Funding based on needs? A study on the use of needs assessment data by a major humanitarian health assistance donor in its decisions to allocate funds

Emma Olin, Johan von Schreeb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Downloads (Pure)


Background: International humanitarian assistance is essential for disaster-affected populations, particularly in resource scarce settings. To target such assistance, needs assessments are required. According to internationally endorsed principles, donor governments should provide funding for humanitarian assistance based on need.
Aim: The aim of this study is to explore a major donor’s use of needs assessment data in decision-making for allocations of funds for health-related humanitarian assistance contributions.
Setting: This is a case study of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), a major and respected international donor of humanitarian assistance.
Methods: To explore Sida’s use of needs assessment data in practice for needs-based allocations, we reviewed all decision documents and assessment memoranda for humanitarian assistance contributions for 2012 using content analysis; this was followed by interviews with key personnel at Sida.
Results: Our document analysis found that needs assessment data was not systematically included in Sida’s assessment memoranda and decision documents. In the interviews, we observed various descriptions of the concept of needs assessments, the importance of contextual influences as well as previous collaborations with implementing humanitarian assistance organizations. Our findings indicate that policies guiding funding decisions on humanitarian assistance need to be matched with available needs assessment data and that terminologies and concepts have to be clearly defined.
Conclusion: Based on the document analysis and the interviews, it is unclear how well Sida used needs assessment data for decisions to allocate funds. However, although our observations show that needs assessments are seldom used in decision making, Sida’s use of needs assessments has improved compared to a previous study. To improve project funds allocations based on needs assessment data, it will be critical to develop distinct frameworks for allocation distributions based on needs assessment and clear definitions, measurements and interpretations of needs.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS Currents
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • needs assessment
  • humanitarian assistance
  • disasters
  • donor decision-making

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Funding based on needs? A study on the use of needs assessment data by a major humanitarian health assistance donor in its decisions to allocate funds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this