UNHCR-NGO Toolkit for Practical Cooperation on Resettlement. Operational activities - Participatory assessments: Definitions and FAQs

Resettlement, June 2011

a) What is a Participatory Assessment?

Participatory Assessment is a process of building partnerships with refugee women and men of all ages and backgrounds by promoting meaningful participation through structured dialogue. Participatory Assessment involves holding separate discussions with women, girls, boys, and men of concern, including adolescents, in order to gather accurate information on the specific protection risks they face and the underlying causes, to understand their capacities, and to hear their proposed solutions.

Participatory Assessment provides people of concern with an opportunity to explain the protection risks they face and to participate as partners in the design of programmatic responses to issues affecting their lives. Participatory Assessment also helps mobilize communities to take collective action to enhance their own protection and forms the basis for the implementation of a rights and community-based approach.

Participatory Assessment is an effective, field-tested methodology for gaining an understanding of the needs and capacities that reside within individuals and groups considerations that should inform all planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

b) Why should UNHCR and NGOs work together on Participatory Assessments?

UNHCR's NGO partners are often responsible for a range of interventions to assist persons of concern. It is therefore important that NGOs are involved in Participatory Assessments so that they know the needs and capacities of the population.

Protection risks faced by people of concern should be discussed and considered holistically. Reviewing and analyzing protection risks, priorities and solutions through Participatory Assessment therefore requires an interdisciplinary approach.

UNHCR ensures that multifunctional teams include the wider circle of actors on the ground, including NGO partners. A multifunctional team is, at a minimum, composed of staff specialized in protection, programme and community services. Ideally, it should include female and male staff, both national and international and of different levels.

By participating together in a process where partners build shared understanding, ownership and responsibility for achieving common operational goals for the benefit of the persons of concern, relations between UNHCR and NGO partners in UNHCR's operations are further enhanced.

c) How can NGOs engage in Participatory Assessments with UNHCR?

There are various ways NGOs can engage in Participatory Assessments with UNHCR depending on the operational contexts. The following examples provide key areas where NGOs' engagement is particularly useful.

Enhance wider Participatory Assessment through access to the wider urban community

The main challenges in conducting a Participatory Assessment in a non-camp setting involving urban refugees are identifying ways of establishing regular contact with people of concern, gathering reliable data, and building a complete picture of the protection risks. In such cases, the key to applying Participatory Assessment successfully is to identify the best methods of reaching members of the community. Access to the wider urban community can be gradually established through NGO involvement. NGOs can assist in making contact with urban refugee women and men already known to them and find out more about informal meeting places and networks through which a wider Participatory Assessment can be conducted.

Participate in a Multifunctional Team to conduct Participatory Assessment

As mentioned in Question 2, NGO partners form an integral component of a multidisciplinary team in conducting Participatory Assessment to ensure holistic review and analysis of protection risks faced by persons of concern.

Organize and analyze the information gathered during the Participatory Assessment

NGO partners, as members of a multidisciplinary team, are involved in the organization and analysis of the information gathered during the Participatory Assessment. The analysis is carried out from a holistic perspective to prioritize the most urgent protection risks raised and solutions proposed in order produce an overall synthesis report.

Provide timely and appropriate follow-up interventions to protection problems / highly vulnerable cases identified through the Participatory Assessment

NGO partners are one of the key actors in ensuring timely and appropriate interventions for pressing protection problems emerging from the discussion and/or highly vulnerable cases identified during the Participatory Assessment.

Provide input to UNHCR's Operations Plan development

Further to participation in the Participatory Assessment, NGO partners are involved in UNHCR's annual participatory planning workshop to develop the Operations Plan.

d) What are the key elements / considerations of a Participatory Assessment?

Following elements / considerations are particularly important to bear in mind when conducting a Participatory Assessment.

Ethics of participation

The safety, rights and well-being of refugees and other persons of concern who share their experiences must be safeguarded. Persons of concern do not have to participate in the assessment if they prefer not to, should not be prompted to give information in public which embarrasses them, makes them feel uncomfortable or makes them relive traumatic experiences. Persons of concern must be told the purpose and process of the assessment and be informed of its limitations, so that false expectations are not raised. Persons of concern must be reassured that confidentiality of information sources will be respected and must be kept informed of how the information they provide is being used and of any follow-up actions taken.

Follow up actions

Follow-up to Participatory Assessment exercises is an essential step. First, it lets refugees know that they have been heard and that their views are being taken into account, even if funding is restricted. Second, following up keeps channels of communication between refugees and multifunctional teams open, keeping the exchange of information flowing and enabling trust to be built over time. Third, proper follow up enables Multifunctional Teams to validate certain information.

UNHCR and NGO partners should a) take immediate action, where feasible, to address protection-related problems; b) think preventively and apply preventive measures if there are indications that an individual or group is 'at risk'; c) follow up on commitments and agreements made and give feedback to the community on their concerns; and d) inform the refugees of the overall findings of the participatory assessment, resulting actions, short and long term and next steps as well as any limitations.