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Conducting Preliminary Assessments

Last edited: December 24, 2013

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  • Conducting preliminary assessments is the first step in designing livelihoods programming.  All assessment processes should examine the environment using a variety of techniques, outlined below.

Types of Assessment

Key Objectives

Sample Tools

Participatory Needs Assessment



  • Ensure the participation and leadership of women and girls in all assessment measures to determine:
    • existing skills and experiences of the target population
    • current economic coping strategies
    • local demand for services or goods
    • amount of local competition
    • availability of necessary resources
    • possible challenges
    • potential sustainability of a project


When conducting assessments, it is best to adapt already designed and validated instruments and questions.  For samples of existing tools, see:


Building Livelihoods

A Field Manual for Practitioners

in Humanitarian Settings Women’s Refugee Commission., 2009a. pp 297-320.



Preventing Gender-Based Violence, Building Livelihoods: Guidance and Tools for Improved Programming Krause-Vilmar, J. 2011. New York: Women’s Refugee Commission.

pp. 13-24


Conflict Analysis

  • Consider the stage of conflict in planning economic strengthening activities.  For example, if repatriation or resettlement is likely to happen in the near future, market research must be conducted in the return area so that income-generating activities can be continued upon relocation.  Long-term strategies should consider what skills will be most useful post-conflict (Chynoweth & Patrick, 2007).

Safety Mapping Exercises

  • Assess the various risks faced by women and girls when earning a living.
    • Identify risk factors for sexual exploitation and transactional sex.
    • Identify factors that place women and girls at risk of harm, such as lack of law and order, economic hardship, and separation of families and social groups.
    • Identify individuals who may be particularly vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, female-headed households, disabled females, ethnic minorities, survivors of violence, out-of school youth, etc. (GBV Area of Responsibility Working Group, 2010).


Example: An aid agency in Aw Barre Camp in Ethiopia designed a livelihoods intervention after observing women borrowing items such as sugar, cigarettes and tomatoes from local community members to sell inside the camp. Refugee women who did not make enough profit from their sales to pay back the financial equivalent of the “loan” faced intimidation, harassment and extortion.  Borrowing from the outside community over time became increasingly difficult due to deteriorating relations between host and camp populations.  In response, the aid agency designed an intervention to support the burgeoning camp economy in a safer, more profitable way. Practitioners established 20 small women’s groups and gave them sufficient start-up capital to purchase vegetables or meats in Jijiga, the closest regional market where goods are well priced. One person from each group was assigned to do all of the purchasing for the group to minimize transportation costs. The vegetables and meats purchased in Jijiga were then resold within the camp in a small market setting. After two months of participating in the intervention, some groups reported that they were already earning profits. One participant interviewed said she could sell one sheep or goat per day, particularly during Ramadan.  The aid agency implementing the intervention recognized that household nutritional status was of great concern to many who might not be able to purchase goods in the market. Therefore, the agency simultaneously established a backyard gardening programme for 188 women, including a small number of women from the local community. Incorporating women from the local community was an important step toward defusing some of the tension between refugee and local community members. The agency provided women with the tools, training and seeds to start gardens on the small plots of land behind their homes. While the objective of the intervention was to improve household nutritional status, the aid agency anticipated that some participants would be able to sell or trade some of their produce as well.


Source: Excerpted from Women’s Refugee Commission, 2009b, “Working Women at Risk: the Links Between Making a Living and Sexual Violence for Refugees in Ethiopia.” New York: WRC, p. 9)