Thinking positive

positivethinkingThis 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.
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Corinne Pritchard

Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.
Corinne Pritchard

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