Buzzword Watch

The list of top 10 buzzwords for 2015 is intended to capture the gist of the jargon you’re likely to hear in the next 12 months. Think of the list as "anecdata.“ Some are meaningful; some are satirical. Some may have lasting implications and be a catchphrase that summarizes an important idea; others will pass by as quickly as they came. Regardless of how you feel about these buzzwords, don’t confuse my inclusion of a particular term as an endorsement or rejection of the idea. I’m the eavesdropper and rapporteur, and I’m happy to say that the list this year includes contributions from colleagues in North America, South America, and Europe.

Internet of Things

It’s no longer just about your laptop and your phone. Digital connections are now linking our watches, shoes, refrigerators, thermostats, cars, and almost anything else that can hold a teeny tiny chip. Each of these devices becomes a sensor — a collector and distributor — of data about our habits, our activities, and us. More promise and more peril await. As some have noted, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not really about things, it’s about cheap data — about you. Also known as Ubiqitious Computing. To counter the heavily commercial interests behind the IoT, the open source community prefers to work on the “open web with things.”

Citizen Science

As the cost of materials, equipment, and information drop, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Maker movements are turning to garage biology, chemistry, and physics. See for numerous examples. Teenager Jack Andraka made headlines as a self-taught cancer researcher, relying on readily available materials and public access to scientific journals. Citizen science follows along the same path as citizen journalism in taking advantage of lowered barriers to once walled-off professions. On the upside, lots of people engaging in science is a good thing. On the downside, given the ubiquity of data collecting devices (see Internet of Things), we’ll surely see more occasions in which we ask, “how did they get that information?” and, “who should be monitoring the scientists?”

Giving Days

Dedicating a specific day to fundraising for a certain cause has a long history. Galvanizing lots of people around challenge grants has been a mainstay fundraising tool from American community foundations for several years. But with the spectacular success of #GivingTuesday, a networked, dispersed branding of the first Tuesday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, these giving day events have reached a new pitch. In its third year, the event has gone global and become a much-watched case example of using social media for good. Expect backlash in coming years.

A/B Testing

This is the practice of showing different interfaces or options to different audiences and seeing which one generates the most of the behavior you are trying to spark. Commonly used by software developers and interface designers, A/B testing entered common parlance with the Obama campaign’s massive use of it in testing fundraising emails. The 2014 Facebook “contagion” study, which wasn’t so much about A/B testing as algorithmic manipulation, put the practice (and public backlash against it) on the front pages.

Data Gender Gap

Gender disparities abound in data. Yes. Even today medical research is still done mostly on men (or male mice), and many other large datasets are used to inform policy or funding decisions despite the gender bias known to exist in the data. One effort to counter this directly is the Data 2X project involving UN Global Pulse, the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office, the UN Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The datasets being used to inform public policy and financial decisions also need to account for racial, ethnic, and linguistic differences. Fighting discrimination in the data — and discrimination by the data — is critical. Efforts to counteract discriminatory data are another element of digital civil society.
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Human rights activists are on the cutting edge of creating and using secure technologies to stay clear of corporate and government oversight. Major foundations and large nonprofits are targets for hackers, whether they’re looking for sensitive grant information or stealing credit cards from nonprofits. A new organization, SimplySecure, was launched in mid-2014 to make encrypted software for email and mobile phones easier to use and more readily available. Nowadays, security is about more than not clicking on the suspicious link in that phishing email; we’ll all get used to taking more steps to protect and secure our digital data.


Take art and mix it with activists and you get artivists! Whether it’s graffiti on garbage trucks or the legions of artistic protesters associated with the Occupy movement, artivists are stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight. There’s even a book of case studies, Beautiful Trouble, to help inspire and coach. Art played a role in the 2014 Hong Kong protests and is part of an effort by cyclists in Germany to connect crowdsourced data on biking routes to public art projects, all in the name of changing public policy.


See Internet of Things (IoT). The category includes bracelet-style fitness monitors, upmarket pedometers masquerading as jewelry, and digital-sensor– enabled clothing to monitor sweat patterns or heart rhythms. Opportunities to donate your “steps walked” to charity seemed to emerge almost instantly after Fitbits became popular. These devices also fed a widely publicized data visualization of how the 2014 Napa Valley earthquake disturbed sleep, which may be looked back on as the harbinger of “massive, passive IoT data publication.”

Smart Cities

More and more of the world’s population now lives in cities. Cheap materials and improved data collection processes mean our cities are filled not only with more people, but with more sensors — cameras, parking space sensors, toll gate passes, building codes, heat meters — you name it. If it's being built into today’s cityscape, it probably gathers data (“senses”) and sends that information somewhere. The goal is to use all this remotely gathered information to improve municipal services — making our cities “smart.” Smart will require that we set the right rules for what gets gathered and what gets done with it.


Literally, to iterate is to do again and again. In its buzzword guise, it is one of many design terms that has jumped the rhetorical fence, pulled along by related terms, such as “innovate,” into civil society and philanthropy. Sexier than your grandmother’s pilot program, iterations mean trying small, learning and improving as you go along. See the pullout box, “Bonus Buzzwords: The Design Edition.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2015.