[lg policy] Canada: Plain language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 3 16:07:02 UTC 2011

Seskus: Simple speak eyed at city hall

By Tony Seskus, Calgary Herald July 2, 2011

Do you know your MDP from your CTP? What would you do if a DP
application didn't follow some LUB rules?
And imagine the trouble if some CRIIPS got totally ERIIPS and stole your TIIPS?

Stumped? Don't beat yourself up. The weird language and strange
acronyms used at city hall can be as clear as mud in a muddy mud
puddle with a pile of mud added for good measure. But finally there's
HOPE or, for those who like acronyms, let's call it an Honest
Opportunity for Positive Enhancement.

On Monday, Ald. Druh Farrell will ask her council colleagues to
support the idea of a plain language policy at city hall.

OMG! Finally. "Our use of exclusive language that has meaning only to
us seems to be on the increase," Farrell says.

"We talk about the desire to communicate with Calgarians and welcome
them into the process, and our language is really saying the opposite.
It's not symbolic.

It's important in our ability to communicate."

Farrell makes her point in one of the funnier notices of motion
written in years.

Well, deliberately funny, anyway. She illustrates the case for plain
language by constructing a sentence littered with some of the worst.

"WHEREAS CA CPCs may need to contact the COC DBA and LUPP staff to
ensure the LOC and DP applications adhere to the LUB 1P2007 M-CGd72
rules with a height modifier and the ARP or, in absence of an ARP, the
SSCRCS plan, as well as the MDP and CTP to ensure that the FAR is not
exceeded, prior to the UDRP review and CPC meeting . . . "

If you understood that, congratulations! You probably have an MSc, MBA
or an Eng. PhD.

Yet, for the vast majority of Calgarians, it makes about as much sense
as living in Edmonton.

But it's not just acronyms. In her motion, Farrell takes a
lighthearted poke at expressions like Flat Water Pools.

"What does that mean to you?" Farrell says with a laugh.

"It's a swimming pool!" Some people may look at Farrell's motion and
complain that there must be bigger issues afoot than this. But the
need for plain language in government is genuinely important.
Imprecise jargon isn't just a source of migraines, but it can be used
by public officials to deflect, defuse or confuse political
accountability. Not that that sort of thing would ever happen at city
hall. Public officials need to speak clearly, know what it is they are
trying to say and stand by it.

As well, legal or bureaucratic language can be a barrier to citi-zen
participation in government.

A complaint I heard from Calgarians who addressed council at last
year's budget talks was the difficulty they had deciphering the city's
budget documents so they could give meaningful input on how to spend
-or trim the spending of -taxpayer dollars.

Simply put, if the majority of people can't understand what
politicians or public officials are talking about, how can they
reasonably be expected to take part in the public process?

Janet Lane, executive director of Literacy Alberta, explains that
plain language is key. In fact, one of the services the charity
provides is plain language translation that assists people with
putting forms, manuals or applications into language that's
understandable to the public.

"If we wonder why people don't engage, sometimes it's because they
didn't understand what it was they were supposed to engage in," Lane
says. "This city hall has a new emphasis on engaging with the citizens
of Calgary, . . . and so it's really important that they communicate
at a level that is understandable."

So, in the interest of Calgarians and the English language, let's dump
the gobbledygook. With any luck, we can look forward to a day when
FCSS and LPT aren't in a municipal report, but just a bad tray in a
game of Scrabble.

Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Seskus+Simple+speak+eyed+city+hall/5039692/story.html#ixzz1R3iVm4iC

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