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Key considerations: joint assessments and focus group discussions

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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Adapted from OECD/DAC, 2010:

  • Undertake joint assessments where possible. Assessments may be carried out internally by the targeted beneficiaries of an initiative (e.g. a national security institution) or may involve an external team (civil society, academic, or other non-governmental experts) supporting the planning and design phase. Coordination between the security sector and key health, legal and social service providers supporting survivors can enable critical information sharing, avoid duplication and use resources more efficiently. Other joint assessments may be taken between donors, or involving governments and civil society organizations.

Example: Needs assessment by Juzoor and the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (occupied Palestinian territories)

Since January 2009, the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Juzoor (funded by the European Union) have implemented a project which contributes to improving the overall delivery of legal, health and social services to women survivors of gender-based violence and those at risk of violence. As a first step, an independent needs assessment and mapping of service providers, academic institutions and police departments was conducted to inform the creation of the referral system.

There were four components of the needs assessment, which focused on examining gender-based violence in relation to the:
  • extent to which the issue is addressed by police departments, in order to identify service gaps and other needed components lacking in departments which receive survivors of violence. Sixteen centres were approached and agreed to participate.

  • existing legal, health and social services and procedures for survivors and women at risk of violence at seven West Bank governorates to review how violence is addressed by selected service providers and identify service gaps. 

  • extent to which the issue is addressed in service provider training curricula, in order to identify theoretical and practical training gaps of professionals who may interact with survivors across sectors and settings. Curricula from 34 academic programmes including Medicine, Nursing, Midwifery, Police Studies, Social Work, Law, Psychology, Gender and Development, Public Health and Management were assessed.

  • extent to which women survivors perceive their care provision needs are satisfied by service providers, to highlight service gaps and help to develop a comprehensive and holistic service. Forty-four women were targeted through a purposive sample for interviewing as part of the survey.

Key findings and recommendations to the police included:
  • Departments need to develop special units to serve women victims’ of violence, which are currently lacking and should be promoted and developed. They also lack necessary equipment for providing the best service and need support in that regard.

  • The establishment of family protection units in select governorates is promising and should be supported to expand to all governorates.

  • Databases need to be instituted in departments which lack them and further analyzed for content and developed were they exist.

  • A national training program on violence against women and girls for police workforce is recommended, as well as an in-depth review of the Police Academy curricula.

  • All police departments must have trained police for dealing with violence. The lack of specifically trained police at 50% of surveyed departments highlights the need to initiate such training immediately.

  • Follow-up of survivors by female police is to be commended and maintained.

  • Protocols on coordination with other serviced providers should be reviewed and further developed as part of a national referral system.

  • Procedures for dealing with survivors must be written, clearly noting responsibility, for reference and accountability purposes as well as consistent service provision.

Source: Aghabekian, Varsen. 2009. Study on Violence Against Women: “Promoting women’s rights and combating violence against women: Building a sustainable legal-health-social service referral system in the Palestinian Occupied Territory”. Juzoor and Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling.
  • Ensure assessments capture people’s understanding of their security needs. Security concerns of national governments may differ from those of individuals, and are likely to differ between groups of people (ie. women and girls may define security differently from men and boys and have different security needs). It is important for security actors (from leaders, policy-makers to uniformed personnel) to understand these perspectives, particularly when and why people feel unsafe and what type of security they require. Different groups can make distinct contributions to security in their communities. For example, women who work in fields away from their immediate community may have knowledge of incidence and patterns of gender-based violence that can inform the assignment of daily patrols. Girls who experience insecurity when travelling to/from school or around educational facilities (such as latrines/ outhouses), are likely to have critical security information on the perpetrators, locations and timing of attacks, which can help to identify appropriate reinforcement of school infrastructure and adjustments of police or other security personnel presence in and around schools. Women may also have a key role in local dispute resolution mechanisms that can provide police with important information related to preventing incidents of violence.


Illustrative example: occupied Palestinian territories

Between June and November 2009, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces and Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development conducted a study using focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with Palestinian women and girls in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip to draw out their perspectives on security. The methodology included:

  • Semi-structured focus group discussions (35 total) with women and girls in seven governorates

  • Between 6 and 12 participants in each focus group

  • An average time of one and a half hours given for each discussion

  • Intentional all-female groups given the sensitive nature of the topic

  • Criteria for participant selection included: area of residence, age, and main sphere of social activity. See specific focus group questions below.

  • Open-question approach that encouraged participant discussion and allowed them to introduce issues not mentioned by the facilitator, covering a variety of topics related to women and girls’ perceptions of security.

  • Discussion conducted in Arabic by a female facilitator who followed a specific questioning route designed for the study and documented by a female note-taker who recorded the discussions for subsequent transcription and translation into English.

Other considerations

  • Given limitations to the type of information participants are willing to share in a group setting, especially in regards to sensitive issues, eight in-depth interviews were also conducted with select focus group participants to complement the information gathered during group discussions

  • Interviews should be conducted using neutral and non-judgmental language, framing questions to elicit open answers, and avoiding ‘closed questions’, which result in “yes” and “no” answers.

Source: Chabhan et al,. 2010.Why Palestinian Women and Girls Do Not Feel Secure. Geneva. DCAF.


Example: Focus Group Discussion Questions

Introduction: The facilitator provides a brief introduction to the purpose of the study and explains the confidentiality rules for the session.

Opening Question

Can you introduce yourself to the group and tell us how you reacted when you were asked to participate in this study?

Introductory Question

A lot of reports say security is an issue for women in (country/ community). What do you think about that? (Do you think it is true?)

Transition Questions

If you asked your friends about their concerns for their security, what would they say?

Would you say that women feel secure in your community? Can you give specific examples?

Key Questions

  • What are women in (country/ community) mostly afraid of when they are in the streets/ at work (or school)/ at home?

  • (If violence has not been mentioned in the previous responses) What about violence in the public spaces/ at work/ school and at home? Would you say women in your community are concerned about violence?

  • Who can women in (country/ community) turn to for help if they experience violence?


  • If your friends were confronted with violence, who would you recommend they go to for help? And who would you recommend they avoid?

  • What do you think of the way the authorities in (country/ community) handle violence against women? (if not mentioned, specifically ask about the police, social services, hospitals and courts)

  • What do you think of the way other organisations (non-governmental organisations) handle violence against women?

  • What should be done to make women in (country/ community) feel more secure?

Ending Questions

  • In your opinion, what is the most important thing that was said today?

  • If you could talk to governmental officials, what would you recommend they change in order to provide more protection for women?

  • Is there anything you wanted to say and did not get a chance to say?

Adapted from: Chabhan et al. 2010. Why Palestinian Women and Girls Do Not Feel Secure. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

  • Acknowledge existing perceptions and assumptions, and focus on understanding the specific experiences of women and girls. To ensure local relevance and identification of appropriate recommendations to women’s security issues, needs assessments require investment in tools and methods, such as in-depth contextual situational analysis and involve cooperation and contact with civil society actors working on the issue and who work directly with survivors. Examples of such assessments include: