The assessment process
The first part of any assessment is to agree on why the assessment is being carried out and to identify any specific aspects of WASH that need to be looked at. An assessment that is carried out as part of a project to determine the need for latrines, for example, would need very different information than one looking at the possibility of setting up a waste composting scheme. This first part will normally be done by the team leaders working with the organisation that requested the survey or provided the funding for the work. It is important that representatives of the community being assessed should be part of this process so that they can influence the decisions and remain informed. The output from this initial stage of the process will be an overall aim, together with a series of objectives (you can think of objectives as the aims for each smaller piece of the work).
All assessments should end with the production of a report, and it is important at the start to consider who this report is for. This will determine what data needs to be collected and what sort of data analysis is done. This in turn will determine some of the skills required of the project team and may identify where specialised computer data processing software is required.
Based on the aim and objectives, the team should prepare a checklist of the information that needs to be collected. The advantages of using a checklist are that it:
- provides a standardised approach to what is reviewed during assessment
- helps supervisors to cover all issues without forgetting anything
- provides a means of documenting assessment findings in a simple manner that can be referred to in the future
- provides a record for tracking performance changes over time
- provides a basis for identifying needs for follow-up actions.
The information gathered during the assessment will come from both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are the information obtained by the survey team through observations, questionnaires and other methods, which are discussed in the next section. Secondary sources consist of the results of work that has already been done, such as previous surveys in the same area or in other locations that are similar to the survey area. Reviewing existing documents and reports can also provide valuable background information for the planned assessment. For example, demographic data such as the total population of the study area, the number of people of different age groups and the proportion of men and women will be useful.
Having prepared the plan and agreed the process with community representatives, at the start of the survey the team should arrive at the community as scheduled and on time. The visit should start with introductions to the community (usually done through a small group of community representatives), including descriptions of each person’s position and responsibility in the project. The team leader should explain the objective of the assessment and agree with the community representatives how the assessment will proceed. The time required for interviews, reviews, discussion and action planning should be set at this stage.
It is important to make sure that the community is aware that it is not being ‘judged’ in any way, but that the work is to find the best way of improving WASH in the community. At this point, the community should be reassured that all discussions with individuals and questionnaire responses will be treated in the strictest confidence.