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Core Concepts - Needs Assessment

Once a request for electoral assistance has been received from a recognized authority (usually the host government and/or the EMB) and approved by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and DPA/EAD, the division carries out a needs assessment (either in country or via desk review) to map existing conditions and needs in a given country. UNDP is usually involved in this process, which may provide opportunities to take the first steps towards planning a programme and mobilizing resources.

This part of the Toolkit looks at what needs assessments do, who participates in them, how they are funded and special situations.

What do needs assessments do?

DPA/EAD assesses the pre-electoral conditions in the requesting country to ensure that the UN is involved only in settings where there is a genuine commitment to organize and conduct credible elections. It undertakes these assessments in close consultation with the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative. The UNDP country office should prepare and brief any DPA/EAD needs assessment mission and arrange meetings with key stakeholders.

Typically, needs assessment missions examine:

  • The existing conditions for conducting elections in the country, including the legal, political, human rights and institutional contexts; and
  • The pre-election technical, operational and human resources needs.

In general, they will likely look at key issues expected to affect the success of the election and/or the performance of the electoral process and institutions. They may consider the recommendations of previous observer missions, and whether or not these have been taken on board. More specific issues covered by the assessment can comprise:

  • The legal framework
  • The participation of politically disadvantaged groups
  • The status of the EMB
  • Voter registration systems
  • Voting operations and compilation of results
  • The role of civil society
  • Political party configurations and practices
  • Media engagement
  • Security
  • Coordination
  • Electoral Operations planning and funding

See also a more detailed List of Considerations from the UNDP Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide. 

Recommendations, including for avenues for practical and cost-effective assistance, are eventually submitted to the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs for a determination of whether or not UN involvement is justified and appropriate.

Who participates?

While the DPA/EAD leads the assessment mission in most cases, a UNDP programme staff member may accompany the mission in preparation for later formulating an electoral support programme based on the findings. Collaboration between DPA/EAD and UNDP and the ability of the programme designer to hear the concerns of all stakeholders can expedite the programme design stage and help to ensure that the programme content and scope thoroughly reflect political and technical priorities.

If a needs assessment mission is done by DPA/EAD alone, the composition of the team is normally one DPA/EAD staff member (a political/electoral affairs officer) and one expert consultant. A representative from DPA’s regional division may also participate depending on the context.

If UNDP joins the mission under a joint needs assessment/programme formulation exercise, the composition may be one or two DPA/EAD representatives (either staff or expert consultants) and one or two UNDP staff members. The latter could include people from the Democratic Governance Group, the UN/UNDP Office in Brussels, the Regional Centres, the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (if there is a conflict prevention element), a UNDP staff member on loan from another country office, or a consultant.

For a joint mission, it may be necessary to clearly outline its purposes to national counterparts. DPA/EAD must retain its independence to draw conclusions that may recommend no UN involvement. Misunderstandings can be more easily avoided if stakeholders understand that a UNDP programme depends on the approval of the designated UN Focal Point.

It is important to strategically identify the persons/institutions with which the assessment mission will meet. Efforts should be made to ensure that there is a representative sample of actors and stakeholders, including marginalized groups. It is also important to leave sufficient room in the mission’s schedule for spontaneous or additional appointments. Stakeholders can include:

  • EMB (commissioner level and technical staff)
  • Government representatives
  • Members of independent commissions
  • Political parties
  • Media
  • Civil society
  • Police/security forces
  • International community
  • Academics and political commentators

See also a more detailed List of Stakeholders Consulted during the Assessment Process from the UNDP Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide, “Procedures for providing electoral assistance” of the DPA – UNDP Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance and Guideline on the Conduct of UN Election Needs Assessment Missions and UN Electoral Assessment Process diagram.

Funding the mission

DPA normally funds needs assessment missions through a trust fund established in part for that purpose, unless alternative arrangements are made with UNDP. If UNDP is participating as part of programme formulation, the country office may need to pay the travel costs and/or daily rate of an expert from the Regional Centre, Bureau for Development Policy or UN/UNDP Office in Brussels; or of an independent consultant; or of a combination.

Special situations

In some cases, an assessment can be done by desk review and submitted to the UN Focal Point for approval. This is possible when updated information already exists, the electoral environment is considered stable and credible based on previous experiences, the UN has provided electoral assistance for more than one electoral cycle, and/or an assessment was recently done.

When there is a reasonable possibility that the European Commission will contribute to a UNDP-managed basket fund for the delivery of electoral assistance, and where conditions permit, programme formulation missions can be carried out jointly under a modality agreed upon in the EC-UNDP Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of Electoral Assistance Projects. This is based on the development of a common understanding of the partner country’s needs, and negotiations between the UNDP country office and EC delegation on the conditions for EC participation. Normally, the relevant Regional Centre electoral advisor would also participate in such formulation missions to add policy and programming expertise.

Elections, Electoral, Electoral Cycle, Electoral Law, Voter registration, Civic Education, Voter Education, Public Outreach, Turnout, Voter, Political Party, Political Parties, Electoral Observation, Basket funds, Resource Mobilization, Fund Management, Electoral Procurement, Election Materials, UNDP, United Nations Development Programme, Implementation, Electoral Assistance, Partnership, Capacity Development, Needs Assessment, Risk Assessment, Terms of Reference, ToRs, Electoral Budget, Electoral Planning, Electoral Management Body, EMB, Project Development, Note of Guidance, Guidance, ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, ACE, BRIDGE, Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections, EC-UNDP Partnership, EC-UNDP Operational guidelines, Electoral Administration, Gender