The Humanitarian Encyclopedia project addresses four specific questions.

Contrary to existing glossaries, handbooks, and dictionaries where the selection of analysed concepts is not justified and often reflect the authors’ interests, the structure of the Encyclopedia is defined through a rigorous and participatory methodology, reflecting the priorities of humanitarian practitioners. This question was answered in 2018.

Existing reference documents on humanitarian concepts, taken individually or as a whole, fail to explore and explain how concepts central to humanitarian practice are used by a wide range of stakeholders. To answer this question, linguists and multidisciplinary team of scholarly experts analyse how concepts are defined and used across organizations and disciplines through an innovative interdisciplinary research approach.

The results of the survey showed that possible factors are organisational preferences and mandate; disciplinary background of actors; and geographical determinants. How these factorsgive concepts their distinct meaning over time will be further explored through the linguistic concept analysis and through case studies on strongly divergent concept uses selected in partnership with humanitarian actors.

The impact of conceptual variation on humanitarian practice is not well understood. We have indirect clues that conceptual fuzziness may have an impact on inter-organizational trust, on the effectiveness of humanitarian strategies, and on the perception of the humanitarian community by local, national, and international actors. Positive as well as negative consequences will be explored through case studies in partnership with humanitarian actors

An innovative interdisciplinary research approach builds synergies and promotes cross-fertilization between:

  • Experts in concept and content analysis: The Humanitarian Encyclopedia draws on the latest advances in linguistic, data-mining, and computer science to analyse the diversity of humanitarian language in a large corpus of reference documents including.
  • Disciplinary experts in humanitarian action: The project brings together experts from all the disciplines producing knowledge of humanitarian action. Working together, these experts interpret the results of the text-based analysis of concepts, provide complementary data, and develop research protocols to analyse the causes and impacts of concept variation.
  • Emerging and long-standing research traditions on humanitarian action: Beyond interdisciplinarity, the Humanitarian Encyclopedia brings together a large array of cultural and historical perspectives on humanitarian action. Participants from crisis-affected states in the Middle East, Turkey, Africa, Asia, and Latin America shed a common light on how to grasp ‘non-traditional’ and emerging uses of humanitarian concepts.

Drawing upon the disciplinary expertise and research traditions of its scholarly experts, the Humanitarian Encyclopedia adopts a mixed-methods approach to the collection and analysis of data in the humanitarian sector. Qualitative and quantitative techniques will be used including quantitative analyses, case studies, focus groups, interviews, and experimental methods.

The active involvement of the end-users of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia is essential at each stage of the research process, increasing the impact of the research and its appropriation. Humanitarian practitioners:

  • Define the scope of the research, by selecting the entries of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia;
  • Identify research questions and hypotheses;
  • Contribute to the data collection process;
  • Critically discuss the research results by providing complementary insights on best practices and operational challenges in applying concepts on the ground.