Musings on research, international development and other stuff

How to to look smart to development geeks


xfactorI have been having an amusing and distracting twitter conversation this week about how to look smart in front of the various different tribes of development specialists. Here’s a few tips to instantly up your credibility no matter who you are meeting with…

If you are meeting a social development expert, no matter what the topic, be sure to ask if they have considered it through a ‘gendered lens’.

In meetings with evaluation experts ALWAYs question the credibility of the counterfactual. If that doesn’t work, you can resort to questioning the external validity.

Make social scientists think you are one of them by dropping the word epistemology into any discussion. For example, try opening a sentence with the phrase “Epistemologically speaking,…”  but be sure to practice this beforehand because if you come out with a few too many syllables all your efforts will have been wasted. “Normative” is another good social science word to throw in and is particularly useful for throwing doubt on someone’s opinion while maintaining the facade that you are just upholding objectivity i.e. “hmm… isn’t that a rather normative stance you are taking?”

People from IDS will invariable nod enthusiastically if you say “I think we need to unpack this a little further”;  ODI types will be more impressed by you alluding to political economy analysis and/or complexity theory; and those working for DFID will love you if you mention value for money in every second sentence.

And of course, everybody’s favourites: the economists – it is just too easy to tease them for their impenetrable jargon. There are so many good economist catchphrases that it is hard to know where to start but I particularly liked @otis_read’s suggestion of “wow, interesting project, except for obvious endogeneity problem” and, from @fp2p: Look em in eye & say “I’m not convinced by your elasticities”

Have a great weekend – some slightly more serious blogs coming up next week.

12 thoughts on “How to to look smart to development geeks

  1. Hahaha excellent!

  2. As an International Development PhD students who happens to be an economist, I think this post is hilarious. Specially because there is virtually “endogeneity” problems in almost any model you’d like to run. The elasticities issue is a lot easier to defend.

    Of course, after getting any of those comments, it would be quite easy to answer with another question just to realise the person does not really know what he or she is talking about.

    Good post.

  3. Kirsty.. as a journalist who failed miserably with a couple of development jargon-spouting tribes mentioned in your blog and returned to good old-fashioned solid sensible journalism, have spoken my thoughts out. BTW, there is a monitoring and evaluation jargon that i err.. umm have not been able to ‘unpack’, even for ‘the value for money’ Really enjoyed this.

  4. Great blog Kirsty. The amusing point you make is serious. Best of both worlds

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  6. Quite well done, Kirsty. We do need to look ourselves in the looking glass occasionally.

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  9. this blog is really ‘rich’ (in at least three senses of the word)

  10. Apparently, another very easy but highly effective way to look smart is to be able to spell words like “epistemologically”, “syllables”, “politically” “impenetrable” and “catchphrases” correctly.

    • Touche! As you have noticed, I am indeed a terrible speller. I usually try to spell check blogs before publishing but it seems I have forgotten with this one. Perhaps I should do so now although it will be a little late…!

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