Ben Lowndes #viewsoncomms

A perspective on PR, development and life in the South West

Category Archives: Public sector

#ukhousing jargon: what we can do about habitual horrors

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”

Richard Branson on why we should ditch jargon

Nonsense I have an issue with jargon, and it’s not because I’m a pedant…

At its worst, it alienates those who we’re trying to reach and highlights a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.

It also makes no business sense, because it wastes the time of the person who is giving and receiving the information. Those are strong reasons to stop the ‘cut and paste’ approach that litters business correspondence and get back to basics.

Whilst the world of housing (particularly the bit in which I work) isn’t alone in having its own ‘special’ phrases, it’s clear that we have a problem when it comes to clearly explaining what we do. Ask anyone who joins the sector from another industry (as I did once). They’ll probably tell you much of their first few months were spent wondering what people are talking about in meetings and struggling to decipher emails.

If people who work with us feel like that, what does a small business or resident think when trying to find out about something like a new development in their community, for example?

There may be a case for using jargon sometimes; if the audience understands it, using specialist terms can be an efficient way to make a point. But context matters and dumping technical information into a note intended for someone who isn’t an expert bugs those who are on the receiving end.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms (another post for another day)! Our language is littered with them, ranging from the reasonable (HCA, DCLG) to the odd (LA for council) and plain daft (GCN? Great crested newts, or just newts!).

Sure, comms people with their ROIs, metrics, SOVs and other clever words have their own idiosyncrasies. But this should concern anyone who cares about whether people ‘get’ what we do. Read more of this post

Purdah principles for modern comms

It’s that time of year when public sector comms practitioners must carefully consider all activity to ensure that they are not seen to compromise their neutrality or favour any political group as the local and European elections approach.

This will be the last ‘purdah’ period before the Scottish referendum in September and next year’s general election, when we can rightly expect to see stringent guidelines which will affect promotional activity, speaking engagements, events, political visits and, in some cases, even business decisions.

I’ve blogged about purdah before and have become used to managing communications around this time. The guidelines are looked at in time for every election and I was interested to read this blog post from former local government comms pro Dan Slee who provides some pointers around social media. Should give food for thought for those who manage Twitter, Facebook and other accounts, to go with the official guidance that is issued.

Links I like 13.10.29

Three Ways To Get Cool Stuff Done Quickly At Work – Paul Taylor blog
Ever wondered how you’re going to get ‘that idea’ off the ground, when obstacles litter the path to its progress? It’s the sort of thing Bromford‘s Paul Taylor and Monmouthshire County Council’s Helen Reynolds have touched on before, so it’s only right they’ve come together on this post which has generated good comments since it was first written. I particularly like the tactic of asking opponents of a decent proposal to develop a business case for not doing something to demonstrate the case against it. After all, if an idea is good enough to fly…
Follow these guys on Twitter: @PaulBromford and @HelReynolds.

Links I like 13.06.25

Insights into site search – Government Digital Service
The digital team at the Cabinet Office blogs every day about its work to bring the websites of all Government departments and their sponsor bodies under the single Gov.uk banner. It’s a huge and impressive undertaking which has seen tens of thousands of documents uploaded in recent months, including a few that relate to my work. This post talks about getting the search function right by striking the balance between those who are familiar with the former Government sites and those who have no connection with them and need to access services or information without having to dig for it. The analysis of the ‘long tail’ created by the thousands of search terms outlines the task ahead of them.

Knowledge Hub no more

More than two years after I blogged about the Communities of Practice online networking platform, people are expressing their disappointment that its successor the Knowledge Hub is likely to be closed down.

Dan Slee’s post yesterday is one of a growing number from over the last few weeks (I’ve left a comment under his post, so won’t repeat it here). If you have something to add to the debate, check out the latest and have a say.

Good websites could mean better councils

Anyone who uses local authority websites (as I do) knows the visitor experience varies significantly from one area to the next.

The best are made with the user in mind. They’re easy to understand and make contact with a local authority department simple. Others (and there are a few) leave users confused and frustrated and, ultimately, on the phone to the council to complete the transaction they hoped to do quickly online. If this happens, the costs of dealing with such a transaction increase for the council as frustrated users contact call centres or local drop-ins rather than completing the task on the website. If there’s a case for cash-strapped councils not to invest in making their websites better to deal with this shift in the way its customers’ live and work, I’ve yet to hear it.

Read more of this post

How housing helps growth and hits the headlines

A report by the think tank Centre for Cities was published yesterday which generated strong headlines and made a clear link between house-building and economic vitality in major urban areas.

Cities Outlook 2013 calls for more flexibility for local councils in these areas to develop ways of supporting house-building or improvements, which could plug the shortfall in the supply of homes the country needs (currently said to be running at more than 100,000 a year). Its research suggests that meeting this gap could create 150,000 new jobs and add 1% to national economic growth rates, making most of us a winner in the process.

Read more of this post

Why are house prices sky high? It’s the banks, stupid

I came across the campaign group Positive Money’s website this morning whilst reading  letters readers of The Observer had written in response to its coverage last week of the rise in private rented housing in Britain, aka Generation Rent.

The website puts across a stark argument about the role banks have played in fueling runaway house price inflation by pumping billions of pounds into the property sector during the decade before the economic crash.

The result, it says, is that property values doubled in this time and we are not poorer, not richer, as an ever-increasing share of our incomes is spent on keeping roofs over our heads.

Check out the website, which sets out what the public can do to support the campaign. The two-minute video below sets out the argument about the role banks have played in creating this issue.

Can housing bridge the digital divide?

I got an insight today into the role the affordable housing sector could play in getting more people online, which is one of the aims set out in the Government’s recently launched digital strategy.

I was with comms colleagues who work for providers across the South West, talking about how digital media can be used to build stronger relationships with key stakeholders, make transactions more efficient and cost effective and convey messages to a wider, more significant audience. More than anything, social media can be used to achieve the ‘gold standard’ of two-way communications, where organisations listen and respond to what they are hearing in a way that satisfies their audiences, and ultimately supports their business.

Read more of this post

City Deals: big news outside London

I’ve been following the news in my car and online today for reaction to the Government’s City Deals announcement, which hands more powers to some of England’s largest metropolitan areas outside London.

These deals for Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester will see them take on new responsibilities and, in some cases, form new bodies which aim to drive growth and create thousands of new jobs in their areas.

Read more of this post

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