Note: This is a part of a comprehensive step-by-step approach for creating a Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) program. Check out the main topic page, CBDRR Practitioners Guidelines, to learn more about the full guidelines.
A vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) is:
A method of investigation and data gathering that uses various participatory tools in order to understand:
- The natural hazards people face in their locality.
- Their vulnerability to hazards and to other threats, stressors and shocks.
- Their capacity to cope with and recover from disasters.
It is also a process that allows the people to identify, analyse, prioritise and design actions that contribute to disaster risk reduction.
VCA has also several other functions. It helps mobilize communities and raises awareness of the risks they face. The VCA results can support advocacy efforts and even resource mobilization.
What do I need to know?
Why is this important?
A good VCA encourages participation and direct involvement of community members in identification, analysis, prioritisation and design of DRR actions. Participation is important as it allows risk reduction programs to better address the exact needs and demands of at-risk communities, making DRR programs more relevant to the beneficiaries. Furthermore, VCAs build on existing capacities and the skills, knowledge and resources which communities possess. As a result DRR actions become more embedded in the local reality which will contribute to their effectiveness and sustainability. A VCA does not stand on its own; it must be seen as part of a process of working with communities, from initial engagement all the way through to exit, to reduce their vulnerability to disasters and other threats.
The VCA is not solely designed to understand disasters, and their impact on communities, but it is in this sector that it has been most successfully used by NS. Other tools, such as the Community Based Health and First Aid methodology, are effective in looking at other sectoral problems, like health and water and sanitation.
What are key questions in planning and implementing a VCA?
VCA is a complex process, involving many steps (see below) which all raise specific questions, so it is challenging to make a selection of the key questions to be considered. The VCA manuals raise a number of important questions which are highlighted in the manual’s ‘Key Messages’ boxes.
ARUP1 also highlights a number of key questions which need to be addressed with regard to the role of the RCRC in facilitation of the VCA and their support in implementation of the actions:
- Who should lead the process and at what stage should it be completed?
- Who should be responsible for the information gathered?
- How can vulnerable groups be identified and included in the VCA?
- How can the CBDRR programme respond to identified needs?
What are the basic steps in the VCA process?
According to the IFRC VCA Manual2 there are 12 basic steps comprising three levels:
Level one: National Society support
1 Understanding why VCA is being proposed.
2 Sensitizing of National Society leadership, branches and partners.
3 Setting up a management structure for the VCA.
4 Setting the VCA objectives.
Level two: From assessment to planning
5 Planning the VCA.
6 Preparation phase.
7 Using the investigation tools with the community.
8 Systematizing, analysing and interpreting the data.
9 Returning information to the community and deciding priorities and actions for transformation.
Level three: From planning to action
10 Turn vulnerabilities into capacities through practical actions.
11 Recommendations and report writing for local authorities, donors and partners.
12 Programme implementation: risk reduction projects with the community.
What are some success factors or key determinants?
See the introductory section of the guideline for the most common success factors.
Another important success factor is the ability to critically analyse the wealth of qualitative data collected and use this information in the design and implementation of community-level risk reduction activities. The role the community plays in this analysis is crucial.
Other basic VCA principles are:
- Be transparent from the start on what the exact purpose of the assessment is.
- Avoid approaching communities with pre-conceived ideas with regard to the problems that need to be addressed.
- Trust building is important and requires time.
- Avoid raising expectations which cannot be met (allocate to the extent possible resources for implementation).
- The assessment should not be a goal by itself but needs to be followed by action planning and implementation.
- Aim for strong participation.
- Take into account traditional knowledge.
- Share and discuss with the communities the outcome of the assessment and analysis. Ensure the VCA is gender sensitive and includes specific vulnerable groups.
Often donors will require a clear proposal on the challenges and interventions before a VCA has taken place which makes it difficult for the VCA to be an open and flexible process. In these instances, and if the donor is not flexible, the VCA process should be used to determine local solutions to pre-identified challenges.
If it is clear why a VCA is undertaken, then it is easier to define 1) who takes the lead in carrying it out, 2) when it is carried out, and 3) what level of detail is included.
In the CBDRR model, the steps on VCA through to community M&E are meant to be iterative, overlapped and repeated. Being aware of this could avoid the ‘problem’ that arises from a VCA trying to cover everything at once, leading to very detailed reports that nobody can analyse and a community left with ‘assessment fatigue’. NS involvement in the process over time should be reduced within each cycle of these steps to encourage the CBO or community groups over time to gain more experience and take more ownership.
VCA requires experienced community facilitation specialists, using standardised methodologies, supported by a multi-sectoral team. A good VCA is facilitated, not led, and tools are used flexibly in response to what is being said. It is a conversation that explores issues. Trust can take time to build, and problems can take time to properly understand. This will ensure that communities are encouraged to identify their needs and priorities in any sector and supported to identify appropriate, relevant and achievable disaster risk reduction activities.
Other considerations relate to how to integrate climate and environmental concerns more effectively in the VCA process. The RCRC Climate Centre has developed a specific guidance document on how climate change could be considered in VCAs3.
Where possible actively engage and involve universities, colleges, think tanks or resource organizations in the VCA process; such institutions can help by carrying out a scientific analysis of the hazards in order to complement the community perspective.
What are some useful tools and methodologies?
- The art and science of VCA - (English - French - Spanish - Arabic)
- ABC of VCA - (English - French - Spanish - Arabic)
Zone Guidance material
- Americas: "Better be prepared" Module 1: Education, Organization and Preparation for Risk Reduction - (English Spanish - Portuguese)
- Asia Pacific: A practical step by step guide VCA for Red Cross Red Crescent practitioners and volunteers (2009)
In addition to the tools and methodologies mentioned, participatory mapping could also be considered. Increasingly there are easy to use approaches to geographic information systems (GIS) and three-dimensional mapping that can help communities analyse and understand the spatial, or location-based, aspects of DRR. In urban areas in particular, the collection of relevant hazard and vulnerability data from local government and other local agencies will be an important input for the VCA and provide an opportunity to review the full set of VCA data with local government and other stakeholders. GIS maps have been blown up to large scale and used by the communities to map out their capacities, vulnerabilities and hazard risks. It can also be useful in building up evidence of for example, flood or tidal waters, deforestation, land misuse and encroachment, over a time period. This may have value in future community advocacy approaches, and support the NS in highlighting the impact of climate changes.
Documenting Results of the VCA
The key results of the VCA process should be documented and the VCA toolkit provides examples of what that could look like. At a minimum, the agreed upon hazards, vulnerability and priority actions to address should be summarized. This information will help inform the community planning step, provide updates to the RC programme strategy and provide input for the baseline processes.
- Case study: Solomon Islands – From risk assessment to community actions | en español | en français
- Case study: Using the vulnerability and capacity assessment tool in Rwanda
- Case study: Cayman Islands: Applying VCA | en español | en français
- VCA: Lessons learned and recommendations | en español | en français
 Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction Study Lessons Learned from the Tsunami Operation CBDRR Programmes. Arup & Partners, Ltd. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies London, UK, July 2012.
 How to Do a VCA A Practical Step-by-step Guide for Red Cross Red Crescent Staff and Volunteers. Geneva, Switzerland: IFRC, 2007.
 See: RCRC Climate Centre. “How Can Climate Change Be Considered in Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments? A Summary for Practitioners,” June 2012.
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