HOD Guidance & Codebook

In the concepts’ selection process, we decided to launch a consultative online survey asking humanitarian practitioners about their understanding of concepts and what they perceived as the most salient concepts. To achieve this, we had to map organisations involved in humanitarian activities. It was a challenging task. The very humanitarian label is both contested – a lot of organisations active in crisis areas refuse to use it – but is also a source of legitimacy for some organisations. Moreover, the sector is of a very diverse nature including organisations from diverse geographical origins, organisational structure and activities

Estimations and hearsay on the number of organizations involved in humanitarian action abound, while no database currently exists to document such diversity. To document the diversity of the sector and better understand who the potential beneficiaries of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia are, a database of humanitarian organizations (n ≈ 2500) has been set up by compiling and curating existing lists of humanitarian organizations and identifying additional ones. Organizations are included if they work in an emergency/chronic emergency context and self-define their goals and a substantial part of activities using the following key words: ‘humanitarian’, ‘emergency’, ‘relief’, ‘disaster’, ‘crisis’. Information was collected through websites and activity reports and includes date of creation, organizational type, location of headquarters, location of field operations, types of activities, specific groups on which activities are focused, and whether the organization defines itself as faith-based.


In what follows, we explain the process which led to the constitution of the database and the inclusion of the selected organisations. For more information about what each variable refers to, please consult the HOD Codebook.

The Humanitarian Organisations Database opens the possibility for organizations to register and to correct/update their information. This open-source database is a reference tool of and for humanitarian partners, who will be mobilized throughout the project.

In this dataset, we don’t take any stance about what humanitarian action shall involve. On the contrary, we consider as a humanitarian actor any actor who:

  • works in an emergency/ chronic emergency context. Such contexts include:
    • armed conflict settings be they inter-state or intra state conflicts as defined by the UCDP dataset on armed conflicts (Allansson, Melander & Themnér 2017)
    • natural disasters as defined by the dataset of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters – CRED (2017)
    • situations of multifaceted vulnerabilities (political, social, medical, economic) as defined by the 2017 Fragile States index. The database includes States whose level of vulnerability ranges from warning to high alert (Fund for Peace 2017)
  • defines at least 30% part of its activities using the following key words: “humanitarian”, “emergency,” “relief”, “disaster”, “crisis”. Activities include not only programmes implemented in crisis context but also support activities provided to humanitarian organisations.

These two criteria are cumulative: to be included an organisation needs to meet both of them. The database only includes organisations which were still active in 2017-2018.

This dataset is exclusively based on existing online resources. Consulted lists involved: The Humanitarian Response database of humanitarian actors, The Yearbook of International Organisation, The members list of national NGO consortiums; The members list of global humanitarian networks. In addition, organisations listed in Relief Web and the UNOCHA-managed Financial Tracking Service were added when they met the above-mentioned criteria.

The compilation of existing lists initially led to the identification of more than 4000 organisations. This initial list has then been cleaned by carefully looking at the activities performed by each organisation. This cleaning process revealed that a lot of organisations use the humanitarian label for strategic purposes, not necessarily reflecting what they actually do.

Data on each organisation was collected through an analysis of each organisation’s Websites; annual reports and, when relevant, other publications and Social media pages (Facebook, LinkedIn). We hence rely on how each organisation self-declares its activities.

This strategy comes with several limitations:

  • the way in which organisations speak about what they do not necessarily reflects what they actually do – even if the triangulation of activity reports and financial reports avoids such bias partially;
  • for some federations or NGO networks we were not able to find detailed information on each member agency as some of them have no website;
  • language was, in some case, an obstacle to data collection. We were able to consult websites in English, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German and French. This is why, in some case, only the name of the organisation appears;
  • when websites or publications were not up to date (i.e. last update more than one year ago), we included the organisation without adding data on its current activities and regions of intervention.

A last important point to note is the fact that all the variables pertaining to the characteristics of the organisation are based on a commonly-agreed scientific and legal definition of what the category entails. For example, if an organisation defines itself as an NGO but its legal status is indicating a corporation with social purposes, the organisation will be categorized as a corporation / business (see the codebook for a precise definition of each variable).

This database should be taken as a first effort to map the diversity of the humanitarian field that we hope to expand with your help! Please contact us if you can’t find your organisation or if you found some inaccurate information. Any change in the dataset follows an established procedure, carefully checking the information received. We encourage you to send us any document which attests the veracity of the information provided.

Authors of the database

Principal investigator : Prof Clara Egger

Contributors : Prof Doris Schopper & Joy Muller

Research assistance
Edith Favoreu, Simon Dousse, Tadao Stadler, Matiu Dermont, Gyan Kothari, Timothée Binoth, Gabriel Serex, Pascal Imhof and Robin Rudaz.

The information is the correct to the best of our knowledge. This dataset is a beta version that will be progressively consolidated with the input provided by humanitarian organisations.