The Broad Brush Survey Approach: A set of methods for rapid qualitative community assessment

We are delighted to share a training manual on the Broad Brush Survey approach. A Broad Brush Survey (BBS) is a rapid qualitative assessment of a community. It provides a standardized way for describing communities, focusing both on the wider community context and a specific issue (for example, water and sanitation, Tuberculosis, migrants). The BBS approach uses a mix of qualitative methods in a set sequence.  It is guided by a conceptual framework of four meta-indicators: physical features, social organization, social networks and community narratives. An inter-disciplinary and inter-regional team of researchers developed this BBS manual as a guide for practice. Ultimately, our collective vision is to use the BBS approach to support rigorous, replicable approaches to including community perspectives in health and related research and implementation projects.

The BBS approach is underpinned by urban sociological and anthropological theory. It has proved useful to public health research and linked interventions in Africa and Europe for over 20 years. Public health research and interventions often involve engaging with geographically bounded communities for a specific purpose. The local context of these communities dictates the options available for people in the place, influencing how a specific public health issue is navigated and managed. The BBS approach facilitates a rapid (5 to 15 days), formative understanding of these dynamics, alongside community engagement, to facilitate understanding of local context and planning.  

The BBS manual is organized into six chapters, and appendices of accompanying tools, fieldwork schedules and the meta-indicator visual. The chapters cover the essence and origins of the BBS approach, planning for a BBS, implementing the BBS, organizing and analyzing the data, reporting and disseminating the BBS findings, and an example of using BBS in an interdisciplinary research project on water and sanitation. The manual is designed to be printed out in hard copy or used as a soft copy. We would encourage the use of illustrations and visuals.

The BBS Manual can be downloaded at: