Do ‘Professional Buzzwords’ allow us to communicate w/stakeholders but shut-out everyone else?

A guest post by Chris Austin of Dare to Innovate.

“Short-term interest rates have not budged for the past two years (in the developed world) and government-bond yields have been close to historic lows” (The Economist, 2014).

“The shortstop posted a .777 OPS in 124 games and played plus defense for the Red Sox last season” (MLB, 2014).

“The GS5 runs Android 4.4 KitKat, with Samsung’s latest proprietary TouchWiz interface extending the OS with extra abilities” (CNET, 2014).

Any industry has its own buzzwords and obscure terminology.  The truth is we come across them every day.

The simple fact is that buzzwords and jargon skew how our evolving world is perceived and understood.  And from my experience I believe that this is especially sensitive and perilous in the world of development.  There was a great article written about the dangers of jargon which started with this:

“Gender-sensitive multi-sectoral capacity building facilitates knowledge sharing and engages stakeholders in inclusive green growth” (Asian Development Blog, 2014).

This is obviously an exaggeration of the super-cool lingo we use, but you get the idea.


After working in the development field for a couple of years, it becomes almost second nature to fall into these rhetorical tropes.  We employ these buzzwords when we are writing grants, interviewing for jobs and making presentations.

But it should be said that while our professional argot allows us to communicate effortlessly with our “stakeholders,” it simultaneously shuts out everyone else.  The problem is that jargon retains important knowledge to the educated and powerful by simply making it harder for outsiders to understand.  I’m not saying that’s a conscious decision, but that’s just the way it is.

In all lines of development work, whether it’s micro-financing, waste management or social entrepreneurship, people are being affected by these projects.  And the interesting thing is that more and more “beneficiaries” are taking it upon themselves to crack the code and actually understand what is going on in their community.  They’re not just accepting the outcomes, but actively engaging themselves in the process.

Moving forward I think it is important to be aware of the punchy acronyms and pithy industry catchphrases.  Let’s focus on deconstructing this secret code.  This does not mean refraining from speaking your mind, but to make sure the words we use do not become obstacles to the people we are trying to help and who are actively trying to help themselves.

Let’s do this.


ChrisAustinChris Austin was a Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteer in Guinea from 2011-2014 and is the Secretary of the Board for Dare to Innovate (DTI).

Connect with Chris and DTI on Twitter @DaretoInnovate and via


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