Consultative process

The Humanitarian Encyclopedia project is being developed at a time when practitioners are called upon to increase local ownership of humanitarian programmes. Particularly after the Grand Bargain of 2016 – an outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit – key concepts must be contextualized and adapted to the local realities of crisis-affected communities.This presupposes that local practitioners are able to grasp how and why concepts central to humanitarian practice are divergently used and defined.

The  project, therefore, is being informed by the views and experiences of a wide range of humanitarian practitioners.  A consultative process was lead in 2018 through regional workshops and an online survey to elicit the opinions of a large number of humanitarian actors on key concepts used in their daily practice and to assess their needs for a better understanding of these concepts.  The results have laid a solid foundation for the further development of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia.

In close collaboration with humanitarian and academic partners, nine workshops have been conducted in seven locations – in Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Bamako, Nairobi, Beirut, Erbil and Mexico – between August 2018 and February 2019 to:

  • identify core concepts used in daily practice by humanitarian actors;
  • discuss their particular saliency also in languages other than English;
  • assess regional needs for research products and the capacity to contribute to knowledge sharing.

These workshops gathered more than 150 professionals and were essential in:

  • informing the final selection of 129 key concepts and their associated concepts,
  • ensuring that the design and structure of the digital platform corresponds to the expectations of humanitarian professionals,
  • shedding more light on the issue of language.

These workshops also considerably enlarged the network of humanitarian partner organisations to be involved in the project. 

To get a better understanding of common and divergent uses of key terms and concepts by humanitarian practitioners themselves, and to identify terms that are central to their every-day practice, we carried out a survey.

From January 19th to May 30th 2018, the online survey “How do you speak humanitarian” was widely distributed through a Humanitarian Organizations Dataset including approximately 2500 organisations and by more directly targeting a subset of about 30 organisations partnering with CERAH. In total, 1’435 respondents connected to the survey and 1’060 completed it.

43% of respondents indicated that they disagree on the definition of terms, while 70% stated that they use terms in a sector-specific way leading to misunderstanding with non-humanitarian actors. Disagreement is mainly due to the diverging interests of their organization/department (35%) and to different professional training (25%).

Practices associated with a concept are also very diverse as shown with the example of Protection.

The results confirm that definitions and uses of terms and concepts in the humanitarian sector are not consensual.  It demonstrates that organizational factors are predominant in the use of concepts and that the disciplinary background of respondents  and their region of work also matter.