Jargon Hurts the Poor

Added: 03-19-2019

This article discusses the extensive use of jargon in conversations and reports of international development. It argues that communication filled with jargon such as ‘green growth’ and ‘stakeholder consultation’ discriminates against those in poverty and excludes many people. This is especially an issue for the international development industry where jargon may be incomprehensible to ordinary citizens trying to become more involved in the process of helping their communities.

international development accessibility communication media digital communication language information coded language jargon clear consultation green growth stakeholder

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
blog 4 minutes FLOYD WHALEY 01-21-2014 https://blogs.adb.org/
Type Reading Time
blog 4 minutes
Author Date
floyd whaley 2019-03-19 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways
  • Communication about international development that is filled with hard-to-understand jargon discriminates against the those in poverty and excludes many people from participating in the conversation. 
  • International citizens are starting to get more involved in the process of international development, so it is more important than ever to make communication accessible and inclusive globally.


This article argues that communication about international development that heavily uses jargon, discriminates against the poor. It begins by asking readers if they understand the following sentences: “Gender-sensitive multi-sectoral capacity building facilitates knowledge sharing and engages stakeholders in inclusive green growth.” If yes, they probably work in international development, if not, they are everybody else blocked from understanding how most of publicly funded international development works. In the age of digital communication and information sharing, this type of language is equivalent to “writing in a secret code that can only be read by the wealthy, powerful and educated.” 

Whaley goes over the following various drawbacks of using jargon in international development communication: 
  • Makes information inaccessible for students and researchers without expertise in international development. 
  • Prevents journalists from seamless information-sharing. 
  • Excludes the young and elderly interested to learn. 
  • Excludes women and girls in “less developed” countries facing educational barriers. 
  • Makes Google searches inaccessible. 
  • Hides the ignorance of ‘experts’ who cannot explain underlying concepts. 
Whaley then gives examples of concepts identified only by jargon and explains how it would be difficult for many to research more on those ideas if they don’t know the right jargon. Examples include: 
  • Green growth’: Countries growing their economy while protecting the environment and helping the people in poverty. 
  • Gender’: Empowerment of women and children in disadvantaged countries. 
  • Stakeholder consultation’: engaging people of a neighborhood in solving problems. 

International development used to be a much smaller industry comprised of small donors, some government officials and development professionals. However development professionals are no longer the only bridge between local governments. Citizens are getting more involved with development work, and are interested in information and reports that were previously only prepared for a few government officials. Today, information is essential, and clear communication, free of codes, is of urgency.

From https://blogs.adb.org/