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Chapter 3 Tools and approaches

Assessments and profiling


Assessments provide the basis on which many of the key decisions in an emergency are made, and as such are a vital part of emergency response. Similarly, profiling is aimed at understanding the needs of displaced people, usually in conflict settings. Undertaking assessments and profiling in urban areas in relation to conflict and disasters is complex   for many reasons: density, spread, sheer numbers of people, ‘hidden’ vulnerability (where people may prefer to remain invisible), and existing high levels of poverty, which makes it difficult to identify people in need specifically due to humanitarian circumstances (such as IDPs and refugees in protracted crises).

In recent years, aid agencies and academics have done a considerable amount of work to improve practice and knowledge in urban assessment and profiling. This section discusses multi-sectoral and single-sector assessments, identifies a number of sector-specific urban assessment toolkits, and reviews profiling in urban displacement. The section ends by referencing assessments relating to urban violence. This section closely links to the sections on targeting and response analysis and context analysis. It also relates to Section 3.4 on geospatial analysis and mapping.

3.6.1 Multi-sectoral assessments

A 2017 systematic review of best practice in urban assessments recommends taking a multi- sectoral approach:

Sector-based vulnerability analyses and targeting approaches are ill suited to complex urban crises, where needs are interrelated. A population’s needs for shelter, WaSH, health, food security and livelihoods do not exist in isolation from one another. Rather, needs interact to shape vulnerability, and must thus be met with a multi-sectoral approach to guide targeting.+R. B. Patel et al., What Practices are Used to Identify and Prioritize Vulnerable Populations Affected by Urban Humanitarian Emergencies? A Systematic Review, Humanitarian Evidence Programme (Oxford: Oxfam GB, 2017) (, p. 31.

Taking a multi-sectoral approach in urban areas is also recommended in IFRC’s shelter assessment guidelines.+PASSA: Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness (Geneva: IFRC, 2011) ( There are however concerns about multi-sectoral assessments. For instance, in addressing shelter, there is a risk that needs are reduced ‘purely to the number of damaged buildings’, and that ‘Nuances such as markets analysis, tenure needs and spatial uses are therefore lost’+L. Babister, ‘The Grand Bargain: Challenge or Opportunity for the Shelter Sector?’, in Global Shelter Cluster, The State of Humanitarian Shelter and Settlements 2018 (Geneva: IFRC and UNHCR, 2018) ( (single-sector assessments are discussed further below).

A number of multi-sectoral assessment toolkits are available. Urban-specific toolkits include the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s urban multi-sector vulnerability assessment tool (UMVAT).+See This is used in displacement contexts and includes advice on initial assessment planning, tool contextualisation, data analysis and report writing. Tools include: a multi-sector questionnaire for use in KoBo Toolbox for mobile devices; a guidance document (including assessment methodology, sampling techniques, aspects to consider during contextualisation, data collection techniques and approaches to trend and data analysis); focus group discussion and key informant checklists; and training materials. See

Another source of  urban-specific  technical  guidance  is  ACAPS’  Rapid  Humanitarian Assessment in  Urban  Settings,  which  covers  research  questions  and  approaches  according  to a number of urban themes. See

Other multi-sectoral assessment toolkits that have an urban application include:

3.6.2 Sector-specific urban assessment toolkits

A number of sectors are ‘urbanising’ their approaches. For example the Food Security and Livelihoods in Urban Settings Working Group has produced a number of guidance documents on conducting food security assessments in urban areas, piloting new approaches in a number of cities including Harare, Guatemala City and Kinshasa. See

Box 3.10 The Syria Needs Analysis Project

The Syria Needs Analysis Project (SNAP) was undertaken by ACAPS and MapAction from 2012 to 2015. The aim was to provide information to operational agencies working with Syrian refugees living in urban areas of Jordan. Particular challenges included limited information and a fast-changing situation. In this context, SNAP aimed to contribute to improved targeting and more efficient responses by providing capacity-building and technical support for undertaking assessments. Key activities included secondary data reviews within multi- sector needs analyses, producing scenarios relating to different political and conflict-related outcomes (in order to enable better planning) and analysis of sectors.

