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Tools for project planning in community development

Online Course Module 2 of 9

Understanding your context using a Situational Analysis


This is Module 2 of our free online course, 'Tools for Project Planning in Community Development'. To visit the course homepage, click here.

In this module we explore the first step of the project planning process, a Situational Analysis. This process serves to identify the context of your work, the broad project goals and the important relationships you need to be aware of. In order to be strategic, efficient and effective, it is essential to undertake a thorough and structured process of analysis.

Taking the time to understand your context will help strengthen every future step of your project planning and design. A thorough situational analysis also ensures that your project team shares a common understanding of the over-arching goals of your project, essential to staying on track.

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This course is part of our free online learning centre for community development professionals.

Situational Analysis:

A Situational Analysis is a 5-step process that progressively focusses your understanding of the community in relation to the local problem you are choosing to address. This allows you to assess the broad societal context of your community, and then apply this to your organisation’s project.

Understanding the general context of your community

Understanding the context means understanding the current circumstances within which your organisation is working, or is seeking to work in. Whilst you might already have an idea of the type of project you want to run or the type of problem you want to solve, it’s best to start with a general analysis of your context. Consider the questions on the following pages as a guide – you may need to modify them for your specific community. 

Whilst being as accurate as possible when answering these questions is helpful, at this stage, estimations will often suffice. 

Helpful Hint

Identifying the challenges within the community

Now that you have a broad understanding of what your community looks like, it’s time to identify the major challenges that community members are facing. At this stage, it is helpful to consult the local community either through workshops, surveys or interviews to ensure that you have accounted for problems from their perspective (see our Participatory Development Course for guides about how to run these workshops). At this stage of your analysis, it is vital not to engage tunnel vision – don’t only look through the lens of your organisation when identifying problems. For example, if you are a healthcare organisation, don’t simply look at healthcare problems. Try to think laterally and holistically.

Try to be as broad as possible when identifying challenges. At this stage, your aim is to identify the over-arching problems your community faces, rather than detailed and specific challenges.

Assessing your organisations capacity

Once you’ve identified the major challenges experienced within the community, it’s time to assess the capacity of your organisation in order to identify the best opportunity for your organisation to help. This will assist you in maximising the efficacy of your organisation’s work. This process can be challenging, but it’s important to get this critical reflection out of the way right at the start of your project planning process. There is no point planning an amazing project, only to realise that you don’t have the skills, knowledge or resources to execute it.

The aim of this process is to identify the strengths (and weaknesses) of your organisation in order to choose the broad community challenge that your organisation is best suited to tackle. Using a SWOT-Analysis can be particularly helpful when completing this step (see below for a detailed explanation of this tool).

Choosing a broad project goal

Now that you have identified the major challenges in the community and the capacities of your organisation, it’s time to choose the broad problem your organisation is bested suited to address. Choose the broad project goal that allows you to maximise the strengths of your organisation and minimise its weaknesses. The key to choosing a project goal at this stage of your planning process is being broad, really broad. Some examples might include:

Examples: Broad Project Goals

  • Improving education levels amongst youth within the community

  • Improving the economic opportunities for women within the community

  • Improving access to fresh water in the community

  • Improving access to housing for homeless people in your community

  • Decreasing maternal mortality in the community

  • Decreasing rates of domestic violence within your community

Reassessing the context relevant to your problem

Finally, now that you have identified the broad goal of your project, it’s time to re-assess the context (or the situation) through the lens of this specific goal and problem. This final step is an opportunity for you to be more specific about the type of information you need to best understand your problem. We will use an example of a Domestic Violence project below to demonstrate how to reassess the context of your project relevant to your specific goal and problem.

Examples: Reassessing Domestic Violence in the Community

In this example, you can see the specific questions that might help a community nonprofit reassess the local context relevant to their goal of preventing domestic violence. It is important that you create your own questions that are relevant to the broad project goal that your organisation has chosen in step 4. The examples here are only relevant to a domestic violence project.

When completing this step, try to draw upon any existing information from other NGOs or online government data banks to gain a more accurate understanding of your context. Now is the time to be more specific about the data you collect and the analysis you complete.

You can download a template for this 5-step process here: Resource 2 - A Checklist for Situational Analysis. Use this resource as a guide when you are planning your own community development project.

Download Resource

Tools to assist you when undertaking a Situational Analysis

The questions you need to ask and the information you need to gather when completing a Situational Analysis are different for every context, problem and organisation. Unfortunately, there is no set framework to follow. One of the biggest problems organisations have when completing a Situational Analysis is coming up with the right questions to ask to help complete a thorough analysis. 

To help with this, you can use one of the following tools to ensure that your analysis is thorough and complete.

These tools can be used interchangeably throughout every stage of your situational analysis. All three tools cover similar types of questions, but in different ways. As such, you don’t necessarily need to use all three. It is best to choose one that you feel most comfortable with and use that one to assist your analysis. You can then take the information you generate by using these tools and input it into your broader Situational Analysis throughout the 5-step process we explored above.





Useful for: 

Identifying the best type of project for your organisation by analysing your internal capacities (strengths and weaknesses) and your external environment (opportunities and threats). This tool is generally most useful for step-3 of your situational analysis.

Helpful Hint

A helpful exercise can be to get different members of your organisation to complete the same tool individually and then compare results as a group. This can raise some interesting questions and help ensure your Situational Analysis is thorough and takes different viewpoints into account.

How it works: 

  • Strengths - Internal aspects of your organisation that you believe are your advantages.

  • Weaknesses - Internal aspects of your organisation that you believe require development.

  • Opportunities - Factors external to your organisation that may contribute to your project’s success or     amplify your organisation’s strengths.

