This study considers the function and practice of needs assessment in relation to organisational decision-making in World Food Programme, its donors and other partners. The study takes a generally pragmatic view of this subject. The world as it presents itself is never ideal – especially not in the context of humanitarian crisis, where circumstances are almost by definition non-ideal. In asking whether a particular assessment approach is appropriate in a given context, a balance often has to be struck between the need for rigour and accuracy on the one hand, and feasibility, cost and utility on the other. These things are not necessarily in tension, however, and what may be impracticable at one stage in the evolution of a crisis may become feasible later. The right approach depends largely on the nature and scale of the crisis, the purpose of the assessment and the timeframe for decision-making.