Let’s use ‘citizen’ for greater clarity

Barbara Felitti

I heartily agree with Bill Drayton’s suggestion to use the word ‘citizen’ in lieu of terms like ‘non-profit’ and ‘non-governmental’ to better define the sector, organizations and movements that encompass the activities of citizens.

To this list I would also add ‘civil society’, often used in civil society organization or CSO. Working in an international context, I find these terms can be ambiguous: does ‘non-profit organization’ include government? Does ‘non-governmental’ include business? The definition of CSO can lead to eyes glazing over as one tries to get consensus on what ‘civil society’ actually means. Use of ‘citizen’ immediately makes clear who we are talking about, and emphasizes the role that individuals can and do play in creating movements for larger collective action.

What does this all mean for Alliance’s editorial policy? First, I encourage Alliance in all articles by Alliance staff to use the word ‘citizen’. Second, I suggest that you inform contributors of Alliance’s style guidance and give authors an opportunity to change their language if it is acceptable to them. An author may prefer the term NGO or NPO, particularly if referring to legislation. By proactively raising the issue with contributors, you will begin a debate on this topic without being overly prescriptive and imposing a point of view.

Barbara Felitti
Director, Ukraine Citizen Action Network

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