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Rapidly assessing social characteristics of drought preparedness and decision making: A guide for practitioners

November 7, 2022

Executive Summary

This guide is intended to provide managers, decision makers, and other practitioners with advice on conducting a rapid assessment of the social dimensions of drought. Findings from a rapid assessment can provide key social context that may aid in decision making, such as when preparing a drought plan, allocating local drought resilience funding, or gathering the support of local agencies and organizations for collective action related to drought mitigation.

Part I—In the introduction to Part I, we describe the unique problems associated with drought—particularly its slow onset and long duration, which make it difficult to define drought—and highlight five major types of drought (see Box 1). We introduce a few social dimensions of drought (such as economic and institutional perspectives), demonstrate how these dimensions can be interrelated, and describe a few of the modern challenges (such as transformational change and cascading risks) that practitioners face.

We also provide background on the rapid assessment method, first describing it as a “snapshot” of the social landscape, then providing some key advantages of the method (it can be quicker and cheaper than more in-depth methods), and lastly describing how secondary data and other methods can help overcome some of the disadvantages of rapid assessments.

Then, after summarizing the process of developing this guide, we outline the process of using the guide. Importantly, we compare the guide to a travel guide, which provides many different types of information and is best approached with specific interests in mind. Ultimately, we hope for this guide to be malleable enough that it can be helpful to researchers and practitioners in many different contexts, using many different research methods. Related to how to use the guide, we characterize the type of person who might be motivated to use this guide. We also specify key qualifications for a researcher conducting a rapid assessment, drawing particular attention to training on ethical considerations.

We sketch out key considerations when choosing social dimensions of drought to focus on, and the type of data used for analysis. First, it is important to note that in this guide we provide nine important social dimensions of drought, but this is by no means a comprehensive list, and a researcher may find that other dimensions better fit their local context. Second, we provide some pros and cons to a narrow (focusing on just a few dimensions or at a smaller scale) versus broad research focus. Lastly, we describe the pros and cons of using primary versus secondary data (one strategy is to use both, sequentially) and qualitative versus quantitative data.

Ultimately, Part I of this guide functions as an exploration of the various decisions a researcher will make when designing a rapid assessment. These decisions will inform the type of findings and other outcomes that result from the rapid assessment.

Part II—Part II of this guide introduces nine key social dimensions of drought: defining the problem of drought, individual perceptions, social relationships, technology, economics and livelihoods, water governance, decision making, information, and social vulnerability. Each section provides background and key considerations related to a particular dimension, as well as ideas for how to explore the dimension via a rapid assessment.

Part III—Part III of this guide provides two hypothetical examples of how one might use this guide to aid the practitioner in implementing the lessons learned here. In the first example, a watershed group uses two dimensions, defining the problem of drought and social relationships, to inform a community meeting about protecting fisheries from drought. In the second example, a resource manager uses the economics and livelihoods and social vulnerability dimensions to inform the development of a livestock grazing drought management plan.

Publication Year 2022
Title Rapidly assessing social characteristics of drought preparedness and decision making: A guide for practitioners
DOI 10.3133/tm17A1
Authors Katherine R. Clifford, Julia B. Goolsby, Amanda E. Cravens, Ashley E. Cooper
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Techniques and Methods
Series Number 17-A1
Index ID tm17A1
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center