SWOT analysis

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analysis

The SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that encourages group or individual reflection on and assessment of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a particular strategy and how to best implement it.

SWOT analysis originated in business and marketing analysis.

IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) describes this option as ‘useful when qualitatively assessing, for example, the services provided by the project, relationships between project stakeholders and the organisations of the implementing partners, local groups and the project team itself’ (IFAD Options for Monitoring and Evaluation, Annex D, page D 21).

It is useful in various evaluation tasks, both as a data collection option to gather and retrieve monitoring information and in the scoping phase as an initial analysis ‘describing’ a program, to assess a problem in-depth and focus evaluation questions.

The SWOT framework - a two-by-two matrix - is best completed in a group with key team members or organisations present. First, it is important to be clear about the objective and what team or organisation the analysis will focus on. Once these are clarified and agreed, begin with a brainstorm of ideas, and then hone them down and clarify them afterwards in the discussion.

Strengths and Weaknesses describe ‘where the project or organisation is now: the existing resources that can be used immediately and current problems that won't go away. It can help identify where new resources, skills or allies will be needed’ (Start and Hovland 2004). Both refer to ‘technical, financial, promotional, networking, knowledge’ (BDS Business Development Services Forum) or competency-based factors internal to the programme. ‘When thinking of strengths, it is useful to think of real examples of success to ground and clarify the conversation’ (Start and Hovland 2004). Strengths are ‘those things that are working well in a project or situation. The aspects people are proud to talk about’ (IFAD) and which differentiate the program from others.  Weaknesses are ‘those things that have not worked well’ or that the program is less efficient in than others.

Opportunities and Threats describe ‘what is going on outside the organisation, or areas which are not yet affecting the strategy but could do’ (Start and Hovland 2004). Opportunities include ‘ideas on how to overcome weaknesses and build on strengths’ (IFAD) within the environment the program operates in. Threats are ‘things that constrain or threaten the range of opportunities for change’ in the programme environment. These external aspects are often related to ‘sociological, political, demographic, economic, trade-specific’ and environmental factors (BDS).


    Example of SWOT analysis for small NGO

    The following example is an excerpt from Start, D. and Hovland, I. (2004) p.2:


    • We are able to follow-up on this research as the current small amount of work means we have plenty of time
    • Our lead researcher has strong reputation within the policy community
    • Our organisation's director has good links to the Ministry


    • Our organisation has little reputation in other parts of government
    • We have a small staff with a shallow skills base in many areas
    • We are vulnerable to vital staff being sick, leaving, etc


    • We are working on a topical issue
    • The government claims to want to listen to the voice of local NGOs
    • Other NGOs from our region will support us


    • Will the report be too politically sensitive and threaten funding from sponsors?
    • There is a pool of counter-evidence that could be used to discredit our research and therefore our organisation.

    The NGO might therefore decide, amongst other things, to target the report to specific patrons in the one ministry, use their lead researcher to bring credibility to the findings and work on building up a regional coalition on the issue.

    Advice for choosing this method

    • "A SWOT analysis can reveal hidden obstacles to a planned project, especially when participants come from different departments or geographical areas in the same organization. In the same way, SWOT can identify positive elements that may not be readily evident. Used properly, SWOT can generate valuable data quickly and be an example of 'strength in numbers'" (Impact Alliance).
    • They are independent of baseline data or indicators.
    • They are a simple tool that is easy-to-grasp and quick to implement.
    • SWOT is usually a ‘snap shot’ tool that is used in a one-off scenario to reflect on a subject from all angles; it is rarely repeated over time, even though this might be a possible variation. If this variation is used, consider how you will make change visible across two or more SWOTs.

    Advice for using this method

    • The single most important rule to remember when completing a SWOT analysis is that strengths and weaknesses are internal aspects, which can be controlled by the program under evaluation. In contrast, opportunities and threats are external aspects, which are outside of the control of the program and are determined by its environment.
    • When interpreting a SWOT analysis, it is important to look for instances where internal strengths are paralleled by external market opportunities. Equally, it is important to spot instances where internal program weaknesses are matched by corresponding external threats. For instance, a lack of evaluation expertise within a program (internal) which is paralleled by an increase in M&E demands by donors (external) must be addressed through risk management.


    Business Development Services (BDS) Forum, ‘Complete manual for SWOT analysis’, https://web.archive.org/web/20100317123000/http://www.bds-forum.net/m+e.htm (archive link - accessed 16 December 2010)

    IFAD, ‘Options for Monitoring and Evaluation, Annex D’, page D 21, http://www.ifad.org/evaluation/guide/annexd/Annex_D-3DEF.pdf (PDF, 412KB) (accessed 16 December 2010)

    Impact Alliance, User’s Guide for SWOT Analysis, http://www.impactalliance.org/file_download.php?location=S_U&filename=10227014460SWOT_Guide.pdf (accessed 16 December 2010)

    Start, D. and Hovland, I. (2004): SWOT Analysis, Tools for Policy Impact: A Handbook for Researchers, Overseas Development Institute, https://odi.org/en/publications/tools-for-policy-impact-a-handbook-for-researchers/ (accessed 21 December 2010)

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