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A.7 Community Profile

A WASH Community Profile aims to understand community structures and dynamics and determine which individuals and groups are vulnerable to which WASH-related risks and why. A good community profile is a participatory exercise designed to deepen understanding of the situation in order to design and adapt an effective and sustainable response.

Communities are rarely homogenous entities, yet broad-brush assessments tend to assume that everyone in the community is affected in the same way (chapter  E ). In any setting, refugees and displaced persons will often come from many different backgrounds. They may speak different languages and belong to different social groups, clans or castes, have different educational levels and different religions. Some people will have more power and influence than others; some will be marginalised. The community will be composed of men, women, boys and girls. There may be people who are transgender or non-binary. Within families, it is important to understand who makes the decisions about health and hygiene and how this can compromise or support the objectives of the WASH intervention. 

A gender analysis focuses on the different roles and responsibilities that society assigns to men and women, boys and girls and the power differences inherent in such roles. Women and girls may have certain WASH roles expected of them, for example they are often expected to collect water but not to mend broken pumps and they may not have control over household or community finances to be able to do this. Addressing the problem often requires an understanding of these different roles and power dynamics E.3

Particular groups are often assumed to be more vulnerable than others (e.g. women or refugees). Community dynamics are complex and, in many emergencies, roles and responsibilities may have changed. Families may have become separated. Men may be left caring for children and need extra support to maintain their children’s health and hygiene. A community profile can help to identify the gender roles and responsibilities of women and men concerning water management and health-seeking behaviours and how these might have been altered as a result of the crisis.

Understanding the community is important because it can lead to a more effective WASH response. For example, some groups may be forbidden from accessing water points or from sharing sanitation facilities and face pressure from more powerful groups. Children under five can represent between 15-20% of the population but are often a neglected group in WASH responses E.4. Some people will have specific WASH needs due to their disabilities E.5. Women and girls will have particular needs for Menstrual Health and Hygiene P.7 and older people and persons with disabilities may have mobility or incontinence issues that prevent them from easily using sanitation facilities (E.5 and P.4). 

Community profiling can also help to identify existing local WASH capacity A.6 and where and how community capacity can be strengthened. For example, engineers, technicians and community workers may already exist within the affected population, or the assessment might reveal that grandmothers play a key role in influencing health behaviour.

Process & Good Practice

  • Develop community profiles as part of an iterative assessment process. During an acute emergency it will not be possible or desirable to gather all the information required at once and in some responses the profile may change as new groups arrive. Information from various sources should inform the profile and triangulate the findings.

  • Set regular time aside to review any gaps in the community profile. There will always be more to learn and it is important to remain open to challenging the findings and assumptions that are being made.

  • Start by reviewing social and economic characteristics using secondary data sources when available.

  • Cross check profiling information by talking to a variety of stakeholders in the area. This could include staff from different agencies working in the area, male and female community members and the local administration.

  • Ensure that inclusion and disability are considered across all categories of the profile. For example, findings about access to education, health care and transport should include those with disabilities.

  • Include the following information in the profile where relevant:

    • Religions and ethnicities (including minorities)
    • Influential groups or individuals
    • Marginalised groups 
    • Leadership structures
    • Livelihood groups
    • Land ownership
    • Gender and power relations
    • Access to education
    • Access to health care (who, how far, cost, trust, availability of staff and medicine)
    • Access to transport
    • Public health profile including WASH risks, immunisation coverage, nutrition and infant feeding
    • Recreational facilities
    • Historical and cultural facilities 
    • History and experience of crises/emergencies or similar disasters
    • Socio-cultural value systems and beliefs
    • Community WASH and response priorities for different groupsExisting WASH-related capacity and skills
    • Formal and Informal trusted communication channels and communication preferences (chapter  C )
  • Gather the information by talking to the following potential community stakeholders:

    • Grassroots/community-based organisations such as youth groups or cooperatives 
    • Religious groups and leaders
    • Schools, colleges and universities
    • Health centres and clinics
    • Disability groups - including organisations of persons with disabilities
    • Senior citizen groups
    • Commercial facilities (markets, shops, businesses and trade organisations)
    • Public interest groups
    • Representative bodies such as co-ops and unions
  • Use a variety of tools to build up the profile. Community Mapping T.7 can provide an overview of the local situation and explore specific issues such as who might use, or be excluded from, specific water sources or WASH resources and why. Focus Group Discussions T.14, Key Informant Interviews T.23 and interactive assessment methods such as Exploratory (Transect) Walks T.52 and Three Pile Sorting T.51 may also be used.

  • Consider using a visualisation method (such as a large whiteboard or poster) that allows the whole team to access and provide input to the profile and cross check the findings through discussion and feedback with affected communities. 



To understand the different WASH needs, vulnerabilities, capacities and priorities of different groups within the affected community.


  • The people affected by an emergency will not experience it in the same way. Within any community, there will be different groups with different capacities, needs and priorities.

  • Building up a community profile is an ongoing element of the assessment process; information requirements need to be prioritised.

  • The process of compiling and analysing the community profile should be as interactive as possible so that decisions are made with the people whose lives they will affect.


Checklist for social demographics

IFRC (2013): Sociocultural Assessment Tool for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programmes

Overview of assessment process and key participatory methods

UNHCR (2008): A Community Based Approach in UNHCR Operations

How to identify protection, gender and inclusion issues in the assessment

IFRC (2021): Protection, Gender and Inclusion in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion - Leaving No-One Behind in WASH (Available in different languages)

Information on how to do a gender analysis and identify gender indicators in a WASH programme

CARE Australia (2014): Gender Equality Programming. Guidance Note WASH. Ensuring Gender Equality Programming in Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion