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Vulnerability and risk assessment

Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Tool

At a glance

A holistic approach to understanding vulnerability, wherein key actors collaboratively design and implement programmes and resilience building initiatives.


Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) tool develops a holistic, landscape-wide understanding of vulnerability and links up actors across various levels of governance to jointly identify and analyse root causes of vulnerabilities for distinct social groups and later design programmes and risk reduction initiatives accordingly, ensuring that they are equitable, gender-sensitive and effective.

Attention to historical and evolving power dynamics is fully embedded into the design of the VRA, primarily through the convening of a Knowledge Group to inspire and drive the analysis.

The VRA methodology has been implemented by Oxfam and its partners in twelve countries and by other aid and research organisations, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the University of Cape Town and the University of Botswana.

Download the document 

Update: The VRA is also available as an online toolkit. Visit the The Vulnerability & Risk Assessment Online Toolkit.

What it does

The VRA is designed to:

  • develop a shared understanding of the links between local, regional, national and global drivers of vulnerability and risk in a given landscape
  • build understanding of the root causes and drivers of vulnerability for different people and social groups
  • support the joint identification and prioritisation of hazards, issues, social groups and livelihood activities
  • inspire different stakeholders to discuss and explore governance driven inequalities, climate change impacts, people's capacities and the resulting vulnerabilities
  • enable participants to discuss future aspirations and visions of a resilient future including pathways to transformational change
  • integrate different types of knowledge including local and traditional knowledge, scientific knowledge and knowledge from policy and practice
  • identify and explore how gender norms shape and constrain people's responses to hazards and issues - and address these with the aim of strengthening women's rights
  • promote inclusive decision-making, raise 'red flags' concerning specific groups at risk of being further marginalised or vulnerable
  • enhance collaboration across sectors and levels of governance
  • strengthen local level or other existing technical vulnerability assessments
  • support the joint identification of potential responses to reduce vulnerability and promote buy-in for sound adaptation planning
  • promote innovation and new ways of working and thinking
  • strengthen the accountability of decision-makers to communities
  • encourage long term, flexible decision-making and planning

How it works

The Vulnerability Risk Assessment process

The Knowledge Group

The Knowledge Group is the backbone of the VRA's findings and analysis. The Knowledge Group consists of roughly 15-25 people with a stake in the social-ecological landscape in question. It should include a wide mix of stakeholders and have a strong representation of communities and of vulnerable/marginalised groups. The Knowledge Group will spend two full days together and run through the four steps of the VRA in a roundtable discussion approach; as such, the findings of the VRA are largely the result of this group's thinking. This shows how important it is to think carefully about who should form it. .

Practitioners implementing the VRA must take necessary steps to ensure that everyone, including the marginalised/vulnerable group representatives: a) are actively involved in the discussions; b) feel valued and have their input considered; and c) are not negatively impacted by the process, such as through retaliation for speaking out or by feeling further disempowered if gender inequalities and power imbalances are reinforced in the Knowledge Group discussions.

Beyond the fundamental contribution of the Knowledge Group to the VRA results, a carefully selected group will also serve to initiate or strengthen stakeholder relationships across sectors and levels of governance, as well as to generate ownership of findings and create accountability of stakeholders with respect to communities and marginalised groups.

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