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A quality situational analysis can really set your business up for success long-term. The basic word that sums up situational analysis is Strategy.
A good strategy or a bad strategy can make or break your business.
As Bruce Lee said “Be like Water”…
Creating a good situational analysis for your business is like becoming like water in your market. Making your business flexible but firm, adaptable but stable changeable but timeless.
So what is situation analysis?
A situation analysis or environmental analysis is the fundamental first step in the social and behavior change communication change (SBCC) process. It involves a systematic collection and study of health and demographic data, study findings and other contextual information in order to identify and understand the specific health issue to be addressed. It examines the current status of the health issue as well as the social, economic, political and health context in which the health issue exists and establishes the vision for the SBCC program. A complete situation analysis gathers information on four areas:
- The problem, its severity and its causes.
- The people affected by the problem (potential audiences).
- The broad context in which the problem exists.
- Factors inhibiting or facilitating behavior change.
Why Conduct a Situation Analysis?
A situation analysis guides the identification of priorities for an SBCC intervention and informs all the following steps in the SBCC process. It establishes a clear, detailed and realistic picture of the opportunities, resources, challenges and barriers regarding a particular health issue or behavior. The quality of the situation analysis will affect the success of the entire SBCC effort.
Who Should Conduct a Situation Analysis?
A small, focused team should conduct the situation analysis. Members should include communication staff, health/social service staff and, if available, research staff.
Throughout the data collection process, team members should also consider how to engage stakeholders including opinion leaders, service providers, policy makers, partners, and potential beneficiaries. Ways to obtain stakeholder input include in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, community dialogue, small group meetings, taskforce engagement or participatory stakeholder workshops.
When Should a Situation Analysis Be Conducted?
A situation analysis should be conducted at the beginning of a program or project, before developing an SBCC strategy. It is part of the inquiry phase of the P-Process.
Estimated Time Needed
Completing a situation analysis can take up to two weeks. Consider the size of the project, scope of the literature review, how much data is available and easily accessible, and whether additional stakeholder or audience input is needed. Allow for additional time if formative research is needed to fill in any gaps that may exist in the literature.
After completing the activities in the situation analysis guide, the team will:
- Know the vision of the program.
- Understand the current situation (extent and severity) of the health issue.
- Understand the broad context in which the health issue exists.
The steps below will help to identify the problem and establish the vision for the SBCC intervention. Please note this how-to guide should be followed along with an audience analysis and a program analysis to obtain the full picture required for a successful SBCC strategy.
Step 1: Identify the Health Issue
For many health programs or strategies, the health issue is identified at the outset, such as when a funder releases a request for proposals for a child health project or when a government ministry requests specific technical assistance for HIV prevention programs.
At other times, it may be necessary for an organization itself to identify the broad health issue that needs to be addressed in a particular geographic area. To do so, review existing health and demographic data, survey results, study findings and any other available data to identify the priority health issue. Throughout the review, pay attention to the following types of information:
- Geographic areas where high levels of mortality and morbidity exist because of a health issue.
- The prevalence or incidence of that health issue.
- Population segments that are most heavily impacted by the health issue.
- The existing priorities of the government.
- The donor landscape.
- Health trends from one point in time to another.
Step 2: Develop a Problem Statement
Successful SBCC strategies focus on one specific issue at a time. Addressing too many issues or too general an issue, such as overall reproductive health, can be confusing. To help focus the situation analysis, develop a focused problem statement, such as:
This problem statement names the health issue (family planning) and indicates who is affected (newly married couples), where (Zed district) and, if known, the extent of the problem (a high amount). A well-written problem statement has the added benefit of providing specific search terms to use in collecting documents for the desk review (see Step 4).
To develop a problem statement, it may be helpful to first have all of the team members state the problem in their own words. Then, as a group, write a clear one- to two-sentence problem statement that reflects the team’s common understanding and that can guide the data collection and analysis on that specific health issue.
Step 3: Draft a Shared Vision
A vision provides a picture of what the situation will look like when the SBCC effort is completely successful and will anchor the SBCC intervention by stating what the program hopes to influence. A good vision statement provides direction, communicates enthusiasm and fosters commitment and dedication. A good vision should:
- Be Ambitious – go beyond what is thought likely in the near term.
- Be Inspiring and Motivating – call to mind a powerful image that triggers emotion and excitement, creates enthusiasm and poses a challenge.
- Look at the big picture – give everyone a larger sense of purpose.
