The Local Government Association (LGA) has published a list of 200 “jargon” words and their ‘plain English’ equivalents. But is this really jargon-busting, or patronising dumbing-down?
Chairman of the Local Government Association, Cllr Margaret Eaton, said:
“The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases. Why do we have to have ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?
“During the recession, it is vital that we explain to people in plain English how to get access to the eight hundred different services that local government provides with taxpayers’ money. (LGA website).
Whilst some words are clearly jargon – like “predictors of beaconicity”, “improvement levers” or “holistic governance”. But many, if not most, of the suggestion in the list are either technical terms which would mainly be used within councils and are actually useful or, and this more often the case, are simply patronising alternatives to perfectly understandable words or phrases or are even plain misleading.
Is “consensual” (alternative: “everyone agrees”) really so difficult – ask just about anyone what ‘consensual sex’ means and I bet they’d know. Are terms like “cross-cutting”, “level playing field”, “robust” or “trajectory” really so difficult to understand that they would confuse the public?
For example, substituting “initiative” with “idea” is misleading – an initiative is doing something, not just an idea. “Benchmarking” is not merely “measuring” – that is also misleading. Benchmarking, in the sense it is most commonly used, is about comparative measurement of organisations or services to see which is performing better or worse.
As English local government moves away from ‘benchmarking’ each other through Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) – see previous blog – one is tempted to think that redefining the term so that it doesn’t mean comparison is, well, just a little too convenient?
Another misleading ‘translation – “stakeholders” are not just “other organisations” – some stakeholders are individuals and other organisations are not necessarily stakeholders.
“Outcomes” are translated as “results” or, and this is puzzling “focused”? Really? And just to confuse things ”output” are also redefined as “results” – thus confusing services (outputs) with what they are meant to achieve (outcomes).
Overall this ‘initiative’ by the LGA smacks of populist headline grabbing, rather than a serious attempt at improving communications.