IHM interview in Malawi

The individual household method (IHM)

The individual household method (IHM®) provides reliable estimates of household income, with detailed information on household assets, demography and specific income sources. This data can be used to support the design and targeting of development policies and programmes, and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

IHM provides reliable estimates of incomes and access to food and non-food needs at an individual household level, and is used mainly for the design, targeting, monitoring and evaluation of development programmes in both rural and urban areas. The method was designed to overcome problems with widely-used surveys and involves specialised software that enables data checking and analysis to be carried out by researchers in the field, reducing the risk of errors and making it possible to provide up-to-date information needed by decision makers.

Whereas the Household Economy Approach (HEA) collects information on ‘typical’ households from defined sections of the population through group interviews, the Individual Household Method collects information on actual households from their members. This can identify more complex variations across populations than in possible with the HEA, and the approach has been used both to design and target development interventions, as well as to monitor and evaluate their impact.

NGOs, governments and academics are increasingly using the individual household method to design, target, monitor and evaluate poverty-reduction programmes. It is also used to calibrate other poverty measures, to predict and mitigate the impacts of economic shocks, and to estimate the scale of needs and the affordability of goods and public services such as health and education.


The individual household method differs from most other household budget surveys by collecting data through a semi-structured interview rather than a standard questionnaire format, as well as by using specialised software which allows data checking and analysis to be carried out in the field. These innovations reduce the risk of errors in data collection, and allow any errors that do occur to be identified and corrected early in the process. Rapid analysis can also provide up-to-date information needed by decision makers.

The first stage of IHM research is the identification of livelihood zones and selection of survey sites within the zone. After sampling decisions have been made and locations have been selected, contextual information on the local economy is collected from focus groups including women and men involved in different economic activities. This provides interviewers with data that can be used to cross-check responses from individual households.

Selected households are then interviewed, following a structure that is designed to include all relevant income sources and related details without unnecessary questions. The interview covers household demography, assets, crop and livestock production, employment (including day labour, petty trade, self-employment and salaried work undertaken by men, women and children in the household), wild foods and non-market transfers. Other personal or household characteristics relevant to the study (for example, the gender of the household head or the educational level of each member of the household) are also recorded during the interview.

On the day of collection, interview data is entered into open-IHM software and checked for internal consistency, biological adequacy and disparities with observed living conditions. If anomalies are found or if any further information is needed the household is revisited, and where necessary datasets are amended. The software can then generate output that shows:

  • household budgets and food requirements
  • incomes, disaggregated by source
  • disposable incomes
  • households above or below the locally-defined standard of living
  • assets
  • simulated effects of changes in price(s) or production.

To analyse the individual household data collected in IHM studies, EfD has developed its own , cloud based software (OIHM®)

Click here to read examples of studies and reports that use the individual household method, or contact us for further information on the IHM and how your organisation might be able to use it.

IHM is a registered trademark of Evidence for Development.