To guide the team during the initial data collection and analysis, draft a provisional vision statement, which will later be shared with stakeholders to create a shared vision for the SBCC effort. One approach to developing the vision follows: each team member individually imagines the future she wants to see and draws that image on a paper. Team members share the pictures with each other and discuss similarities and differences. The team agrees on the elements that inspire them, adding new elements that arise from the discussion, and draws a new picture that represents the vision of the entire team. The team then translates the picture into words to create a vision statement.
The vision should be written in the present tense and then tested to make sure it meets the criteria of a good vision listed above.
Once the team has conducted an initial situation analysis, the provisional vision will be shared with stakeholders involved in the SBCC strategy design process and agreed upon. This can be done through a stakeholder workshop or informal meetings where stakeholders provide feedback and suggest changes to the provisional vision statement. The resulting shared vision statement should clarify what is important for all stakeholders and guide the strategy design and development process.
Step 4: Conduct a Desk Review
To better understand the health issue and to address the problem, the team needs to conduct a desk or literature review. To start this process, review the vision and problem statements and divide them up into concepts. Develop a list of keywords related to those concepts. Brainstorm additional synonyms and related keywords for each concept. These keywords will be the search terms used to find relevant literature.
Step 5: Decide the Scope of the Review
Determine how many studies and how comprehensive the review should be. Decide on the dates for the data, the studies to be collected and the best databases (or other sources of information such as partners) to focus the search (see commonly used databases for literature reviews under resources). Decide whether the review will include only peer review literature or will expand into grey literature.
Step 6: Identify the Relevant Information
Use the keywords/search terms to look for literature that fits within the scope of the review, including existing quantitative and qualitative data about the problem and the people affected. Look for information on:
Look for both national and local data using online searches, local library resources, and partner resources. Good sources include:
- Large-scale, population-level studies such as the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS)
- National policies and strategies to address the issue
- Reports on national, regional, district or health facility-level indicators
- Published research on the topic
- Bibliographies and references of relevant research studies
- Unpublished studies conducted by programs working in the area
- Stories and reports in the media
- Census research
- Media reports
- Anecdotes and narratives from communities
Step 7: Review and Organize the Data
Focus only on information that will help the project team address the problem and avoid including information that is not as relevant for SBCC. Organize and summarize the findings in a way that makes them easy to use (see Literature Review Template under templates).
While reviewing the data, organize the studies that contain information on potential audiences for SBCC interventions. Some studies provide information on what people think, feel and do about the health problem, what influences their behavior and the communication channels they use. Capture this information for use in the audience analysis (see Audience Focused Literature Review Template under templates).
A desk review is complete when no new information is discovered and the articles introduce similar arguments, methodologies, findings, authors and studies.
Write a list of questions that are not adequately answered in the available data and questions that arise from the data. For example, the team may need additional information on local practices or beliefs about the health issue. These are gaps that stakeholders might be able to address during a stakeholder workshop.
Step 8: Analyze the Data and Summarize the Findings
Look closely at the information collected. Determine the commonalities and conflicts among the studies. Decide if the information is valid and important in addressing the health issue. A good way to summarize the findings is to write a situation analysis report, which can be shared with the larger project team and relevant stakeholders.
Step 9: Fill the Existing Gaps
Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with members of potential audiences can help fill any information gaps that remain after the desk review. One way to fill gaps is to hold a stakeholder workshop. Other ways to fill gaps include holding in-depth interviews and focus groups with key informants or potential audience members; and conducting facility surveys (health, social service, religious or other facilities).
Literature Review Template
Audience-Focused Literature Review Template
Situation Analysis of Behavior Change Communication Activities in Bihar
The Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Belize: An Ecological Review
Situation Analysis of Nutrition in Southern Sudan: Analysis Based on June 2009 Assessment
Vulnerable Girls and HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Literature and Program Review
MSM + HIV + Africa
Tips & Recommendations
- Let the numbers and facts you learn tell a story. The story can be powerful and give clues to what needs to be done.
- Data does not only mean numbers. Personal accounts and reports can also be very powerful. Ideally, the project team will look at both. Consider including brief, insightful personal accounts (vignettes) in the situation analysis report to help bring the problem to life.
- When reviewing the literature, start by reviewing the abstracts to save time. Read article abstracts for the keywords and discipline-specific jargon that authors and scholars are using in their publications.
- Draw on the experience, expertise and insights of the stakeholders and those who have worked on the topic before. Set aside your own beliefs and values and keep an open mind to learning.
