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A.4 Data Collection Methods and Analysis

A combination of different sources and types of data is required to design and plan a WASH response. Sources of information include both primary and secondary data. Types of information include qualitative and quantitative data. It is important to select the most appropriate methodologies in order to conduct timely, relevant and effective assessments.

Primary data is gathered directly from the affected population. It is collected by assessment teams through fieldwork, most often through face-to-face interviews T.23 or discussions with members of the affected community T.14. It may also be gathered through other methods including Community Mapping T.7, phone interviews, social media and email exchange T.44, radio communication T.38 and direct Observation T.28. For hygiene promotion (HP) purposes, primary data collection is an important way to engage with the population (chapter  E ) at an early stage of the programme design. It also ensures that the project is inclusive and relevant at the local level and that the assessment builds a holistic and accurate picture of the affected population. 

Secondary data has usually been collected before the primary data and has undergone at least one layer of analysis before its inclusion in the assessment. Secondary data may be in the form of published research, media reports and/or data that has been cleaned, analysed and collected for purposes other than the assessment (such as academic research or agency or sector specific monitoring reports). 

Both primary and secondary data can be collected and analysed using quantitative or qualitative assessment methods.

Quantitative methods collect numerical data through surveys or by working with pre-existing statistical data. Findings can either be applied across groups of people, to explain a particular phenomenon, or to describe a characteristic. They are useful during the assessment phase as they measure coverage, knowledge and practices. Data collection methods may include structured Observation T.28, surveys and checklists (T.24 and A.8), polls, telephone or face-to-face Interviews T.23. Analysis of quantitative methods requires some knowledge of statistics but software is available to support this. 

Qualitative methods are useful during the assessment phase to collect and analyse data that reveals attitudes, perceptions or intentions e.g. to determine people’s perception of risk or the barriers to healthy behaviours (chapter  B ). 

Qualitative data is what people describe or illustrate (through photographs for example). It is usually analysed by identifying common themes and issues of concern and grouping them to draw broader conclusions. The results of qualitative data analysis should not be translated into percentages or numerical data without a clear explanation (e.g. although numbers can be obtained using Pocket Chart Voting T.31, they cannot be used to represent the rest of the population). The use of more general terms can help to indicate, for example, if the majority or only a few people expressed a particular view. 

Triangulation compares several different data sources and methods to cross check and confirm findings. For example, teachers, community health workers, children and parents’ perspectives on HP at school can be compared to prevent assumptions from being made. Triangulation can strengthen conclusions or identify areas for further work.

Process & Good Practice

  • Weigh up the advantages of qualitative and quantitative methods relative to your assessment purpose to decide which methods are appropriate and when in the response. 

  • Use a combination of methods that are both quantitative (how many functioning toilets are in operation?) and qualitative (how do women feel about going to the toilet at night and what barriers to access do they face?). 

  • Gather secondary data. Common sources of quantitative secondary data are the Demographic and Health Survey, the Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey and any existing Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) or Knowledge, Practices and Coverage (KPC) reports, as well as current mortality, morbidity and other epidemiological data from the health sector.

  • KPC and KAP surveys T.24 are the most common quantitative methods used in the WASH humanitarian sector to assess, plan, monitor and evaluate WASH programs but may not always be feasible in the acute phase of an emergency.

  • In recent years, the Wash’Em approach F.22 the Doer/Non-Doer [T.329 and Barrier and Motivator Analysis T.3 have been used more broadly to inform HP programmes in the humanitarian sector.

  • Choose between collecting primary data using pen and paper or tablets. First, consider the most convenient method for the affected population and then which collection method will allow quick and accurate analysis of the collected data. 

  • Ensure that the competencies needed for quantitative methods are in place: specific skills and data are required (e.g. household lists in villages) to ensure the validity of the results. 

  • Plan using the four basic steps to analyse qualitative data: (1) Organise data, (2) Shape or code the data, (3) Interpret and summarise the information and (4) Explain the information.

  • Triangulate information using different methods and sources and cross-check findings to minimise the bias of using only one method and increase the reliability of the data. 

  • Consider using a two-stage stratified random sampling method (cluster sampling or Lot Quality Assurance Sampling) if it is not possible to acquire a list of units when carrying out a quantitative survey. A technique called ‘sampling to redundancy’ is often used with qualitative methods. This is where several individuals or groups may be asked to discuss an issue such as access to water until it is clear that no new issues are being revealed.



To ensure that appropriate methods, sources and tools for data collection and analysis are selected.


  • Collecting and analysing primary quantitative and qualitative data requires different resources and expertise, so the choice of methodology must be made carefully.

  • Quantitative data, if collected rigorously using the appropriate methods and analysed critically, can provide information that can be applied to the larger population. It does not however provide an in-depth qualitative description of the experience of the affected population.

  • Qualitative data can provide rich and detailed information about different groups and their perspectives on specific social and cultural issues related to WASH. It can capture diverse opinions from all sections of the community.

  • It is essential to consider gender, age and specific vulnerabilities (such as disability) in the selection of assessment methods (E.3 to E.5).

  • Sampling bias is often a major flaw in an assessment and can lead to inconclusive and unreliable results.


Qualitative and quantitative research techniques to collect, collate, analyse, and synthesise information for humanitarian needs assessment

ACAPS (2012): Qualitative and Quantitative Research Techniques for Humanitarian Needs Assessment. An Introductory Brief

Practical guidance on assessment and data collection

Currion, P. (2014): Humanitarian Needs Assessment. The Good Enough Guide, Practical Action Publishing. ACAPS, ECB

Practical manual on hygiene promotion including information on assessment and planning

Ferron, S., Morgan, J. et al. (2007): Hygiene Promotion. A Practical Manual for Relief and Development, Practical Action Publishing. ISBN: 978-1853396410

Guidance on designing questionnaires and sampling

ACAPS (2016): Questionnaire Design. How to Design a Questionnaire for Needs Assessments in Humanitarian Emergencies

Impact Initiatives (2020): Research Design Guidance: Sampling