International responses to conflict and complex humanitarian emergencies are diverse and multifaceted. Different actors – among them non‑government organisations (NGOs), the United Nations (UN) protection mandated organisations, UN peacekeeping forces, both military and police – all have a role to play to mitigate the impact of armed conflict on civilian populations. Over the last 13 years a significant amount of work has been done to improve the international community’s response in relation to the protection of civilians (POC). This has been led by different actors – the UN Security Council, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the humanitarian community made up of UN humanitarian agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and NGOs – all working in the same complex humanitarian contexts. Despite the development of POC, there is a perceived ‘disconnect’ between the understanding of different forms of protection, the different disciplines practising or working on the POC, and the different guidance and legal regimes imposing obligations on both state and non‑state actors in the area of protection. This paper is the first contribution to a broader research project that aims to determine whether the perceived disconnect between actors involved in protection work is real or anecdotal. By exploring the evolution of protection language and policy through the UN Security Council, DPKO and the humanitarian community, it is possible to develop an improved understanding of some of the reasons for distinct protection policies and definitions that exist between different actors. Some initial variations in the interpretation of POC are quick to emerge, giving rise to additional questions about how the distinctions can be better understood.