This SSHAP Practical Approaches brief underlines key considerations when appraising the context in which an outbreak occurs. It gives guidance on the relevant social science knowledge available and can result in a summary that comprises critical knowledge on a certain area in granular detail and highlights key areas for additional primary data collection. This summary can then be used to advocate for appropriate and contextualised response mechanisms. Local social scientists or operational researchers embedded in an epidemic response should use this tool to gain a background understanding of the contextual aspects that shape vulnerability to both the disease and the response.