Devspeak Police Volume 2

Do you speak NGO? If you’ve stumbled upon this blog, chances are you might. Sometimes NGOish, or Devspeak, makes it easier for development professionals to talk to each other. But, as we’ve discussed, it runs the risk of excluding important people from the conversation, and it can obfuscate facts and confuse realities.

A quote from the Economist captures it so well:

Such terms’ joy is that they are nice and woolly, hard to define and harder still to contradict: who could possibly turn down the chance to enhance development practitioners’ facilitation skills for the capacity-building of gender-disadvantaged women?

When we try to put such jargon into practice, many of us are just left scratching our heads. What does it really mean?

Avoiding Devspeak can be tough, especially when we hear it all the time. I’m also guilty of using buzzwords (I seem to be stuck on an ‘inclusive business’ trend at the moment). Yet, we can still more conscious of how we use these words to make sure they’re accurate, and not cutting anyone out of the conversation.

That said, let’s move on to this edition of the Devspeak Police’s cautionary buzzwords:

Training(s) – We’re going to have a training on gender sensitization.

First, this is grammatically incorrect. Just because the word used as a noun has become ubiquitous, doesn’t make it right. Second, it just doesn’t always reflect what is taking place in these workshops, or meetings, or sessions. A ‘training’ can describe putting people in a room and having some ‘expert’ talk at them. It can also refer to an amazing interactive workshop that provides hands-on technical training (see the difference in ‘a training’ v. ‘providing technical training’).

How can we make it better?

This actually isn’t as difficult as it may seem. You can choose a more specific word. Or describe what kind of things people are being trained in, and how. For example, maybe there’s a training workshop, a roundtable discussion, an interactive presentation, etc.

Stakeholder – All activities will take place so as to encourage vital stakeholder participation.

The biggest problem with this, is that people started using it to replace ‘beneficiaries,’ without changing the processes behind them. Do the people described in the project actually have a stake in how the project unfolds? Were they involved from the beginning? Do they have real opportunities for input? Or are they still seen as passive recipients without much weight given to their opinions?

How can we make it better?

Part of the answer to this question involves more participatory processes. In terms of just language, however, maybe we can just say people. If anyone has other suggestions, please feel free to chime in.

As usual, I’m not saying we should never use these words. But we do need to think twice about how we’re using them.

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