Needs Assessment Methodology


This page describes the methodology of Distribute Aid’s needs assessment process.

The information contained in our needs assessment reporting can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Needed Items: This data describes the types and quantities of aid items that humanitarian aid organisations need. It is based on surveying groups in Distribute Aid’s network.
  2. Population Statistics: This includes population size and migration trends for displaced people in each region. This data is based on a mix of survey data from groups in Distribute Aid’s network and official statistics.
  3. Regional Context: This qualitative information about the humanitarian situation in different regions is curated by Distribute Aid team members and includes hyperlinked citations to news stories / official figures where appropriate.
  4. Unmet Human Needs: This measures of the extent to which the basic human needs of displaced people still need to be met. We rely on the internationally-recognised Sphere Standards, plus some additional DA-specific methodology, to translate Needed Items data into a quantitative number of “unmet human needs.”

This page goes into more detail about each of these.

Needed Items

The most prominent information emerging from the needs assessment process is data which describes the types and quantities of aid items that humanitarian organisations need. Distribute Aid gathers this data by sending a quarterly survey to our partners on the ground with instructions to indicate how much of each item they need for the ensuing three months. Hence, Distribute Aid releases new data four times a year.

Distribute Aid works primarily with groups supporting displaced people, and the needs described on this website are those reported by these groups. It is important to note that our needs assessment data is not (and does not claim to be) a definitive picture of the needs of every single displaced or otherwise disadvantaged person in each region in which we operate. Still, the information is useful for demonstrating the vast magnitude of unmet needs and determining which aid items definitely are needed by some groups in the region.

Using our needs explorer, you can see what items are needed and filter the information by region, item category, and specific item.

Population Statistics

On our quarterly survey, we ask each participating organisation how many people there are in their region or area who require access to NGO services (this may include refugees, asylum seekers, local houseless people or otherwise disadvantaged people), and how many people access their services (i.e. how many people their individual group serves each month). The average is then taken from the overall population sizes given in each region to give us the ‘People who access NGO services’. When calculating the ‘Number of people served’, the total sum of each group's given number is provided. Comparing these figures enables us to identify gaps in service provision, lack of capacity, or a balanced ratio of NGOs to beneficiaries. Where the total number of people served is higher than the population in that area, this would suggest that individuals are accessing multiple NGO programmes such as a food distribution and a clothing distribution.

As NGOs often cannot cover an entire region or country and not every NGO in a region or country filled out the form, an official figure (for example UNHCR or government figures) is provided as well where possible. The number of NGOs who responded to the survey from each region is also provided for the purpose of transparency and to indicate how large the data set is for these figures.

Regional Context

The regional context information includes an overview of each region, an explanation of the governmental response to migration, occasional news updates, and links to follow to stay up-to-date on the region. This information is continually updated by Distribute Aid volunteers; if you see something that needs to be updated or corrected, please email

Where a sentence or phrase is underlined, you can click through to a linked article where that information was found. You can also use these links for further reading. We hope these sections will provide more contextual background to the circumstances under which grassroots groups work and give a better understanding of why certain items are needed and why everyone should support these groups.

Unmet Human Needs

This is a measure of the extent to which the basic human needs of displaced people are not being met. We rely on the internationally-recognised Sphere Standards, plus some additional DA-specific methodology described below, to translate Needed Items data into a quantitative number of “unmet human needs.”

Sphere is an international organisation made up of NGOs and IGOs who have used their collective expertise to establish globally agreed international minimum standards for human rights. These standards apply to humanitarian work, and establish a baseline that responses must at a minimum meet (but aim to exceed). The standards detailed in the Sphere Handbook forms the bedrock of our calculation of unmet human needs. For example, according to Sphere Standards, each person should have 250 grams of body soap per month, 15 sanitary pads per month (for people who menstruate), and 150 diapers per month (for babies or people who are incontinent).

There are some items that Sphere does not consider basic human needs but which, in the context of displaced people, Distribute Aid believes are essential. This includes shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving foam, disposable razors, and condoms. As such, Distribute Aid counts needs for these items as unmet human needs alongside Sphere-recognised needs. Additionally, to measure unmet shelter needs, Distribute Aid looks at needs for items like tents. Although items like tents are not considered to meet Sphere needs, these items are often in high demand among humanitarian groups. and can be used as a proxy for estimating shelter needs that, per Sphere, can only truly be met with a safe, warm, permanent dwelling. This reflects two realities: (1) many people on the move and asylum seekers in Europe face deplorable living conditions, and (2) grassroots NGOs lack the capacity to provide people on the move with shelter that meets durability and square meterage requirements.

Other items may be highly needed and useful but are not considered to meet basic human needs. For example, educational materials, flashlights, and sun cream fall into this category.

Food is a basic human need, but the data we collect does not allow us to quantify food needs in the same way we can quantify needs for other goods. The Sphere Handbook's standards for food needs include many variables like nutritional value, calories etc. making an accurate analysis difficult. Needs vary depending on age, gender, atypical needs, and other individual considerations. Hence, with the data we have available, we cannot generate a count of unmet human needs for food.