Baseline Assessment

What is a livelihoods baseline?

The livelihoods baseline is the standard HEA assessment and is required for carrying out scenario analysis and for many of the different applications of HEA. A baseline involves quantifying the access of households in different locally-defined wealth groups to food and cash income, and presents a picture of the ‘typical’ household economy in a defined reference year.

Three main steps

An HEA baseline involves three main steps:

  1. Livelihood zoning: The definition of areas within which people share broadly the same
 patterns of livelihood;
  2. Wealth breakdown: The grouping together of people using local definitions of wealth, and the quantification of their assets;
  3. Livelihood strategy quantification: Access to food and cash income, and patterns of expenditure are quantified for households in each wealth group.



Time required

A full HEA baseline takes four weeks to complete and requires a team of about eight people. One week is spent training the team. The team then spends about two weeks collecting data. Fieldwork involves initial discussions with key informants at a district or regional level to support the first step of livelihood zoning. The team subsequently focuses on community level interviews to collect information on wealth groups and livelihood strategies. Data is typically collected from eight to twelve villages. In each village there will be two sets of interviews: a community focus group to determine wealth groups; and then separate interviews with representatives of each wealth group to quantify households’ sources of food and income, and their patterns of expenditure. Information is stored in a ‘Baseline Storage-Spreadsheet’, and information can be either collected using paper forms or, electronically, using tablets.

The final week is spent entering and analysing data. An experienced HEA practitioner is required to lead this process. An indicative timeline is given in the table below.

Full HEA baseline
Classroom training 6 days
Fieldwork 12 days
Data collection 8-12 villages
Period of analysis Reference year only
Data entry, analysis & report writing 6 days
TOTAL 4 weeks


Uses of a livelihoods baseline

A livelihoods baseline contains most of the necessary data for many applications of HEA. It can be used for scenario analysis to project the needs of different wealth groups during a subsequent bad year; it can be used for programme planning, to produce evidence-based theories of change, for cost-benefit analysis, and as a basis for early warning systems, and monitoring and evaluation. And because, in quantifying access to total food and cash income, HEA converts everything into a percentage based on the internationally accepted food requirement of 2100 kcals per person per day, it is possible to make like-to-like comparisons between different areas within a country and between different countries across the world.

Baseline and scenario analysis

Note that scenario analysis is typically a separate exercise carried out after the baseline. It requires an additional week of training and data collection.

More on baseline assessment