  • Threats - actors external to your organisation that may cause problems or present risks to your project. 

The SWOT analysis is a two-step process:

  1. Identify your organisation’s internal strengths and weaknesses: Think about the people, experience, qualifications and resources your organisation has and how your organisation can most (or least) efficiently use them to support your community. Place these on the left-hand side of your analysis.

  2. Identify the external opportunities and threats to the work of your organisation: Think about the relationships you have with other people or groups within the community, the political environment and factors you have little or no control over, like the natural environment, broader political narative and robust cultural norms.


After completing your SWOT analysis, you should have a clearer understanding of how your organisation can best use the resources it has to maximise the benefits to local community-members. By reflecting upon your organisations capacity within your specific context, you can choose projects that have the best chance of success.

Example: SWOT Analysis exploring the capacity of a Domestic Violence prevention organisation in Uruguay to run a series of social support workshops for women in a rural community.

Examples: More uses for the SWOT Analysis

Whilst the SWOT Analysis is generally best used during step-3 of the Situational Analysis process when assessing your organisation’s capacity, it can also be used in step-5 to assess your chosen problem within your community’s context. Instead of putting your organisation in the middle, place ‘the community’ in the middle. This way, you can identify the communities strengths (things that your community already does well relating to the problem), its weaknesses (areas the community does poorly related to the problem), its opportunities (broader external opportunities like new laws that might help the community overcome the problem) and threats (broader external factors that could or are negatively impacting upon the problem like cultural assumptions and economic barriers). This can be particularly helpful in identifying specific ‘opportunities’ for your organisation to best support your communities ‘weaknesses’.

You can download a template for this tool here: Resource 3 - SWOT Analysis. Use this resource as a guide when you are planning your own community development project.

Download Resource

Customers, Collaborators,

Useful for: 

Undertaking a more detailed analysis of the internal capacities and the external factors in the project environment. This tool is most useful when assessing the context and the problem in steps 2, 4 and 5, rather than your organisation specifically.

How it works: 

5C identifies specific opportunities and challenges that a project might face. It is a widely used business tool that has been adapted for the nonprofit sector.

  • Company— This involves identifying the organisation’s vision, strategies, objectives, capabilities, technology, and culture, as well as understanding the existing and potential problems and opportunities within the organisation.

  • Customers (Beneficiaries) — This involves defining the target beneficiaries; their behaviour, their number/size, what support they need, how they consume support and their preferred methods of accepting support.

  • Competitors— This involves a critical analysis of the environment in which the organisation operates; knowing the strengths, weaknesses, positioning, market share, and upcoming initiatives of other NGO and government programs related to your cause.

  • Collaborators— This involves identifying the agencies, suppliers, governments, and business partners that can partner with your NGO in achieving its mission. Make sure you identify their capabilities, performances, and issues to maximise the benefits of collaboration and better foresee potential problems.

  • Climate— This involves the evaluation of the macro-environmental factors affecting the organisation. A PESTEL-Analysis can be used to analyse political, economic, social/cultural, technological, environmental, and legal scenarios. A detailed explanation of this tool can be found in Module 4.


A deepened understanding of the broader community context and how this interacts with the problem that your organization seeks to solve.

You can download a template for this tool here: Resource 4 - 5C Analysis. Use this resource as a guide when you are planning your own community development project.

Download Resource

Core Competencies, Obstacles,



Useful for: 

Creating a more detailed strategy for the future of your organisation. It is often used as an alternative to the SWOT-Analysis to permit a more in-depth analysis. The SCOPE Analysis works best in Step-5 when applied to a specific problem, rather than broader organisational and contextual factors. It helps take your problem-solving a step further, identifying the prospects of success and expectations of outcomes.

How it works: 

SCOPE focuses on the specific opportunities and challenges of a given project from a broader internal and external perspective. It’s important to be more specific than you might have been for the other tools above.

  • Situation – This is essentially a summary of step 5 that briefly identifies key elements of the problem within the context of your community. 

  • Core Competencies – These are the key capacities that your organisation does best. Don’t be shy. These should be unique to your organisation, not generalised to the problem. Try to be as specific as possible. This is about identifying the BEST ways that your organisation can help your community. 

  • Obstacles – These can be both internal and external to your organisation and should reflect the key challenges that your organisation needs to overcome in order to help solve the problem.

  • Prospects – These are the ‘opportunities’ for your organisation to improve your impact by taking advantage of your ‘Core Competencies’ within the ‘Situation’.

  • Expectations – Here is a chance to engage your inner fortune teller. You need to realistically anticipate what will happen in your community over your project cycle that might have an impact on your project. Will there be an election? Is it rainy season? How would this impact upon your project? Think of both positive and negative impacts.


SCOPE helps to guide effective use of internal resources and focus your competencies upon solving a problem within the community. 

You can download a template for this tool here: Resource 5 - SCOPE Analysis. Use this resource as a guide when you are planning your own community development project.

Download Resource

Finishing up

An in-depth analysis of the internal and external factors that might influence the progress and success of your project will aid the planning process in a multitude of ways. It will ultimately make it easier to identify priorities, adapt planning to the context, and provide adequate resources. 

Use these tools intermittently throughout your Situational Analysis to ensure it is as thorough as possible. Remember to work as a team, consult with the community and be as creative as possible. After completing your Situational Analysis, you’re ready to move on to setting realistic goals using the Problem and Objective Tree tools in Module 3.

Download this module as a pdf to print and use as a guide when planning local community development projects.
Or download the full Project Planning Handbook here.

Move on to:

Goal Setting with Problem and Objective Trees

Learn how to use the Problem and Objective Tree tool to set clear objectives that meet the communities real needs.

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