The results are in: 9 development phrases that you love and hate

The WhyDev Team is pleased to report that after a successful external evaluation of our project – ‘Participatory Capacity Development for the Empowerment of Aid Workers’ Literacy Skills’ – it was found that there are seven possible replacement terms for existing aid/development jargon. This new jargon builds on the existing institution of jargon in aid/development, strengthening public/private discourse, while allowing for community participation. It is suggested that further research and replication be conducted to demonstrate the same results and to capture and replace more phrases for aid workers for the purposes of capacity building.

The results of the participatory survey can be found below. The impact of this project is as follows: 2,000 aid workers impacted; seven phrases changed; 530+ responses to the survey and a few feathers ruffled. We estimate that 2% of participants took this too seriously and at least three participants corrected our grammar and syntax errors. We also managed to offend at least one person, the ‘Director of Strategy and Capacity Building’ of unnamed organisation (who contacted us during the week on LinkedIn) twice in one fell swoop.

‘In the field’ NOW ‘Visiting projects/On a work trip’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • Drinking lots of Tusker
  • In denial that 3G is better in the project community than it is at NGO HQ
  • Actually explain what you’re doing – are you meeting with partners, dancing around to Katy Perry – what?
  • In {specific location}
  • Making sure you are connected to the realities on the ground
  • Doing actual work

‘Beneficiaries’ NOW ‘People’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • ???
  • Partners
  • Users
  • I think beneficiaries is fine. If the don’t need it, then they shouldn’t be targeted, and if they’re not benefiting, then why are they receiving it?
  • Citizens
  • Recievers of aid?
  • Clients

‘Developing countries’ NOW ‘Referring to specific countries’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • Less-developed regions? post-colonial countries? There is nothing so wrong with ‘developing countries’ even though the term is not so accurate.
  • Resource-limited settings?
  • Poor countries; some of them are NOT developing.
  • Developing countries

‘Capacity Building’ NOW ‘Other/Trainings’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • Pumping up the volume
  • Capacity building is beyond training; it should entail regular supervision, mentoring, coaching – like apprentenceship (sp)
  • You can use it. But only when you are are actually giving teaching new skills
  • Figuring out why implementation isn’t working
  • Use real definition or qualifier, like institutional capacity building or organizational capacity development
  • Consulting
  • None, it’s actually a good term
  • Nothing wrong with capacity building if it’s being done correctly
  • Dnt knw, just not cap building!
  • Just use it right!
  • Kicking asses
  • Nothing
  • Capacity building is good – your critique is of CB done badly
  • You say here to use trainings, however, then later you say the word “training” is a stupid buzz word. make up your mind!

‘Livelihoods’ NOW ‘Creating/building jobs or Employment’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • The problem is that so much income earning in…the majority world, is informal. So you can say to create employment, but is selling plastic buckets in the market + farming + fixing cell phones employment? or maybe it IS a livelihood.
  • All of the above. Be specific. Is it subsistence agriculture. Is it market development. Or is it a cover-up of a grab-bag project with no clear goal.
  • Not really replaceable
  • Livelihoods (food, water..then jobs!)
  • Whatever it is, as long as we’re not qualifying it with a moral framework ala ILO: ‘decent’ employment (what makes it decent? what’s ‘indecent’ work?)
  • Samsara
  • Having enough money
  • All of above!

‘Local’ NOW ‘Using the proper identity of people’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • Dudes over there
  • Citizens
  • This is so linked into issues of identity – it’s best that you use whatever term people refer to themselves as.
  • Natives

‘Trainings’ NOW ‘Workshop’

A snapshot of the “Other” responses:

  • “Lecture” if that’s really all it is; “workshop” if applicable
  • Uh, say the actual goal of the training, on the assumption that there is some clear goal for getting everyone together.
  • Training sessions (how can you list capacity building here as an alternative and also have this on your list of words to change? Also, trainings is not a word, you should use training sessions or equivalent)
  • Training is fine surely if a topic is used, ie Goat Management Training, Agribusiness Training, otherwise workshop infers active participation. Name it for what it involves.
  • Trainings is NOT a word. It’s a verbal noun so should never be plural – but this is used everywhere. It should be either “training” as a general notion, or “training sessions”/”workshop”. Workshop/discussion are good because they suggest it’s a 2-way process…


The findings of this research demonstrate that we should start using Visiting Projects, People, Referring to specific countries, Creating/building jobs, Using the proper identity of people, and Workshop. And, there is also some evidence that we should stop using “capacity building” altogether. Although there is no clear alternative offered, “pumping up the volume” must be considered on creativity alone.

What do you think? Are you happy with the new buzzwords we have created (using a participatory approach)?



Investimenti Immobiliari a Dubai

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WhyDev Team

The WhyDev writing team consists of Brendan, Jessica, Michelle, Amanda, Holly & Jordan. Check out more about the team on the "About Us" page.

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15 thoughts on “The results are in: 9 development phrases that you love and hate”

  1. “Local stakeholders participate in capacity-building workshops in the field to create enhanced livelihoods to support their income-earning capacity.” I.e. learn how to make more money to support your family. Yes, I am also guilty of murdering English using meaningless, pompous phrases as that has become the accepted language of our trade. Plain English is out of the question when writing proposals etc. That is the norm.

  2. I’m a bit concerned about this idea of buidling [sic] jobs. Who will take the jobs once they’ve been buiddled? And will job training include instruction in speling too? It’s all too much to thnik about. My hed hertz.

    1. I agree, and that is why I was very happy to see that the replacements were actually clear plain respectful English. The buzzwords lay in a heap on the floor, and the smoking gun is in the hands of all of those that voted.

  3. Oh you went too fast! I didn’t have time to throw in my top two most hated words: 1) “needs” — because it always means that “beneficiaries” (or “people”) are deficient, and “needs assessments” rarely assess strengths and capacities and resources. I suggest we throw “needs” out and talk about “priorities” and 2) capacity building, but not for the reasons you mentioned. I hate that word because it often means that people need to learn skills for interfacing with internationals (like reporting and budgeting) and not for the work they want to do (e.g., building community).

    1. i like your replacement of needs with priorities. Very appropriate, and something i am beginning to use myself!

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