This paper reviews the development of various methods designed to generate relevant social information, pertaining to health and disease control, quickly and accurately. In so doing, we examine the use of KAP surveys and the subsequent development of community diagnosis, rapid appraisal methods, rapid epidemiological assessment, and rapid assessment procedures (RAP) for anthropological studies. Our focus is on the development of anthropological RAPs, in response to the lack of professionally trained social scientists to work with disease control programmes and ministries of health, and in light of the demonstrable need for social science input in the development of health policies and programmes. These developments are assessed in terms of scope and method. Issues relating to the representativeness, reliability and validity of RAP studies are discussed, and mechanisms by which to maximise the yield of valid data are presented.