This paper examines the comparative value of rapid assessment in the field of illicit drug use.
Three aims of rapid assessment are highlighted: one, to collect quality data to inform policy and practice; two, to encourage a multi-method research approach; and three, to promote and support greater local involvement and ownership of the project itself. A number of manuals and guidelines have been produced for rapid assessment.
A key issue to address, therefore, is the extent to which a structured and standardised approach can provide sufficient flexibility to take into account the political, social and cultural differences in the respective countries in which assessment takes place.
Using the empirical experience derived from four rapid assessment projects, a four-phase strategy is outlined: developing infrastructure and formative evaluation; research training and mapping exercises; data collection; and report writing and dissemination.
In place of the current reactive approach, we need more strategic thinking at the macro-level.
To enable comparison between projects we should move towards basic methodological standardisation, but this should be accomplished without stifling the sociological imagination, which is a crucial ingredient to successful rapid assessment.