Threat analysis

From Gender and Tech Resources

Title of the tutorial Threat analysis
Kind of learning session Holistic
Tutorial category Discussion
Duration (hours) 75-90m
"-90m" can not be assigned to a declared number type with value 75.
Learning objectives To identify and prioritise what are the potential threats related to their work and their well-being in the context of their activities, and analyses its impact as elements of risk.
Prerequisites It is best if this activity follows a thorough context analysis.
Methodology [[Methodology::Methodology

Activity and Discussion: Threat Brainstorming (25 minutes)

In groups from one organisation:

Step 1. On a large sheet or butcher paper on an area of wall space, participants map out the main activities or areas of work carried out by the organisation, which were already identified in the vision and actor mapping exercises. If the organisation has an office, include the daily running of the office as an activity here.

Step 2. Introduce the exercise wherein participants will brainstorm the threats to themselves and their well-being which they relate to each activity. On a flipchart, write the definition of threats: any potential event which could cause harm to ourselves or our work.

Step 3. Divide participants into groups according to each activity – it may be according to activities that they work on, or divided randomly. Each group uses sticky notes to brainstorm threats they associate with each of the activities. Remind participants to consider: their situational analysis of the political, economic, social and technological trends; the actors who oppose their work and their modus operandi in trying to close their work space; any security indicators they have experienced that might alert them to likely threats; include threats to their health and well-being as well as threats to their sensitive information; threats do not have to be political in nature. They can also arise from common delinquent violence and environmental factors (e.g. malaria or dengue when traveling in areas affected by them).

Sample instructions

1. Consider, for each of your activities or areas of work, all the potential threats to yourself, your organisation and your work. Remember: a threat is any potential event which could cause harm to ourselves or our work. Don't forget to consider potential threats to your information security, and threats to your well-being.

2. Create a list of these threats. If you find it difficult, consider your adversaries and ways in which they may have acted against other human rights defenders in the past. Analyse your security indicators and consider whether they indicate a concrete threat.

3. Observe any patterns that emerge in the threats you identified: do they relate primarily to certain activities of yours, or originate from certain adversaries? This will be useful when it comes to security planning (i.e. by planning particularly for certain activities, or dedicated plans for engagement with some actors).

4. Keep this list for analysis in the following exercises.

In mixed groups:

Participants are given blank flipcharts or handouts and carry out the exercise alone firstly (according to the instructions above) and then share their brainstorm with a partner.

Input: Prioritising Threats (15 minutes)

There may be many threats we can imagine happening in the course of our work. This can in fact be overwhelming. However, at some point we have to come to some kind of prioritisation in order to take practical steps to move forward. One method which helps prioritising threats is to distinguish among them in terms of their relative probablility/likelihood and impact. These are two elements of a Risk analysis.

Present the threat matrix as demonstrative of this. Impact ► Low Medium High

▼Likelihood Likely


Unclear: More information needed before a priority can be assigned

Deepening: Threat Matrix (30 minutes)

For organisations

Step 1. Ask participants to create a threat matrix for each of the activities they identified in the previous exercise (the activities they regularly carry out in defense of human rights). Give each group some stickies and pens.

Step 2. Give the groups 15-25 minutes. On each matrix, they can place the threats according to their perceived likelihood and impact. In their groups, they can discuss their perceptions with one another as to the likelihood and impact of each – but do emphasize that this is done respectfully and that each member of the group should be given space to speak.

For mixed groups:

Step 1. Each participant creates their own threat matrix on a flipchart or half flipchart and has 15-25 minutes to complete it.

Step 2. They then pair up and present and discuss their threat matrix, and ask each other questions if necessary in order to check their perceptions. The facilitator should move from pair to pair, seeing if there is any confusion and helping out where necessary.

Not Knowing: For this exercise, it's good to openly recognize that it can be very difficult to know with some threats where exactly they fall. In many trainings, participants feel under pressure during this exercise, as if there is a 'right' or 'wrong' answer. Our perceptions are challenged, on the one hand, by stress and tiredness and other factors; on the other hand, they are challenged by a lack of publicly available information about certain threats (such as electronic surveillance). Ensure that participants have a chance to explain to one another why they feel that a particular threat has a corresponding likelihood or impact, and promote a calm discussion and analysis of it, based if possible on the notion of security indicators.

Step 3. Explain that this output will be used as the basis for the following exercises, wherein we will see how our existing strategies, plans and tactics match up to these threats, and make plans to build on them and make them stronger.


In our strategic planning, it's important to consider the potential threats that may arise from our activities. In the first instance, they help us decide whether or not the activities are a good idea, and if so, how to carry them out more safely.

This looks like a scientific, objective operation – but really it's about perceptions, which can be challenged when we're under stress, or when we're talking about threats that are mediated through digital medium (such as electronic surveillance). In this case, we should check our perceptions with trusted friends and colleagues, or try to find more information.]]

Number of facilitators involved 1
Technical needs Flipchart, markers, sticky notes, handouts (optional)
Theoretical and on line resources [[Theoretical and on line resources::Holistic Security Guide

Front Line Defenders Workbook on Security

Protection International Manual]]