Terms & Definitions

The term “Civil Society” according to the World Bank refers to the wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) therefore refer to a wide array of organizations: community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), labor unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations.”

On the other hand, researchers like prominent intellectual Dr. Azmi Bishara believe that the term “civil society” extends well beyond the limits of the strict definition of NGOs, especially considering the state of political enlightenment that spread in communities across the region as a result of the Arab Spring protest movements. However, for the purpose of this study, we will adopt the World Bank definition of CSOs, which encompasses all non-governmental, non-partisan and non-profit organizations.

For the purpose of this research, we decided upon the following definition for “the Syrian Civil Society Organization”: A Syrian CSO is every non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental and non-violent institution that possesses a clear Syrian identity in terms of  its managing members being all Syrian citizens. Its main activity is aimed towards the Syrian cause whether it be through endorsement (advocacy), lobbying, providing services to Syrians in Syria and neighboring countries or institutions that target a social or ethnic group of Syrians that include Civil and non-Governmental Organizations in a manner that does not affect its legal standing as to being a Syrian Civil Society Organization.

In the Syrian context, the need for an accurate definition of Civil Society Organizations takes on a very important dimension, due on the one hand to the recent emergence of this nascent society, and on the other to the misconception surrounding it. With the absence of a Central Government, the majority of organizations operating in areas that are outside the control of the regime all follow similar operational mechanisms due in part to numerous factors among which the fact that a large number of councils and governing bodies adopt organizational structures that greatly resemble those of Civil Society Organizations. One such example is Idlib's Directorate of Health (which provides governmental services), in which the process entails electing a secretary council comprised of the province's doctors that, in turn, appoints the head of the Directorate of Health. Owing to the fact that this directorate has no ties to any governmental party, receives funding independently through donors and is not affiliated with any political or profit-oriented organization, all of the aforementioned signifies that this particular organizational body fulfills the European Union's definition of a Civil Society Organization by being a non-profit, non-governmental, non-partisan and non-violent organization.

However, in addition to the EU definition of a Civil Society Organization, we will use an additional criteria that excludes bodies  that undertake roles traditionally associated with governmental organizations for the purpose of this research, and thus excluding from this mapping project institutions such as Local, Provincial and City Councils, and Public Services Directorates (health, agriculture, education, etc.).

Comprised of an assembly of citizens who aim to work towards solving a certain issue that hasn’t been resolved by official institutions, by partaking in collective activities that aim to pressure the government, or to an urgent matter. Civil Initiatives do not have clear hierarchical structures or titles, their decisions are unanimously determined.

Organizations that are recognized international bodies or are United Nations subsidiaries.

These are organizations that define themselves as being part of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) or the Syrian Central Government or they are organizations which are directly linked to party groups and ones that have an armed wing or were proven to have been involved in acts of violence, in addition to organizations that supports extremist armed factions  such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra Front.

This term refers to the “Local Councils and Health Directorates”, which represent a  transitional and vague structural formation owing to the fact that these types of organizations possess an independent hierarchy and an administrative board or independent supervision and funding. However, they identify as auxiliaries of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) and its governing bodies which undertake duties that normally fall under the jurisdiction of governmental institutions such as the directorates of health and education.

Projects that are solely reliant on social media platforms as their only outlets have not been included in this report due to challenging classification, debatable credibility and inability to create content quality measuring criteria, or establish the level of  professionalism for each of the pages, in addition to their influence within the frame of primary research, we are reviewing available information for over three thousand Syria-related pages, among which are four hundred active pages that share original content (do not rely on copying content from another source) to be included in the in-depth report. We are also considering the potential of including them in a separate report dedicated to social media pages and media outlets, additionally there will be a graph on the website that displays data about these initiatives and links to them due to their significance, particularly within the domains of both media and advocacy.

Organizations and media outlets which have not been active for over 6 months since the beginning of this research dated 1/6/2015 or organizations that are only active for a limited period of time.


This research aims to include as many Syrian CSOs  as possible, therefore the purpose was not meant to incorporate a narrow sample, it was to include as many organizations as possible in order to be representative of all CSOs in Syria. However, this task has proven to be exceptionally difficult due to various factors, most notable being difficulty gaining access into certain areas in addition to security concerns. The data collection process is extremely complicated in regime-held areas putting its conductors under great risk of being incarcerated. Similarly, collecting data in ISIL-controlled area is a precarious task. Therefore, the CfS team attempted to depend on the data they had most access to.

