Two sets of texts produced by humanitarian actors were analysed:
a) strategy documents published by humanitarian organizations (n=295) and
b) a list of general sources regularly published on humanitarian action (n=183).
Strategy documents reflect the strategic positioning of an organization towards a large range of audiences – donors, policy-makers, other organizations but also, in some cases, the general public. They result from a compromise between several organizational departments and present a smooth narrative on how humanitarian organizations conceptualise their activities. In the set of general sources, we included widely accepted and recurring publications on humanitarian action which are more likely to present the challenges humanitarian organizations face, but also reflect the current debates in the humanitarian field as well as contested concepts and controversies.
The results of this content analysis lead to the identification of 299 concepts.
Contrasting both sets of documents
Unsurprisingly, a large number of the most frequently used terms in the strategy documents reflect a rather “technical” or “expert” view of humanitarian action (fig 1). Out of the 50 most frequent concepts, half refer to the program cycle as well as to strategy and intervention design (such as operation, strategy, implementation, response, objective, implementation, evaluation, indicator). Other prominent concepts refer to vulnerable people in crisis context and crisis-affected community (gender, child, community, need, capacity) as well as some key areas of intervention for humanitarian actors (protection, health, education, advocacy, aid). The norms and principles guiding humanitarian action are also mentioned but to a lesser extent (accountability, human rights). However, humanitarian principles, as a concept, is only mentioned at the 64th position. In contrast, the 100 most frequently used concepts of the general set of documents (figure 2) puts more emphasis on specific concepts referring to the operating environment of humanitarian actors (disaster, crisis, conflict, emergency appearing in the top 25 concepts) and to the actors involved in or encountered in humanitarian response (community, NGO, stakeholders, government). The lexical fields used are less technical and refer to situations of forced displacement and armed conflicts, but also to politics (politics, authorities, government, donorship).