Buzzwords watch: Here's the jargon phrases you'll keep hearing in 2019

Posted on 18 Mar 2019

By Dr Lucy Bernholz, Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society

Self-professed "philanthropy wonk" Dr Lucy Bernholz publishes an annual forecast about the way private resources are used for public benefit in the digital age. Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2019 is the tenth annual forecast from Dr Bernholz, who is based at the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University in California.

In this extract, Dr Bernholz presents a primer on the jargon you'll be hearing in the news, at conferences, and around meeting tables in 2019. Some are ephemeral, some are meaningful. Get your bingo cards ready.

Data maturity

How well does your organization manage and govern its digital data? There are several tools available or being built to help you determine your data maturity level, an indicator of organizational effectiveness that is growing in importance. Existing examples are available from Datakind and Harvard. Be on the lookout for more from TechSoup Global and Makaia.

Deep fakes

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Digital data specialist Dr Lucy Bernholz

A deep fake is a manipulated video that mixes audio from one person or event into another, making it look like people are doing and saying things that they didn't really do or say.

This is "photoshop" for video, but on steroids, as the connection to algorithmic systems means the videos can be constantly updated with the latest rumor and targeted at those most susceptible. Fraudulent video is already a problem in human rights investigations. As fake videos become common the veracity of all videos will be questioned, with implications for communications strategies across the board.

Mesh networks

Low-cost, low distance communications networks that allow information transmission over community owned networks are popular in places with lousy or unaffordable broadband, rural areas, and within in communities that don't trust the cable or telecommunications companies.


MIDS is an acronym for Mediators of Individual Data. It describes new associations (unions, nonprofits, collectives, cooperatives, etc.) that will negotiate with big corporate data powers on behalf of their (voluntary) membership. Along with data trusts and data unions, MIDS represent an emerging part of civil society. There's already a lot of press about the idea, which is being heavily promoted by Glen Weyl and Jaron Lanier. You'll hear the buzz - and might even join a MID.


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Dr Bernholz's Blueprint is always a keenly-awaited publication.

This used to be the kind of word you'd only hear on college campuses and usually only in the social science quad. A "norm" is a standard of behaviour such as putting your napkin in your lap at the dinner table or not selling products from the White House. The frequency with which members of the current US administration violate the norms of public service are why the term is now a buzzword - reporters use it almost every day to describe the latest events. Civil society might take a moment to examine the norms that shape it, those that are holding it back, and those it might be worth doubling down on, or, dare I say, even codifying.

Public interest tech

There's an effort underway to train and attract engineers and software designers into public interest fields - think government service and nonprofits. Modelled on the movement that created public interest law several decades ago, the public interest technology movement is just getting started.


An old idea that needs to come back into fashion - or at least back into jargon. A few years ago nonprofits were itching to hire data scientists. In the coming year, as governance issues hit home, they'll be talking about data stewardship.


Wearable technology is so last year. Omnipresent networked digital devices mean that we are now surrounded by sensors. Many of them exist to "sense" other things, like traffic or building access.

Of course, Amazon, Google, and Apple have already moved in with their versions of this technology (Echo, Alexa, Google Home, and Siri). Nonprofits need to consider how this tech affects their missions (and not just their fundraising: See predictions from Blueprint 2018).

Systems change

This goes in and out of fashion, but it's definitely back. Whether because climate change is wreaking havoc, tens of millions of people are migrating, social entrepreneurs have taken the glory, or because democracies are struggling, foundations and other big funders are calling for "bigger," "bolder," strategies that purport to change whole systems.

Zero trust

This comes from the data security world and represents a model of designing technology systems that verify identity and use at every step. It's gaining ground. It's also a phrase that (sadly) seems to describe the world writ large.

Extra credit: Superpower

This is the crowd-winner buzzword. My loyal band of conference-going, report-reading, RFP-reviewing, proposal-submitting, and funding readers tell me that this term earns the centre box on the buzzword bingo card for 2019. My superpower is listening to them.

Reproduced with permission from "Philanthropy and Digital Civil Society: Blueprint 2019"

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