- When preparing for the stakeholder workshop, include only the information needed to achieve the objectives. If there is uncertainty, have optional slides ready, and create new ones as needed during the workshop.
- If the information does not exist, is outdated or does not provide enough insight into priority audiences, conduct additional primary qualitative formative research in the form of focus groups, interviews or informal visits to communities and homes.
- A situation analysis might appear to be a lot of work. However, a good situation analysis is well worth the effort. The benefits will become clear when you reach the implementation stage.
A customer analysis is a critical component of any organizational strategy. You probably would not want to open an extreme sports adventure business in a city where the age of the typical resident is older than fifty. Or, you might be wasting your marketing dollars advertising trendy, designer jeans on the Hallmark TV channel. You might do very well, however, if you opened a combination coffee/book store in a busy college town. If an organization doesn’t know who its customers are or what its customers want, it can’t meet customer needs.
Some of the things a customer analysis should do is to:
- Identify the target customer. Is this customer base growing or is it decreasing? What are your customer demographics (age, income, location, gender, politics, etc.)? What is the revenue of these customers? How much discretionary income do they have?
- Understand the specific customer needs. Why do they buy certain brands? How do make their purchasing decisions? Do they purchase in person or online?
- Show if and how your product or service meets those needs.
Besides determining if a customer base exists in the region, this data can be used in the future to plan effective promotional campaigns, forecast inventory needs, and determine the optimal combination of distribution channels.
You read about competitive analysis in the previous section at the macro level. At the situational level, a business needs to identify its specific competitors and assess their potential for taking market share. An organization needs to be aware of future initiatives of the competition (as much as is possible) and examine the competitors’ financial and marketing performances.
Another industry component that will greatly impact an organization is its suppliers. Your business may start by buying raw materials and producing finished goods purchased directly by consumers. Or it may process raw materials into products that are part of another company’s final consumer goods. Some organizations create services rather than goods but still need materials, such as computer software and hardware or office supplies, to provide those services. Whatever the situation, without raw materials or support products, the organization cannot operate.
In the past, it was common for an organization to choose suppliers that were in the same region or at least the same country. In today’s competitive global economy, however, a supplier is likely on the other side of the world. The supply chain is a system comprised of organizations, information, resources, people, technology, and activities that bring products or services from a supplier to a consumer. In larger organizations, entire departments may be dedicated to supply chain logistics. Implementing cooperative alliances with key suppliers is also a popular tactic employed by strategic organizations. Although multiple sources of supply helps to guarantee the availability of supplies, creating a cooperative agreement with one supplier can significantly reduce costs. How to handle suppliers is an extremely important factor in setting goals and generating strategies.
Governmental and legal environment are part of the PESTEL analysis discussed in the previous section. At the situational level, however, state and local regulations also need to be part of any analysis. The regulatory burden depends largely upon the type of industry and the specific nature of the business. In some industries, regulation is the single biggest uncertainty affecting investment and spending, corporate image, and risk management. These organizations include airlines, utilities, railways, telecommunications, banking, and pharmaceuticals. Often, the regulations have positive impacts on both consumers and businesses. They provide the public with a high level of confidence in the safety and efficacy of the products. They can also prevent competition from businesses with substandard and low-quality goods from trying to enter an industry. Despite the benefits that regulations can provide, any changes in how the product is manufactured, shipped, tested, or provided will greatly affect unit costs and profit margins.
Regulations are lighter for less risky products and businesses, but every company must comply with federal and state payroll, benefits, tax requirements, and following municipal commercial and building codes can present challenges. For example, a decision to expand the size of a fitness center to attract more customers may be thwarted by a local regulation that fixes a ratio of parking spaces to square footage. Or extra time could be added to delivery schedules if truckers must avoid more direct routes to comply with weight regulations on local highways. Some localities will not permit the shipping of dangerous chemicals through their towns. These factors all affect an organization’s ability to be competitive.
Regulations are a greater burden on small companies unless they are exempted because of size (some companies with fewer than twenty-five employees are exempt from overtime pay provisions, for example.) However, dealing with regulations can be challenging regardless of the size of the organization. Complying with regulations often involves a trade-off between short-term profits and long-term public relations and social responsibility.
Advocacy groups are also known as special interest groups, public interest groups, environmental groups, or political support groups. Whatever their label, their aim is to influence public opinion, public policy, and company behavior. Advocacy groups use a variety of strategies and tactics to draw attention to their causes, including lobbying, promotions using celebrities, and public information campaigns. They provide a type of check on the business community by exposing unethical or unpopular practices. The Internet—especially social media—has greatly strengthened the ability of these groups to impact an organization.
