Programming Essentials, Monitoring & Evaluation
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Situation analyses/Needs assessments (Formative research)

Last edited: October 31, 2010

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Formative research, also known as situation analyses or needs assessments, collect information and data needed to plan programmes and initiatives. They may describe the needs of the community or population, types and extent of violence against women and girls, the factors that put people at risk, the context in which the programme will be operating (political, environmental, social, cultural, economic, institutional), as well as what resources are available, and what interventions are currently being implemented and by whom.

This information is critical to the planning stage and should be collected before or during the development of a programme’s monitoring and evaluation framework.


The situation analysis is a comprehensive review of the situation at hand, providing an understanding of many contextual factors, such as the:

types and extent of violence against women and girls

needs within the population

strengths and weaknesses of the services available

laws, policies and plans that exist to address the issue

resources available to address the issue

knowledge, attitudes and practices of key actors within different sectors and within the community

formal and informal systems of justice, conflict resolution and leadershi

capacity and training opportunities for key officials in the security/police, justice and health sectors(duty-bearers)

civil society and government actors/stakeholders working on the issue

existence and functioning of coordinated responses or referrals

perpetuating factors that contribute to the prevalence and incidents of violence against women and girls

prevention activities underway

(Adapted from Vann, 2002 and RHCR 2004)


Needs assessments can be used to determine what the gap is between the existing situation and what is desired or what ‘ought’ to be. For example, a needs assessment of long-term medical and psychosocial care needs and services for women and girl rape survivors in a post-conflict community might be undertaken to determine whether there are adequate services, which will inform the programme planning period on expanding/ enhancing/ installing the support services that are lacking.


Needs assessments can be used to:

improve the quantity and quality of services available (such as shelters/safe spaces, legal aid facilities, one-stop shops, hotlines and others) by assessing what exists vis-à-vis what should be in place;

expand access to and use of existing services by survivors (and perpetrators) by assessing what factors affect people’s ‘choices’/preferences and pose barriers to utilizing those services;

enhance the knowledge and skills of individuals (for example programmes targeting duty-bears, such as judges, prosecutors, police, health care providers on their responsibilities; or specific community members being targeted within a programme, such adolescents in intimate partner relationships, men who batter or women and girls on their legal rights) by assessing the current knowledge and skill level against what is desired or required;

align existing (or lacking) national legislation on violence against women with international human rights standards by reviewing existing legal mechanisms against international standards and recommended practice;

develop, update or expand national policies and plans to address violence against women and girls by assessing the current frameworks vis-à-vis a comprehensive, multi-sectoral response;

improve the information and data available by surveying existing data collection and analysis systems; and

enhance the capacities of organizations to implement their programmes on violence against women and girls by assessing the knowledge and skills of staff, the protocols and policies that are in place, and the infrastructure needed to carry out the programme.

Much of the information for situation analyses and needs assessments can be collected from existing sources, though primary research can also be conducted.  If primary research is undertaken, then it is critically important that safety and ethical standards are followed.


Safety and ethical guidelines for conducting research on violence against women and girls should address issues, such as:

guaranteeing the safety of both respondents and interviewers;

ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of the interview;

providing special training on gender equality issues and violence against women to interviewers;

providing a minimal level of information or referrals for respondents in situations of risk; and

providing emotional and technical support for interviewers.

(United Nations, 2006)


Additional resources:

Putting Women First: Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence against Women (WHO, 2001).  Available in English, French and Spanish.

Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Interviewing Trafficked Women (WHO, 2003). Available in Armenian, Bosnian, Croatian, English. Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and Spanish.

Researching Violence against Women: A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists; Chapter 2: Ethical Considerations for Researching Violence Against Women (Path 2005), Available in English.

WHO Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Researching, Documenting and Monitoring Sexual Violence in Emergencies (WHO, 2007). Available in English and French.

Monitoring and Evaluation with Children (Plan Togo, 2006). Available in English.


Situation analyses and needs assessments can also be seen as interventions themselves, as they often initiate public discussion on violence against women and girls, raise awareness of the issue and its context, and opens dialogue among actors and within the community.  Communities can also be engaged directly, employing methods such as, participatory learning and action (PLA) and participatory action research (PAR).


Illustrative examples of situational analyses and mappings:

Reality Check: When Women’s NGOs Map Policies and Legislation on Violence against Women in Europe (European Women’s Lobby, 2007).  Available in English.

Taking Action: Gender-Based Violence in and around Schools in Swaziland and Zimbabwe (Mitchell and Mothobi-Tapela/UNICEF, 2004). Available in English.

Map of Gaps: The postcode lottery of Violence Against Women support services in Britain (Coy, Kelly and Foord/End Violence against WomenEquality and Human Rights Commission, 2009). Available in English.


Illustrative tools to conduct a needs assessments:

How to Conduct a Situation Analysis of Health Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault: Facility Checklist (The Southern African Gender Based Violence and Health Initiative, 2006). Available in English.

Rapid Assessment Tool for Sexual & Reproductive Health and HIV Linkages (International Planned Parenthood Federation, 2009). Though the focus is on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV and AIDS, the questions can be tailored specifically for violence against women. Available in Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

NGO Capacity Analysis: A Toolkit for Assessing and Building Capacities for High Quality Responses to HIV/AIDS (Frontiers Prevention Project and International HIV/AIDS Alliance, 2004) provides guidance on how to conduct an organizational needs assessment to develop capacities around responding to HIV and AIDS.  Though the content is not specific to violence against women, the method/approach can be adapted to different subject areas. Available in English.

Community Assessments on Women’s Health Care (Kidd and Orza,  International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS/Parliamentarians for Women’s Health) is based on a set of participatory exercises adapted by the International Center for Research on Women and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS project activities in Kenya and Namibia. The toolkit includes guidance on planning and preparing community assessments; facilitating workshops with various stakeholders; community health walks; health facility visits; and joint workshops.  Though the focus is on HIV and AIDS, the methodology and approaches can be tailored specifically for violence against women. Available in English.