Predictors of Beaconicity – A load of old wonk?

March 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm 1 comment

I know the LGA’s list of banned council jargon has been about for a few days, but this is a story that deserves to run and run.

You know you’re in trouble when you can recognise every single word on there, and you believe it makes perfect sense. I and my colleagues have become fluent talkers of policy wonk, and it’s rather like joining a cult. You start to suspend your reservations and inhibitions, your judgement begins to become distorted, things that two years ago seemed outrageous, perverse even, start to seem utterly normal.

Take these, all used in anger in documents I have recently written:

  • innovative capacity
  • potentialities
  • situational
  • transparency
  • synergies

The LGA have helpfully provided an alternative where an alternative exists. Much of the time, they’ve merely commented ‘Why use at all?’. They attach this to most things to do with networks and innovation, I note with interest.

And that’s surely got to be the acid test – if you had to explain a phrase to someone in words of one syllable, could you do it? And if not, what the hell are you doing saying it? Most of the words I have a sort of tacit understanding of, but I struggle to explain them convincingly.

There is a point to some of this jargon, to be fair. Words do matter, precision counts, especially when it comes to doing research that will shape public policy. Some of the banned words are actually hugely important to social scientists and really do mean a very particular thing which doesn’t have any other name – indicators aren’t just measurements as the list suggests, they’ve got a much more complicated hinterland than that. But whether that word should ever be on a leaflet that comes through your front door is another matter.

Surely part of any policy person’s work is to make what they do as accessible to as many people as possible, without making it simplistic? It’s lovely to create a little clique who share a secret language, but the job of these people is to serve the public interest at the end of the day. This is really the thrust of that list – you lose people’s attention and trust pretty quickly if you use words that, frankly, sound like they’re from David Brent’s inbox. That, and the matter of personal pride that one shouldn’t be caught talking bollocks in a public place.


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Heroes Steve’s Journal Article

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Angus Bearn  |  April 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Yep. You are right. If it can’t be expressed in plain English, don’t bother. I had some very long squabbles with lawyers about writing tenancy and option agreements in plain English and the excuses I heard…


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