The other week I was asked to take part in “an informal verbal engagement session”. I said no, largely because I’d no idea what it meant.
It was only about half an hour later that I deduced someone wanted what you and I would commonly refer to as “a chat”.
And it got me thinking. And it got me, rather sadly, making a note of other utterly non-sensical terms, phrases and names that the public sector often takes great delight in assigning to the simplest of things.
Particular favourites were “the unexpected winterisation of the climate” (it was basically bloody cold when it’s usually bloody hot) and “engaging in meaningful consultation” (is there any point engaging in any other kind?).
I’ve worked in local government long enough to laugh off some of the grandiose titles that get dedicated to stuff, but if I’ve been on Planet Public Sector for a while and still struggle to get my head round co-terminous this, rebaselined that and spatial the other, what chance does Joe Public have?
These are tough times. The toughest for many a moon. Across the land, public services are depleting or disappearing. And whether it’s through direct correspondence, posters in the village hall, residents’ magazines or social media channels, surely those changes have to be communicated in a way that’s easily understandable?
Often, the more important someone thinks a project or document is, the longer and wordier the title they label it with. But when it’s impacting on residents, can’t we please just apply the “how would you tell your mates down the pub about it?” test.
It’s the test my old journalism lecturer applied to the crafting of a decent news story intro and it holds true for the vast majority of what I do now. Residents will thank you for it. Contact centre staff will thank you for the reduction in “I’ve had this letter from you – what does it mean?” calls.
And, to be honest, if I started a sentence in my local with “alright Dave, I can’t believe the council is facilitating meaningful dialogue as part of an over-arching, place-shaping strategy”, it’d probably be the last thing I said for a while anyway.
So let’s keep it simple, eh?