This website is here to prove to Government (and anyone else who uses language in an over complicated way, all the while claiming they want feedback from members of the public) that speaking plainly, even about tricky subjects, isn’t just possible, but absolutely necessary.
I hope this website also helps prove that you don’t have to be patronising when you write plainly, and that assuming people are just too stupid or lazy to get involved in government is in itself a lazy and stupid assumption.
Thing can only get better?
Now, it’s very easy to fall into a trap of being negative about the immoveable forces of bureaucracy we encounter every day, but as difficult as it is to make out from the millpond calm on the surface, there are definite stirrings of something shifting beneath it. One of the first hints was Show Us a Better Way, a national competition to come up with new ways of using public data. The next, and biggest hint yet, was the launch of www.data.gov.uk.
There are other areas of government making some great inroads into improving communication too. One I want to pick out specially is Directgov. They may have some truly hideous advertising, but they’ve also started doing plain language summaries for some key consultations! Great news. And they’re also building a place for people to search for consultations that interest them and even if, by their own admission, this only involves a somewhat poor two government organisations right now, it’s a very encouraging start.
So credit where it’s due. But we still have a long way to go.
What else is there?
However, to me there’s still a big part of this picture that’s missing. A lot of people talk about digital literacy, that is, getting the skills you need to use computers safely and effectively, but the reason I’m so focused on plain language is a much bigger concern, literacy itself — plain and simple.
There are at least 6 million people in this country with reading and writing skills at less than GCSE level, and for most of them it doesn’t matter whether they can work a computer or not — so few people are writing with them in mind that they’re excluded from taking part almost completely.
What can I do?
- Write to your MP, MEP and local councillors. Ask them what they’re doing to reach the people they need to reach — are they using plain language? Do they have effective outreach programmes?
- When you use government websites and services, use the feedback buttons to tell them if what they’re talking about isn’t easy to get to grips with. Tell them you want plain language and real communication.
- Write to your local paper, talk about it on Facebook, take it to your forums, heck, take it down the pub! Make sure everyone knows what a difference this simple change can make to people’s lives.