Evidence 11: Diverse organizational languages

In the  post Evidence 11 we explored the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector. Let us now see how this diversity is translated into the humanitarian “language”.


The graph below shows a comparative analysis of the 15 most used terms by different types of humanitarian organizations.

For this analysis we only kept the four main types of organizations : states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. We excluded the network category as it mainly includes NGO networks. The composition of organizations in our corpus diverges from the one in the database for two types of organizations. First, NGOs are less represented in the corpus than in the database (49% vs. 59%). Second, the level of representation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is higher in the corpus than in the database (13% vs. 7%). In the analysis below, states are referred to as “donors” given that this group only includes, in our corpus, strategic documents from governmental donor agencies [1].


What do these results tell us about the diversity of the sector ?

They point out the diverse terminologies used by different types of organizations of the humanitarian sector. Each type of organization has its own specific language with more than 50% of the most frequent terms being specific to one type. Development is the only term shared by all organizational types. Let us explore these specificities.

NGOs form the most specific group, with eleven terms frequently used by this type only. Top terms include references to the target groups of humanitarian action such as “community” – shared with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – “people”, “child”, and “woman”. A unique focus is made on human rights, as well as on partnerships (though the frequent use of “partner”). NGOs also form the only group which does not use “humanitarian” in its top 15 terms. This can be explained by the fact that most NGO jointly act in the humanitarian and development field.

Donors are the second most specific group with 60% of their most used terms not being shared with other types of organizations. The terms are often used in combination with each other. “Humanitarian” is strongly associated to “assistance” and “policy”. The most frequent terms include numerous references to operational contexts (natural disasters, conflicts, crises). Interestingly, “country” is used in combination with “partner”.

Third of all, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement also exhibits specific patterns in regards to terms use. The most used term is a cluster formed by “Red”, “Cross”, “Crescent” and “Society”. Follows, a focus on “community” and “vulnerable people”. The Movement uses two terms in a distinct way : “humanitarian” is closely associated to value whereas “development” refers to organisational growth. A unique emphasis is also put on volunteer staff and on service.

Lastly, the IGO group also uses some terms very specifically. For this group, “humanitarian” is associated with response and action. There are two distinct mentions of health : one associated with care (health care), the other with service (health service). Displaced people and refugees also appear on the list – the latter often being combined with Palestine. Among their activities, IGOs emphasize a cluster of activities around capacity-building, response preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

Our results also show a unique proximity between two types of organizations. The IGO group shares five key words with the donor group, which illustrates the role states have in the functioning of IGOs. On the contrary, the few words NGOs share with other types are with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

What do these results tell you ? Please share your thoughts with us using the comment form below.

[1] This is due to the fact that the other category of actors “governmental services and ministries” do not base their action on a distinct strategic document, but rather on a national jurisdiction.