Demystifying Development Jargon – Part 2
Jargon and Buzzwords

Jargon exists everywhere. While the use of jargon is often discouraged and criticized, it also serves some purpose. Jargon and buzzwords used in global development dialogue can reveal the trending issues, goals, and priorities set by development agencies and academic literature.

Jargons are specialized terms; it is like a language spoken within groups of like-minded individuals. It provides a sense of belonging. It is used to make within-group conversations more concise and accurate. For example, instead of saying “how much will my savings increase relative to my initial savings amount?”, a banker or a banking customer can simply say, “what is the interest rate?” In many cases, members of the group understand the meaning of a shared concept or terms. The use of jargon is not without its problems. Some technical terminologies have fixed meanings. However, when the meanings of jargon changes over time or are debatable, its use may cause communication issues even within groups.  For instance, the term ‘sustainable development’ may evoke different ideas among the general public, ecologists, environmentalists, governments, and development agencies!

Buzzwords are hot topic words, or trends, with varying priorities, meanings, and significance. In International Development, buzzwords are commonly used as a rallying cry or a slogan. Combined with “devspeak jargon”, the prevalence of such words in reports, articles, and in the field can make understanding the concepts and language challenging. A quick brainstorm among our team has already generated 100+ of the so-called “devspeak” jargon and “buzzwords” used in the international development sector.


Our aim in this post is to untangle some of these words, especially those commonly used in development reports, donor platforms, grant briefs, project descriptions, etc. In doing so, we hope to make these practices and their meaning more “accessible” (buzzword alert!)

On that note, let’s dive right into the first of the many posts that will hopefully clarify these terms!

Accessible and Inclusive

Accessibility refers to the ability and flexibility to accommodate and reach every persons’ needs and preferences, particularly those of disabled persons. It can also be defined as the degree to which products, services, environments, and information is available to as many people as possible. This is usually a precondition for “inclusivity”, where everyone has the choice and freedom to “participate” in every aspect of society. Nobody has barriers to information, participation, and decision-making capabilities. Accessibility is both an international development and a human rights issue. Which brings us to inclusivity. Inclusive means everyone is included. No one in society is left behind, irrespective of their capability, social, economic, cultural, political, racial, or gender background.


Participation is concerned with creating a space where all the intended “beneficiaries” or key “stakeholders” are involved in the different phases of a project. It means that the beneficiaries are included in the decision-making processes and the power is shifted towards them. This also means an easier buy-in into the project and “ownership” on part of the beneficiaries. There is a general agreement in the development community that civic participation is vital to the long term success and positive impact of a project.

A very important aspect of participation which is in fact a salient criticism directed towards it is how power structures in society use citizen participation for profit. Looking at the eight rungs of the citizenship ladder of participation, we notice that there are different levels of participation and non-participation. Each rung from the lowest level of “non-participation” – “manipulation” to the highest level of participation – “citizen control” informs on how much power is retained by the power structures in society compared to citizens. In citizen control, the citizens have full managerial and decision-making power in society.

Therefore, the various degrees of participation need to be understood for them not to be misused. In a project, are we simply listening to the citizens? How much control do the citizens have over the decisions? Are they making the decisions or are the decisions being made on behalf of them or for them? How are these rungs represented in real-world projects?

Beneficiaries and Stakeholders

Beneficiaries are all those individuals/communities that would directly benefit from a project, policy, financing, etc. Oftentimes, the term beneficiary can imply someone that is a passive recipient of something advantageous, helpful, or beneficial. Stakeholders, on the other hand, are all the individuals/communities that have an interest in, can impact, and be impacted by the project, directly or indirectly, in the present or the future.

A human rights-based approach will refer to beneficiaries as Rights-holders, meaning individuals or social groups that have entitlements concerning specific duty-bearers. In general terms, all human beings are rights-holders under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This approach not only recognizes that the entitlements of rights-holders need to be respected, protected, and fulfilled, it also considers rights-holders as active agents in the realization of human rights and development – both directly and through organizations representing their interests.


Discussing empowerment can be a thesis of its own. There are many types of empowerment, from economic and social to political and women’s empowerment. But what does empowerment really mean? We hear it so often in development reports, academia, and various projects.

In simple terms, it is a process.

It is a process that enables people to gain control of their lives and the ability to make life-shaping decisions through access to resources, services, networks, and information. The process includes tools, policies, strategies, and actions to help everyone have an equal footing and say in how they would like their life to be.

Ultimately, an empowered individual will be included, have the choice to participate, and have access to all the facets of society that influence their life. It encompasses everything discussed above and is vital for sustainable and inclusive development, poverty alleviation, gender issues, health, and education.

What other development jargon would you want us to define and discuss? Leave us a comment!



Accessibility and Development – Mainstreaming disability in the post-2015 development agenda (Publication). (2013, December 24). Retrieved

Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of planners, 35(4), 216-224.

Bansal, S. (2017, January 13). 17 global development clichés to avoid in 2017 | Sarika Bansal. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Cornwall, A., & Eade, D. (2010). Deconstructing development discourse: Buzzwords and fuzzwords. Oxfam GB.

Empowerment: What does it mean to you? (2013, February 22). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) website:

Gharib, M. (2017, January 08). Global Buzzwords That Will Keep On Buzzing In 2017. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from

Lee, J. H. (2016, September 28). Jargon detection in international development. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from

Schnable, A., DeMattee, A., Sullivan Robinson, R., & Brass, J. N. (2020). International Development Buzzwords: Understanding Their Use Among Donors, NGOs, and Academics. The Journal of Development Studies, 1-19.