Blah, blah, blah

Written by Kate Shannon on 15 October 2014

Few things are guaranteed to make me press the Off switch (mentally or physically) than jargon. Whether it’s ‘service users’ (people), ‘clients’ (people), ‘local outcomes’ (results) or ‘assets’ (could be anything), local authorities are some of the worst for incomprehensible phraseology. I do understand why some jargon exists, it helps people within an organisation to define exactly what they are referring to, especially when there are many nuances to the subject, and I know some terms are designed to be completely inoffensive and politically correct. However, it is very difficult to see how your average person can wade through the jargon and come out with the right idea. As someone who sits through many meetings, interviews and conferences all to do with local government, I am better versed than most in ‘council speak’. And yet even I find myself mentally checking out, losing the thread and having no clue what people are talking about.

Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee, Kevin Stewart MSP, hit the nail on the head the other week. Listening to an evidence session on the Community Empowerment Bill, Stewart said: “I will play devil’s advocate. We have heard the terms ‘community anchor organisations’ and ‘third sector interfaces’. Over the years, there has been much different terminology. When I was the chair of a social inclusion partnership, I banned some of the gobbledegook phrases.”

The whole point of this Bill is to get people involved in how their services are delivered, yet how on earth can they get involved when they haven’t the foggiest idea what’s actually being said? This kind of jargon not only puts people off, it makes them feel stupid (“Oh, you don’t know what a user interface is? Well.”) and surely this is the last thing councils want to do. While I know jargon is not being used intentionally to exclude people, unfortunately, this is exactly what it does.

So let’s try and lose the gobbledegook in future, then maybe we might be able to keep the attention of the public. Everyone has acknowledged that maintaining public engagement following the referendum is vital. Perhaps getting rid of excessive jargon could be a very important way to make this a reality.  

Kate Shannon

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