Evidence 15: Most frequent terms used by international and national NGOs

In  Evidence 14, we analysed the geographical distribution of national and international NGOs. Let us now explore how both groups of organizations “speak” humanitarian.

To explore this dimension, let us come back to our preliminary corpus to compare the most frequent terms used by NGOs working only in their home country and NGOs working outside their national borders.

As a general remark, it is worth mentioning that if our corpus composition is very close to our database composition as far as community-based and regional NGOs are concerned[1], national organizations are underrepresented (11,3 % vs. 18% of the organizations in the database). The most important bias is linked to the language used for our analysis. By choosing to compare English documents only, we were able to collect the largest amount of monolingual sources but failed to give an adequate representation of organizations from South/Central America and the Caribbean (mainly producing documents in Spanish), MENA organizations (writing in Arabic) as well as organizations coming from the French speaking part of Africa.

While being aware of this limitation, our analysis still enables us to initially compare how diverse organizations speak when using a common working language. The graph below shows the 20 most frequent terms used by national and international NGOs[2].


Three initial results stand out from this frequency analysis.

First, half of the most frequent terms are used commonly by international and national NGOs. Common terms refer to:

  • The link or – for some organizations – opposition between development work/approaches and humanitarian action ;
  • A common focus on the needs and lives of crisis-affected people – “life” and “people” being two closely associated terms – and the “community” ;
  • A conception of humanitarian action as a supportive and inclusive activity;
  • Program management and organizational processes (“resource” being associated to “human” and “financial”).

Second, the analysis reflects some specificities in the language used by international NGOs. Interestingly, “humanitarian” is only the 20th most frequently used term and is often associated to “assistance” and “crisis”. International NGOs frequently refer to:

  • The link between the international and local level – also referred to when using the term “country” ;
  • The importance of human and (disabled) child [3] rights and a focus on the relations between men, girls and women ;
  • Climate-change and its impacts on humanitarian crises ;
  • Health as a specific area of intervention associated to “community”;
  • The partnership work.

It is striking to note – except for “health” specifically used in combination with “care” – that the most frequent terms used by national NGOs reveal an emphasis on diverging issues:

  • “Humanitarian” does not appear as a frequently used term for national NGOs, most of them referring more often to “disaster risk reduction” ;
  • The importance of “capacity-building” and of the national level in the organization of humanitarian responses ;
  • Strategic thinking referred to by the use of the term “strategy” and “policy” ;
  • Humanitarian action seen as a provision of services and as set of diverse activities ;
  • The role of the private sector.

Overall, the common terms shared by both national and international NGOs may be explained by inter-organizational contacts and circulation patterns. Yet both types of organizations keep a distinct level giving some initial insights on their specific interests and concerns.

What do these results mean for you? Tell us by commenting this article!

[1] Documents from community based organizations form 1,9% of our corpus whereas these organizations form 1,6% of our database. Regional organizations account for 3,7% of the organizations whereas in the corpus they are the authors of 3,13 % of the collected documents.

[2] Please refer to the previous post to see which organizations are included in both groups.

[3] “Disabled” and “child” often being used in combination to each other