Sunday, June 25, 2006

Foundationspeak... A book review

If you've had just about all the foundation speak you can handle, point your browser to three PDFs available here. The first, When words Fail: How the public interest becomes neither public nor interesting is actually the last in the series and we think the best. We particularly enjoyed author Tony Proscio's comparison of the prose created by right leaning versus left leaning foundations. The former was straight and to the point, the later obfuscating. To make this point, Proscio extracts some from a document created by a conservative think tank and does a jargon audit. In place of buzz words like 'teacher work-force', 'career advancement structures', 'competencies' and 'human capital' he finds straight forward language such as 'hoops and hurdles', 'tests', and 'get rid of'. With this analysis, it's easy to see why the right is winning the war of words.

Proscio goes on to offer a theory for why left leaning discourse is so obtuse. It's centered around the idea that as the foundation community's ideals about altruism, sacrifice and the common good loose force in a culture dominated by the materialist ideology of the marketplace, left leaning organizations retreat and come to develop a culture of isolation complete with a secret and inbred language all their own.

We disagree. In our view it's quite the opposite. Foundationspeak is what it is because foundations seek to align their language with their primary reference group, academics, policy makers and other experts who require a (seemingly) value neutral language in order to sound non-partisan, dispassionate and ultimately, scientific. As Proscio himself points out, much foundationspeak parrots the latest language of business school-- 'metrics', 'value-proposition', etc. Straight forward talk about beliefs and values are nowhere to be found.
This theoretical disagreement aside, there is much in this essay to value. We particularly liked his deconstruction of some leading foundation buzzwords and his presentation of the pro-jargon position-- yes there is such a thing and it is more compelling than you may think.

Take a look. Whatever position in the jargon wars you take, it's nice to know the arguments on both sides.

By the way, you can find a complete dictionary of foundation jargon, based largely on this essay buy clicking here.

No comments: