Why Simply Understand?

I thought I would explain a bit about the motiv­a­tion behind Simply Understand, and the ques­tions I hope to resolve through it.

There’s more to the story than this, as a lot of my personal motiv­a­tion comes from how much bright, artic­u­late people struggle to do the basic tasks the govern­ment sets for them, which I see every week through some volun­teer­ing I do for a liter­acy class.

That’s the why, and here’s the rest of it (origin­ally published at socialreporter.com).


I star­ted work­ing in the public sector when I left uni, way back in 2005 (I now work for the British Heart Foundation). While I was work­ing for these govern­ment organ­isa­tions, I noticed more and more a kind of insti­tu­tional tend­ency to over­com­plic­ate things. A letter request­ing info would become a four-page treaty. Press releases had at least six para­graphs that just repeated the one before, in a slightly differ­ent way. And that’s just the really simple stuff! This tend­ency to over­com­plic­ate was even more obvi­ous, though, in the consulta­tions govern­ment depart­ments put out.

Democracy stops where?

Everyone knows about voting. You make your choice, you go into your little booth and make a cross on a bit of paper, then you put that paper in a box, and hope your team wins — the end! Then we complain (and I do!) when they don’t do what we expect them to, and we’re really fond of saying how they don’t listen, and don’t want to hear what we have to say (and I did!). But, and here’s the kicker, we’re all (almost) wrong. For every major piece of work, act or paper, the govern­ment has to get our opin­ion, and they do it through consultations.

I was quite excited about this (sad, I know), so I picked up the first consulta­tion paper that inter­ested me and star­ted read­ing. And I read it again. And then a little more closely. And then again. Understanding came pain­fully slowly. I real­ised then that most people would have given up by the second or third page, and there were 40 more to go!

Why so serious

I was deeply disap­poin­ted that some­thing so funda­mental to our demo­cracy was so diffi­cult to do. So I thought I would use my public sector exper­i­ence and do some­thing about it — I would trans­late these consulta­tions from English into, well, better English! So I made Simply Understand — a “labour of love” accord­ing to the people at TheyWorkForYou.com.

Your right to reply

So every month, I collect together three or four new consulta­tions and get people to vote for the one they want trans­lated. Then I try to boil it down to the essen­tials — all you really need to know about what the govern­ment’s plan­ning to make an informed decision, and so you can really tell them what you think. I hope that these revamped consulta­tions will make it easier for people to have their say, and whether you use Simply Understand, or bravely tackle the offi­cial versions, I hope you’ll be inspired to do more than just vote — because it’s your right, and your say!

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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.

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