Academic journal article Human Organization

Strengthening Rapid Assessments in Urban Areas: Lessons from Bangladesh and Tanzania

Academic journal article Human Organization

Strengthening Rapid Assessments in Urban Areas: Lessons from Bangladesh and Tanzania

Article excerpt

Understanding urban issues is extremely important for programming, especially for organizations that have traditionally focused on assisting poor households and communities in rural areas. Development organizations and governments frequently use rapid assessment methods because they have limited resources and little time to devote to longer-term, more complex research projects. Generally these methods employ qualitative techniques to solicit information from relatively small numbers of people in a short time. Researchers have raised questions about the reliability of these methods, and policy makers and other development practitioners, the primary audience for the findings if they are to have impact, sometimes doubt the validity of findings. This paper holds up CARE's experiences with rapid assessments in Bangladesh and Tanzania to widely accepted criteria for sound social science research: basically, whether feasible and ethical methods can generate accurate, valid, and reliable results that others, such as programmers and policy makers, will find useful. Experiences in Bangladesh and Tanzania suggest that the principal challenges to the validity of rapid assessments in urban areas can be met through use of representative samples; integration of qualitative and quantitative approaches; incorporation of team members with a variety of perspectives, knowledge areas, and professions; and linkages with local organizations and community members who are familiar with the economic, political, social, and cultural context of the city.

Key words: rapid assessment procedures, urban, research methods, livelihood security, Bangladesh, Tanzania

By 2025, over half the population in Asia and Africa will live in urban areas, as will more than 80 percent of those in Latin America (UN 2001). Governments and development agencies clearly must pay increasing attention to the needs of the urban poor and develop programs that take complex urban realities into account. But much of their understanding of livelihoods is built from a rural, agrarian knowledge base.

Rapid assessments are one way governments and development organizations can quickly gain an understanding of local urban conditions and identify programming needs. Rapid assessment methods generally employ teams to obtain information quickly from relatively small numbers of people. They use qualitative, frequently ethnographic and often participatory, techniques. By using a number of different approaches, a team can triangulate and increase confidence in its findings (Beebe 1995). Rapid assessments are often used in rural areas, and so include the well-known rapid rural assessments (RRA) and participatory rural appraisals (PRA) (Chambers 1994, 1997). They are less frequently employed to assess the livelihoods and needs of the urban poor (Moser and McIlwaine 1999; Ervin 1997; IIED 1994).

In 1997, CARE field offices in Bangladesh and Tanzania responded to rising concern about the urban poor by investigating urban conditions in those countries. CARE, the international relief and development nongovernmental organization (NGO), used rapid assessments to analyze needs and opportunities as part of the diagnostic phase of project and strategy planning. This is an appropriate use for rapid assessments as they provide relatively quick results that are sound enough for preliminary design and strategy decisions (Beebe 2001).

In these exercises, CARE faced two main challenges: strengthening assessment methods generally, and adapting approaches developed for rural areas to urban ones. Drawing on the authors' experience as technical advisors and team members involved in these assessments, this paper describes how CARE's assessments addressed both these challenges. A number of other sources describe general approaches and specific tools for rapid assessments, as well as general considerations and concerns about the use of rapid assessment procedures, and they will not be detailed here (Beebe 2001, 2002; Campbell 2001; Utarini, Winkvist, and Pelto 2001; Holland 1998; Scrimshaw and Hurtado 1987; IDS 2002; IIED 2002; RCPLA 2002). …

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