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close this bookEmergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)
close this folderPart 1: Information management systems
close this folderData gathering and emergency management
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEstablishing the baseline
View the documentQuantitative vs. qualitative methods of data gathering
View the documentThe need for an “inter-agency” approach
View the documentHardware and software tools for data-gathering

Quantitative vs. qualitative methods of data gathering

Emergency managers are putting aside the age-old academic debate concerning the value of quantitative vs. qualitative techniques of data-gathering, realizing that each approach has much to offer in helping collect the information needed to design or modify the response. Assessment teams, monitors, and evaluators alike increasingly employ specialists in both approaches to gather data.


On the quantitative side, researchers and public health experts are often called upon to use statistical sampling in determining the magnitude of emergency conditions or concerns such as:

· the incidence of malnutrition in the population of children under 5 years of age
· average caloric intake per person participating in a relief food distribution program
· average household size in a refugee camp
· the prevalence of a particular disease in a displaced population
· the number of earthquake-resistant buildings in a large city

Field practitioners sometimes object that the demands imposed by emergency conditions preclude the use of “time-consuming” statistical techniques. More likely, it is the absence of available expertise at the start of the emergency which is the prime factor in the failure to apply such techniques. Organizations such as Mcins Sans Frontis and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly demonstrated the value of statistical sampling in their emergency health and nutrition assessments. Indeed, these organizations would argue that it is precisely the capacity of these techniques to generate knowledge about a large population quickly that makes them so essential to the emergency response.


Qualitative techniques of data-gathering, sometimes derided as subjective, anecdotal and highly inaccurate by more academically-oriented researchers, are generally accepted by field programmers as essential to understand the human dimension of the disaster. Techniques borrowed from qualitative academic research approaches (eg. Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal) seek to gather data on the changes in organization, attitudes, and activities of the affected population. Semi-structured interviews with key informants are used to glean information on, for example:

· the reasons that a community has been suddenly displaced
· the social conditions which must prevail before a return by the displaced can be considered
· current levels of anxiety and fear in a situation characterized by heightened insecurity
· changes in traditional, gender-related responsibilities since the disaster
· the degree of fatalism (or empowerment) among disaster survivors

UNHCR and WFP have both adopted a qualitative approach to gather assessment data termed (by UNHCR) “People-Oriented Planning” or (by WFP) “Social/Gender Analysis.” Each approach is based on the assumption that a clear understanding of the demographic composition of the population and the roles and resources of the various groups can enhance the probability that the disaster response will foster rather than inhibit longer-term development. The approach seeks to gather information via interviews on:

· demographic profile (particularly age, gender and family composition) and context of the affected population;

· activities of the affected population (changes in roles and responsibilities since the disaster)

· resources of the affected population (changes in usage and control since the disaster).

Emergency response organizations would do well to prepare an inventory of the local expertise which may be available to conduct quantitative and qualitative field research in times of disaster. Each approach can play a useful role.