Advocacy groups represent political, economic, and social interests—all of which affect the business environment. (The PESTEL analysis in a previous section looked at the macro effect of these groups.) Today environmental interest groups are extremely varied, and many hold conflicting views about appropriate strategies for pursuing their interests.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of the more outspoken activist groups and has targeted many organizations it believes abuse animals. In 2016, after years of PETA campaigns aimed at publicizing its marine operations, SeaWorld announced that it would end its orca whale breeding program. In 2017, a combination of low ticket sales and adverse publicity on the general condition of circus animals led Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus to close after almost a century and a half. PETA had filed more than 130 formal complaints against the circus with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Regardless of criticisms that some advocacy group charges are not scientifically sound, negative publicity alone may be enough to disrupt business.
SWOT: A Situational Analysis Summary
Once external factors have been thoroughly considered, an organization can look at its own internal resources. A SWOT analysis is a method that examines the internal strengths and weaknesses of an organization as well as external opportunities and threats (social, political, economic, legal environmental) that would affect that organization. In fact, a SWOT analysis is really more of a summary of data from various other analyses formulated in a way that allows for comparisons. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Strengths are the areas where the organization has particular skills and resources that would allow it to pursue goals effectively. For instance, innovative and collaborative organizational cultures are strengths of Apple and Google.
- Weaknesses are areas where the organization is lacking resources and would be prevented from pursuing some goals. For example, when consumers demanded smaller, fuel-efficient cars, many American manufacturers lacked the designs and equipment to make these cars.
- Opportunities are conditions that are favorable to the organization and would facilitate its efforts to achieve its goals. Building on the earlier example, Japanese automakers saw an opportunity in the American demand for smaller cars to increase their market share.
- Threats are conditions that would prevent the organization from achieving its goals. Many businesses, for instance, are concerned about the threat posed by China’s competitive growing manufacturing capability.
Resource-based View (RBV) Strategic Approach
The resource-based view (RBV) argues that focusing on an organization’s strengths is essential to achieve a sustained competitive advantage. (Remember, the purpose of the SWOT analysis is to help companies identify their strengths.) RBV supporters look for ways to use internal resources (assets) to take advantage of external opportunities. To understand RBV, resources are classified into two groups: tangible and intangible.
- Tangible assets are physical things such as land, equipment and machines, and real estate. Although they are necessary, they aren’t unique and competitors can fairly easily acquire these kinds of assets.
- Intangible assets are anything an organization can own that is not physical. Examples include brand names, intellectual property, and the organization’s reputation and goodwill. These kinds of assets are not easily acquired and usually contribute heavily toward a sustained competitive advantage. For example, Mercedes Benz has a reputation for quality engineering and luxury in its vehicles. People take it as a given that they produce precision, high-quality products
The VRIO Framework
In 1991, J.B. Barney developed the VRIN framework to analyze a firm’s internal resources and capabilities to see if they can be used to sustain a competitive advantage. A few years later, he later revised VRIN to VRIO, the current model. VRIO stands for the four key characteristics that a resource must have if it is to produce sustained competitive advantage.
- Valuable. A resource is valuable if it enables the company to take advantage of opportunities or defend against threats. A valuable resource allows the company to provide value for its customers by making its product better or cheaper. It means the company can continue to add features or lower the price to maintain the perceived value.
- Rare. If only one or two companies can acquire a resource it is considered rare. A resource may be rare because little of it exists, such as workers with particular skills, or because there are few sources for it, such as lithium for batteries. Rare and valuable resources can create a temporary competitive advantage because even if other firms duplicate performance, they don’t have access to the unique resource (tangible or intangible, such as a patent or unique skill). If the resource is not rare, the best a company can achieve is competitive parity (equality).
- Inimitable. If another organization can’t copy, buy, or find a replacement for the resource, it is inimitable. According to Barney, resources can be inimitable if they (1) developed historically over a long period of time, (2) competitors cannot identify the particular resources that are the cause of competitive advantage, and (3) the resource is a result of the corporate culture and personal dynamics of the organization.
- Organized to capture value. The three characteristics listed earlier are “necessary but not sufficient conditions” to achieve a sustained competitive advantage. The missing ingredient is management’s ability to develop the strategy to put it all together. The firm must be organized in a way that can capture value by employing the right strategies.
The VRIO and the SWOT analyses are tools that help companies organize to successfully achieve sustained competitive advantages.