resources they already have available to them. These resources include their skills, knowledge, family, and community structures and culture. We do this to avoid providing unnecessary things and wasting resources and/or undermining the capacities of refugees/IDPs to do things for themselves, which would lead to creating more dependency rather than empowering them towards self-sufficiency.

Once we establish what resources are available, we then establish what resources still need to be provided to ensure our efforts are as effective and genuinely helpful as possible. This stage of a needs assessment assesses four main things:

  1. Whether or not JRS’s intervention would meet real needs.
  2. The nature and scale of the JRS intervention, including who exactly the intervention would serve.
  3. Prioritization and allocation of JRS resources, where we determine how the project fits with existing JRS projects in the area.
  4. Program design and planning, where we determine what the new project will look like.

At the end of the entire process, the needs assessment team is responsible for providing a needs assessment report, which pulls together the information gathered and often suggests how to initiate an intervention leading to the planning process.

In short, a needs assessment ensures that our involvement in the lives of refugees/IDPs is not only compassionate but also puts their needs, ideas and abilities before our own ideas regarding their situation.