All the aforementioned considerations have prompted researchers to follow different and various data gathering methods befitting the current reality in surveyed regions, thus the data- gathering process was not only limited to one source (the observer/data collector),but another approach has also been applied by making use of available data that is derived from previous surveys conducted by CfS, in addition to other information provided by reliable partner organizations.

A team of around 80 people worked on the survey and the cross-examination process, 48 of whom are observers and administrators from the CfS team, as well as a number of temporary observers in some areas, who have all received  basic training in the subject of data collection procedures as well as being well-educated on the research’s goals. The team members have been all selected based on their previous activities in civil work and their favorable status among local communities and organizations.

As per the main data source from which the information included in this report have been drawn, the process has been conducted by trained members who received sufficient training on the principles of data collection, which consists of fact-checking, cross-examination, and data review. Below we demonstrate the main and secondary sources of the data collection process:

Primary data has been gathered by conducting interviews with the primary data sources, such as organizations, institutions and Syrian work teams

  • Direct interviews with organizations: conducted by the observers or the regional representatives, in CSOs’ operation areas or in some cases the conferences were held online.
  • Immediate Remarks made by the observers: A number of observers are spread across every Syrian province and each local team is managed by a regional official in addition to the Turkey team and the organization’s head office. Data is compiled into an electronic platform in order to be examined and cross-examined against other sources, this task is undertaken by the data inspection office, which in turn forwards it to be later processed and presented by the organization’s main headquarters in Berlin.
  • Info shared by organizations through their official public channels.
  • Information provided by CfS partners, such as networks and active Syrian organizations
  • Available data  obtained from previous surveys.
  • Electronic surveys and Data harvesting which was applied to Facebook in particular and partially on other secondary platforms.

This research includes above mentioned institutions, civil and activist initiatives which have a defined name and an official means of communication, excluding the following organizations (view terms and definitions section)

  • International Organizations and their branches in Syria
  • Government Organizations
  • Quasi-governmental Organizations
  • Local Council and Health Directorates
  • Social media-based projects (Facebook and Twitter)
  • Inactive Organizations

This study examines the results of competency evaluation survey for 748 Syrian organizations that meet the standards of our survey which responded to the survey and answered the majority of the questions (100 questions), while around 200 organizations refused to take part in the study, in addition to 75 organizations we were unable to reach.

For the purpose of this research Syria has been divided into 3 geographical regions as follows:


  • Northern Region: it includes the provinces of Al-Hassaka, Dei-Ezzor, Al-Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Lattakia Countryside and northern countryside of Hama
  • The Central Region: Damascus and its countryside, in addition to the provinces of Homs and Hama.
  • The Southern Region: Daraa, Qunietra and Al-Sweida’a

Each region has been overseen by one leader  and a number of observers who work together as a team  in order to collect data from the aforementioned sources and check their credibility.  Team leaders  also gathered data from organizations based in neighboring countries.

After the observer has completed the data insertion process for one or multiple organizations in a certain region where they are appointed, the supervisor/leader conducts a primary review to ensure the that information is cohesive, reasonable and that all required fields in the table are properly filled. In case of an error the leader returns the document to the observer in order to recheck it.  Consequently the info gets transferred to the examination officer who in turn compares it to other available  data obtained from different sources which are sometimes lists provided by partners or through referrals from active figures in the region, in the case that  gaps are present in the material the examination officer passes it back to the regional team leader in order to reassess it.

The study has also relied on lists provided by partners in addition to a general social media survey results conducted by the technical team based on general internet and social media research techniques, a process that helped locate numerous organizations especially those which operate outside the country, in addition to helping us draw comparisons with available data that was provided by our team and partners.

In order to analyze the required information and compare them with the documents provided by our partners and data published online, a revision has been performed by the following parties:

  • Local Observer (primary review during the data collection stage)
  • Regional team leader (checking local observers' data)
  • examination unit (examining regional team leaders' data)
  • Data indexing unit (checks for errors in indexing and classification)
Durations of the study

The data has been mainly collected during the period between 1/10/2015 and 21/03/2016, however, the duration of the survey was pushed back until 15/09/2016 in order to ensure all the data from areas that are difficult to access is complete and fully-updated. Additionally, the team worked on refining the data and correcting errors that occurred during the collection stage as well as updating the general data up until the beginning of 2017 when the report was concluded.