Working in a sector that is intrinsically gratifying is a form of invisible currency, in and of itself. This is by no means exclusive to development but for all intents and purposes, I’ll stick to what I know best. When I first entered the field some 6 years ago, I was as eager as they come. A few short weeks later ‘stunned’ would be the best descriptor to reflect my disposition. Stunned by the extraordinary amount of time allocated to dialogue by way of ad-hoc meetings, cluster meetings, divisional meetings, expert group meetings, section meetings, task force meetings, town-hall meetings, working-group meetings and the like (the short list). I felt it was a remarkably unproductive use of my time. With a full schedule of meetings and new lexicon so contrived I was only partly attuned to what was being discussed, the activities to be undertaken were completely lost to me.
Development jargon against the backdrop of endless meetings largely sums up the shortfalls of the sector. When program objectives and activities are incoherent it leaves plenty of space for ambiguity, and freedom to be shifty with deliverables. Yet, when ideas are clearly expressed and easily understood, dialogue serves as a great communication for development (C4D) tool. Dialogue falls under the umbrella of C4D, along with advocacy, behavioral and social change, and media development. So in order to use it effectively, the information being shared needs to be explicit. That being said, the art of influencing people outside the development sector through the use of aid speak is a skill I have yet to master. After all, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
By and large for development workers, using jargon when it’s crisp enough to command attention is sure way to get the tacit nod of approval from donors. Sexy words such as ‘strengthen’, ‘build resilience’, and ‘mainstream’, in layman’s terms simply translate to ‘we’re going to improve [insert activity], make it adaptable [insert context] and popular’. This naturally begs the question: ‘How?’. In the development world using such language potentials success before the work has even begun (Strategic? Possibly. But only in so far as the words produce tangible results). Needless to say, even though I’m a perpetual user of development jargon when the audience is right, I’m more interested in the outcomes, and the subsequent impact of social change. Ultimately, it’s not only about how organizations start projects but the impact those projects have long after the work is done.