Source: SNAP: Syria Needs Analysis Project (

A number of learning products have emerged around the  use  of  cash  and  assessments. Although developed primarily as a guide to implementing cash transfers in urban contexts, Cash Transfer Programming in Urban Emergencies,+Cross and Johnston, Cash Transfer Programming in Urban Emergencies ( published by  the  Cash  Learning Partnership (CaLP), includes advice on how existing assessment tools can be applied to urban contexts. See

3.6.3 Profiling in urban displacement

Profiling can be defined as ‘The collaborative process of identifying internally displaced groups or individuals through data collection, including counting, and analysis, in order to take action to advocate on their behalf, to protect and assist them and, eventually, to help bring about a solution to their displacement’.+IDMC and OCHA, Guidance on Profiling Internally Displaced Persons (Geneva: IDMC/OCHA, 2008) (

In urban areas, profiling has been used to ‘obtain better information about the range of experiences, needs and capacities of the displaced, their host families and their non- displaced neighbours in urban settings’.+JIPS, Guidance for Profiling Urban Displacement Situations: Challenges and Solutions (Geneva: Joint IDP Profiling Service, 2014) ( The Global Alliance for Urban Crises identifies six elements of urban profiling:+P. Sitko and A. Massella, Urban Profiling for Better Responses to Humanitarian Crises, GAUC, 2019 (

  1. The use of spatial analysis, wherein ‘[urban] conditions are analyzed at granular levels to be able to understand the specific challenges of different neighborhoods and the types of short and long-term responses required’.
  1. Prioritising a people-centred approach – ‘The needs of specific population groups must be analyzed both on their own and in relation to the urban population as a whole’.
  1. Recognising change over time, eg. noting history and ‘Comparing present vulnerabilities with past conditions’.
  1. Analyse the entirety of a city, noting in particular the interlinked nature of systems.
  1. Collaborative action ‘for a more coherent and coordinated response’.
  1. Local ownership: ‘Bringing in local stakeholders both as drivers of the process as well as conveners of expertise can vastly enrich the usefulness of the data and the quality of the analysis’.

For further discussion and elaboration and lessons from practice, see P. Sitko and A. Massella, Urban Profiling For Better Responses To Humanitarian Crises, GAUC, 2019 (

Undertaking a profiling exercise can be expensive and complex. Clarity among actors on the purpose and scope of the work is important. One study found that, in profiling under- taken in the Middle East, ‘many of the people involved did not realise at the beginning that the extensive data-collection and analysis exercises undertaken would not directly result in a useable targeting tool’ leading to ‘widespread frustration at the perceived slowness   of the process’.+K. Sharp, Targeting Cash and Food Assistance for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt: Issues Emerging, Lessons Being Learned, Consultancy report for UNHCR and WFP, June 2015. Supporters of profiling argue that it is necessary in order to better tailor responses to assist displaced people in complex urban environments. According to the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS), profiling comprises:

  • A process of data gathering, beginning with building consensus on what needs to be gathered and how, with a validation at the end by relevant
  • Collaboration is important, among key stakeholders such as government and In this respect, profiling is an important means of engaging with affected communities.+See for example J. Basedow, C. Westrope and A. Meaux, Urban Stakeholder Engagement and Coordination: Guidance Note for Humanitarian Practitioners (London: IIED, 2017) (
  • Comparing displaced and non-displaced communities in order to improve targeting.
  • Data is disaggregated, e.g. by location, gender and age.

JIPS is an inter-agency service established in 2009 to provide technical  support  to government, humanitarian and development actors seeking to improve their information about internally displaced populations. See

Box 3.11 Profiling refugee groups and local communities in Delhi

In 2013, JIPS and the Feinstein International Center undertook a profiling exercise of Afghan, Burmese, Somali and Indian households in the same neighbourhoods in the Indian capital Delhi. The aim was to identify differences in vulnerabilities. The findings indicated that vulnerabilities were indeed different. For example, Burmese and Somali refugees had more difficulty finding housing and jobs than Afghans and Indians.

Source: JIPS, Guidance For Profiling Urban Displacement Situations: Challenges and Solutions, (Geneva: Joint IDP Profiling Service, 2014) (, p. 24.

Profiling toolkits include:

  • The JIPS Essential Toolkit (JET) provides online tools including questionnaires, data collection and data analysis approaches for profiling. See

3.6.4 Undertaking assessments relating to urban violence

Assessments in relation to urban violence inevitably need careful planning. The ALNAP Lessons Paper Humanitarian Interventions in Situations of Urban Violence+E. Lucchi, Humanitarian Interventions in Situations of Urban Violence, ALNAP Lessons Paper (London: ODI, 2013) ( recommends and discusses a number of steps, such as the need to carefully assess local needs and strengths, to conduct repeat assessments and to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. See also Section 1.2.2 on urban violence.

In summary, assessments are vital to effective programming in post-disaster and conflict situations. A range of tools exist, and more are almost certainly on the way as knowledge and expertise in urban programming continue to develop. Multi-sectoral assessments are considered good practice, though these may not always be the ‘right’ approach in every context. The visualisation of data through maps and spatial analysis is an important aspect. Profiling is also increasingly gaining recognition as a valuable tool for ‘rooting’ humanitarian action within specific contexts.