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close this bookCounting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergency Operations (ODI, 1997, 110 p.)
close this folder2. Basic principles
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.1 Continuous information gathering
View the document2.2 Clear and consistent definitions
View the document2.3 Accuracy
View the document2.4 Respect for human safety, well-being, and dignity
View the document2.5 Communication and transparency
View the document2.6 Vested interests

2.2 Clear and consistent definitions

Unclear definitions, or the collection of unimportant information weakens any information gathering exercise. Different units may be used in both estimating and identifying beneficiary population qualities and number - individual, family, household, community, etc. The significance of a particular unit may vary according to the emergency situation, or programme. The basic unit or units must be clearly defined, as must its significance to the planning process.

How counting or estimation is conducted, including the very choice of the unit of enumeration, can reflect basic assumptions upon which an assistance operation has been constructed. Several units of enumeration can be used to quantify a population - the individual beneficiary, head of household, household, family, dwelling, or targeted group (e.g. the vulnerable, political or ethnic group). Such an apparently innocuous step as the choice of statistical unit can in fact be a clear statement of priority within an assistance programme. The common approach of counting heads of household and dependents, without paying specific attention to gender, is a case in point. It is now widely recognised that single female heads of household, for instance, require a specific and priority approach in assistance and protection planning. They ought, therefore, to be specifically identified and enumerated. Yet this unit of identification and enumeration is only now becoming a serious part of enumeration exercises. Similarly the definition of ‘family’ can be a value laden exercise; the reality of polygamous ‘families’ made up of several households may be overlooked, to the point of rendering the results quite unusable. A resultant statistic on the number of ‘families’ within a particular population may be a serious misrepresentation of the demographic nature of that population. Similarly, the distorting effect that forced displacement has on family and household structure is rarely fully appreciated by managers of emergency operations. Assumptions are made on average household size and gender composition in the absence of serious qualitative and quantitative evidence to support them. Misconceptions and erroneous assumptions (e.g. under-estimations) can therefore have an obviously detrimental effect on the welfare of the population to be assisted.