Dejargonifying NGOs and International Development

unsuck-itLast week I discovered Unsuck-it and quipped, “When will somebody create a de-jargon-izer for International Development? The storytelling project is starting to demonstrate that people working at non-governmental organizations all over the world speak a different language from those in the communities they help. And The Economist recently explained why “NGOish” matters.

I searched around for a dictionary, glossary, concordance, or lexicon of the specific technical words NGOs use – but alas what’s out there isn’t complete. DFID provides one glossary, Development Frameworks another, an Canadian Geographic provides a third one – but nothing complete – so I made one.

By pulling all the text from 4970 projects on GlobalGiving, I was able to rank the 2000 most common words used by 1500 organizations working in 100 countries. For contrast, I ran the same python script on 3500 community stories gathered in our GlobalGiving Storytelling Project (summarized in this PDF). Complete data files for both sets are found below.

By comparing this development lexicon to the story lexicon, I think we will better understand how the language that trained NGO staff people speak differs from that of the communities they serve – at least in East Africa. I encourage you to download and analyze both text documents.

The Feedback Switchboard

This is all Interesting – but not my real purpose. These two lexicons actually allow me to do something useful.

My real purpose is to deliver each one of these organizations a personalized digest of the most relevant stories from the towns and villages where they work. To do that, we needed a set of words that reflect the NGO to match against a set of words that represent each story. This is a bit like OK Cupid’s analysis of dating sites – for the NGO world. Matched keywords, combined with story locations and some direct attribution by the storytellers themselves should allow us to direct every incoming story to the NGO that ought to be listening – turning GlobalGiving into a sort of feedback switchboard. Or maybe I it is like an Facebook profile for a NGO, in which case this matching method allows us to recommend people they should be following in their community.

It’s just another experiment in seeing what ways we can inform and entice local organizations to consume local knowledge that we’re collecting on their behalf.

Download the development lexicon (2000 most used NGO words. This is a plain text file: rename to .txt)

Download the story Lexicon (2000 most used words in communities. Plain text file: rename to .txt)

Overview of Storytelling Project

Mapping story words:

Mapping the “when” (timeline) and the “where” (geocoding) of information is much easier than visualizing the what. This Google Motion Chart (coded by GapMinder.Org) is a feeble start. I’d prefer to be able to sort all the words by NGO and Location, to combine Who-What-Where:

Note: The “height” on the Y-axis is a calculation of reliability of the stories that share each keyword. “Reliability” is based on diversity of story sources: If many locations, NGOs, storytellers, and scribes are involved, divided by the number of stories in that keyword bubble, then those stories rise to the top. As you might expect, keywords at the top are universal to most stories.

Sample: First 100 of 2000 common NGO words

(format: word, number of instances):

children,9224
 education,7026
 school,5930
 women,5422
 health,4894
 community,4538
 training,3810
 students,3482
 water,3385
 people,3354
 families,3164
 help,2780
 schools,2775
 girls,2658
 rural,2578
 youth,2509
 food,2372
 care,2326
 skills,2205
 local,2130
 poverty,2128
 access,1985
 poor,1858
 social,1812
 sustainable,1618
 life,1563
 work,1558
 income,1548
 new,1546
 economic,1516
 services,1482
 high,1446
 need,1432
 rights,1330
 medical,1325
 educational,1279
 public,1279
 young,1271
 improve,1250
 learning,1244
 living,1141
 orphans,1129
 hivaids,1122
 family,1120
 africa,1118
 environment,1052
 hiv,1040
 building,1011
 lives,1009
 opportunities,1000
 activities,998
 basic,983
 quality,979
 human,968
 technology,960
 safe,929
 international,916
 materials,914
 business,913
 resources,900
 use,897
 village,894
 fund,878
 district,878
 areas,876
 change,868
 supplies,863
 working,855
 build,851
 lack,849
 teachers,847
 vulnerable,843
 literacy,840
 awareness,832
 home,826
 center,825
 years,823
 small,810
 create,810
 violence,809
 sanitation,803
 information,801
 increase,787
 better,779
 farmers,768
 free,766
 future,764
 parents,757
 primary,757
 relief,744
 villages,738
 arts,738
 aids,728
 empowerment,724
 clean,722
 live,711
 leadership,696
 sports,696
 environmental,695
 learn,691

“International Development Buzz”

Reprinting an old game. Use this chart to generate thousands of jargony NGO phrases:

Proceed to Part 2: Analyzing – a tale of two perspectives

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10 thoughts on “Dejargonifying NGOs and International Development

  1. That was instructive! My eyes lit up when I read down to:
    “Use this chart to generate thousands of jargony NGO phrases”.
    I use to argue that exercises like that could sometimes generate useful new ideas from among the nonsense.
    I suspect you’ve tried the PostModernism Generator at http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/
    I started with the DOS-based Babble! which gave me hours of fun, especially when combined with text-to-speech. There is also the Shannonizer at http://www.nightgarden.com/shannon.htm.
    If there were time to waste, I would like to sit down and code a grant proposal generator.

    (PS I guess ‘stakeholder’ means ‘vampire’)

  2. I’d love to see your proposal jargon generator, Charles Q!

    In fact, it would help me with my Information Theory based idea on how much of big technical documents is actually “non-information”.

    Information is surprise. So unsurprising documents contain little new information.

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