Analysis in Humanitarian Setting


Analysis is 'a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features' (ACAPS, 2018) In a humanitarian setting, analysis is a process that breaks complex humanitarian elements into smaller parts in order to understand the relations and effects, to describe, explain, interpret findings and anticipate the changes.” (OCHA NAAS, 2018)  Humanitarian Analysis has a number of constraints and requirements in terms of time frame, availability of data, dynamic context, and often pressure from vested interests.  The analysis process takes place at many levels and although can be pictured sequentially often many levels are revisited numerous times

Essentially, we are looking at the information we have available and trying to tell a story:

  • What has happened?

  • What is happening now?

  • What is important and why?

  • What don’t we know?

  • What might happen next?

The Analysis Spectrum 

The analysis spectrum describes how the process of analysis evolves based on time involved and structured thought needed. The spectrum places six levels of analysis along these scales. The six levels are described below. The type of analysis will provide hindsight or insight into humanitarian situations and scenarios. Anticipatory and prescriptive analysis are more structured, complex and shared analysis and can help humanitarians anticipate and prepare for possible scenarios. 

Following the analysis spectrum, analysts progress from facts to meaning. The journey generally starts with exploring and describing the available data and understanding what is available, what is missing, and what can be done with the data. From this phase, some stories will appear that will be further explored and confirmed by systematically comparing data and looking for relationships. Making solid arguments based on firm evidence and logic is at the heart of the analysis. After compiling and evaluating the relevant evidence, analysts need to formulate conclusions, recognize unsupported assumptions and consider alternative explanations.  The spectrum can be tied to the expectations of analysis in the humanitarian Program Cycle, see image below to identify the level of analysis required as a response progresses.


Biases and how to mitigate them          

There are three main categories of biases to be aware of when conducting analysis: Selection, Social and Process. Reflect on the types of biases introduced in the process of analysis and try to mitigate them as much as possible (see tips below the description of each bias). Biases should be described in the methodology of the output or report. 







Selection bias

caused by choosing non-random data for analysis. Some information is unconsciously chosen or disregarded, misleading the analyst into a wrong conclusion.

  • Absence of evidence

  • Anchoring Effect

  • Availability Cascade

  • Confirmation Bias

  • Conservatism Bias

  • Satisficing or Premature Closure

  • Evidence Acceptance

  • Pro-Innovation Bias

  • Publication Bias

  • Recency

  • Salience or Vividness

  • Survivorship

The key to overcoming selection biases is to examine carefully the credibility and reliability of sources and data use to base the analysis.

Usability of Data

  • Are they relevant to your research topic?

  • Are they complete?

  • Are they sufficiently recent?

  • Are they sensitive?

  • Are they representative?

  • Are they comparable to other data you have available?

  • Are they trustworthy?

Credibility of the Data:

  • Evaluate how accurate and precise the information is

  • Check for strong corroboration and consistency with other sources

  • Look for negative cases

  • Identify key themes indicated in the evidence

  • Consider if the explanation is plausible given the context

  • Re-examine previously dismissed information or evidence

  • Consider whether ambiguous information has been interpreted and caveated properly

  • Indicate the level of confidence in references

Reliability of Sources

  • Qualifications and technical expertise of the source

  • Reputation and track record for accuracy

  • Its objectivity and motive for bias

  • It's proximity to the original source or event




Social Bias

the result of interactions with other people. The way we are processing and analyzing information depends on our relations with the persons who provided us with the information or hypothesis.

  • Institutional Bias

  • Halo Effect

  • Stereotyping

  • Implicit Association

  • Attribution Error

  • False Consensus

  • Group Think

  • Mirror Imaging  (or Projection)

Mitigation techniques

The key to overcome social biases is to examine carefully the number of assumptions used to fill information gaps and to actively seek alternative hypothesis. 

  • Alternate Hypothesis

  • Competing Hypothesis

  • Devil’s Advocacy

  • Differential Diagnosis

  • Key Assumptions Checklist

  • Logic Mapping

  • Challenging a view or consensus by building the best possible case for an alternative explanation and explicitly contesting key assumption to see if they will hold.

  • Identify key assumptions

  • Selection one or more assumptions that seem susceptible to challenge

  • Review the evidence to determine if some are questionable validity

  • Highlight any evidence that could support an alternative hypothesis or contracts the current thinking


our tendency to process information based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. When we process information, we often display inherent thinking errors. They prevent an analyst from accurately understanding reality even when all the needed data and evidence are in his/her hands.

  • Blind Spot

  • Overconfidence

  • Choice-Supportive

  • Clustering Illusion

  • Hindsight Bias

  • Irrational (Commitment) Escalation

  • Selective Attention/Perception

  • Information Volume Bias

  • Framing

  • Hyperbolic Discounting

  • Impact

  • Negativity

  • Ostrich Effect

  • Planning Bias

  • Status Quo

  • Wishful Thinking

  • Risk-averse

  • Zero Risk




Mitigation techniques

By making the way the information processed obvious to everyone, members of a team can acknowledge the limitations and advantages of each of the roles.

  • Edward de Bono’s method is a parallel thinking process that helps analysts overcoming their assumption, biases, and heuristics.

  • Members of a team are assigned with a “role” to play a hat to wear.

  • Members of a team are assigned with a role to play, a hat to wear

  • They can more easily examine a hypothesis from different angles: neutral, emotional, creative, optimist, and pessimist angle.

  • Structured analytical thinking can be used to overcome cognitive limitations and develop analytical objectivity.

  • the use of frameworks

Good skills, attitudes, and habits for anyone involved in an analysis process

There are many skills, attributes, and knowledge that allows us to be better analysts. Often this requires teams of analysts to get the best results. The following are some of the skills required when going through the analysis process.

  • Inductive reasoning: 

  • Deductive reasoning:

  • Pattern recognition:

  • Qualitative reasoning:

  • Quantitative reasoning

  • Judging the strength of evidence

  • Analytical writing:

  • Visual literacy:


It's important to have the right attitude when participating in the analysis process. The following soft skills will help improve both the process and the outputs.


Different ways of thinking help will the analysis process. Consider these and the value, they bring to humanitarian analysis.

Here are five good habits of all analysts should follow in all phases of analysis. 

Types of Analysis in the humanitarian context


    • Needs analysis

    • Joint analysis

    • Analytical framework

    • Intuitive vs analytical thinking (?)

    • Biases


Special thanks to ACAPSOCHA NARAS for the material used in the analysis section of the toolbox.

  • Training material and opportunities



  • Other toolboxes (training material)