Remember Stupid Words?

multi-dimensional challenges

inherently a context-specific approach

prevention-oriented actions

implement a synergistic framework

increasingly interconnected world

integrated capacity-building measures

participatory processes

overarching framework

contextually relevant


globalised world

Here is an article at Open Democracy that (alas) epitomises the problem:

CSOs also need support in empowering citizens to influence national governments to work towards the achievement of both goals. CIVICUS spearheaded a global citizens platform, named the Action for Sustainable Development to find better ways to connect and promote learning and to support citizens to widen and deepen their participation in sustainable development institutions and processes. Initiatives like this provide the opportunity for building solidarity and are an important catalyst to enable people-powered accountability and support the mobilisation of citizens.

In addition, civil society should participate actively in the processes of localizing these two goals. It will be imperative for civil society groups to ensure that national development plans and indicators of progress are specifically tailored to each country’s context.

It’s impossible to read that and care about anything the authors might be trying to say. The piece seems to be making an interesting point, namely that so-called ‘civil society organisations’ (CSOs) are being threatened by ‘Government Organized Nongovernmental Organizations’ (GONGOs) that “embed themselves within civil society coalitions and networks, often seeking to scuttle the agenda of independent groups and movements”. But the language used to make the case is so leaden that no normal reader will want to engage with it.

Look how it finishes – just when the reader needs a punchy memorable conclusion, this happens:

It is essential that civil society recognise its responsibility to ensure that the SDG implementation process is people-centred. African civil society groups have the convening power to create tactical spaces for citizens and policy experts to reflect on national priorities, opportunities and resources and identify indigenous approaches to work with national and local governments, the private sector and other community institutions. It is critical that SDG implementation is not seen as being government-led but instead is propelled by collaborations across all sectors and facets of society.

I posted a comment:

‘The aspirational vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to “leave no one behind”. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets are a demonstration of the global community’s urgency to eradicate poverty and significantly minimise inequality. Of course, the achievement of these goals is directly linked to the quality of governance, specifically the nature of citizens’ participation in the process. Developing partnerships between governments, citizens and the private sector is essential for the achievement of the SDGs, and nowhere is this more critical than in Africa.’ (90 words)

This is just the sort of dead ‘development speak’ that makes no-one want to read any further. But what’s exactly wrong with it?

Basically, the authors are using dull nouns rather than verbs. Plus useless adverbs intended to convey faux urgency.

Why not say this instead?

‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to transform our world, by ending poverty and significantly reducing inequality. This ambition is summed up in a simple bold idea: “leave no-one behind”.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 different targets. They won’t be achieved unless citizens themselves play a full part in new partnerships between governments and the private sector. Above all in Africa.’

Says the same thing in only 66 words. Simple, strong, direct, easy to follow, and therefore motivational by the usual standards of such things.

Exactly. Listen to Aunty.