Defining the question

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All assessments are done in response to a ‘question’ or ‘concern’. This initial question is often not phrased specifically for the purpose of assessment, but instead to raise awareness and get attention. Even when an official body commissions an assessment, the question may not be clearly and fully described. In most cases, therefore, the issue of interest will need to be carefully considered and redefined.

The aim of doing so is to make sure:

  • that it is unambiguous and clearly understood;
  • that it really does reflect the issue about which people are concerned;
  • that it can form the basis for a sensible and realistic assessment;
  • that the rationale for doing an assessment is clearly recognized.

To achieve this the question needs to be phrased in a clear and structured way. Typically, this involves defining (at least in general terms):

  • the causes (e.g. human activities, environmental stressors, agents) and/or types of health impacts of concern;
  • the area or population of interest;
  • the timescale of the concern.