The jargon terms council leaders want banned

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Update 20 March 2009: Jargon ban draws mixed response

 

Below is a list of words and phrases that the Local Government Association wants banned. Many of them lattice the IT industry - and business journalism.

The banned list includes gateway review, synergy, stakeholder engagement, baseline, benchmarking, best practice, blue sky thinking, champion, challenge, early win, functionality, transformational and vision. 

The Local Government Association says that such terms make it harder for local people to understand what councils do. Some of the most heinous offences against plain English are committed by "Predictors of Beaconicity", "situational", "place shaping" and "coterminosity".

The Department for Communities and Local Government published in 2007 the unpardonable "Predictors of Beaconicity: Which local authorities are most likely to apply to, be short listed and awarded through the Beacon Scheme." The out of place comma in the title is the department's.

Words on the LGA's banned list also include:

•           re-baselining

•           mainstreaming

•           holistic governance

•           contestability

•           synergies

The Association says that everyone who works in public services should use language that makes their work easily understood.

But it's not just some councils and central government that use jargon to kill general understanding. IBM has developed its own language which seems designed to be impenetrable to most of us. 

Somerset County Council formally recorded as one of its business challenges the task of understanding the use of jargon and acronyms by IBM, its partner on a £400m outsourcing - sorry privatised - contract.

The county council's Audit and Resources Sub-committee said:

"Plain English - Our new partner has a challenge to consider in reducing jargon and explaining acronyms which are in common use within IBM."  

What follows is the banned list which is being sent by the Local Government Association to councils.  The LGA has usually suggested alternatives. I've taken out a few words which are not often used in the IT industry and business media.

Across-the-piece - everyone working together

Actioned - do

Advocate - support

Agencies - groups

Ambassador - leader

Area based - in an area

Area focused - concentrating on the area

Autonomous - independent

Baseline - starting point

Beacon - leading light

Benchmarking - measuring

Best Practice - best way

Blue sky thinking - thinking up ideas

Bottom-Up - listening to people

Can do culture  - get the job done

Capabilities -

Capacity - ability

Capacity building - enough room in the system

Cascading -  why use at all?

Challenge - problem

Champion - best

Citizen empowerment - people power

Client - person

Cohesive communities - why use at all?

Cohesiveness - together

Collaboration - working together

Commissioning - buy

Community engagement - getting people involved

Consensual  - everyone agrees

Contestability - Why use at all?

Core developments - main things that are happening

Core Message - main point

Core principles - beliefs

Core Value - belief

Coterminosity - all singing from the same hymn sheet

Coterminous - all singing from the same hymn sheet

Cross-cutting - everyone working together

Cross-fertilisation - spreading ideas

Customer - people/person

Dialogue - talk/discuss

Direction of travel - way forward

Distorts spending priorities - ignores people's needs

Downstream - Why use at all?

Early Win - success

Edge-fit - Why use at all?

Embedded - set in

Empowerment - people power

Enabler - helps

Engagement - working with people

Engaging users - getting people involved

Enhance - improve

Evidence Base - research shows

Exemplar - example

Facilitate - help

Fast-Track - speed up

Flex - Why use at all?

Flexibilities and Freedoms  - more power to do the right thing

Framework - guide

Fulcrum - pivot

Functionality - use

Funding Streams - money

Gateway review - Why use at all?

Going forward - in the future

Good Practice - best way

Governance - Why use at all?

Guidelines - guide

Holistic - taken in the round

Holistic governance - Why use at all?

Horizon scanning - Why use at all?

Improvement levers - using the tools to get the job done

Incentivising - incentive

Income Streams - money/cash

Indicators - measurements

Initiative - idea

Innovative capacity - Why use at all?

Interdepartmental - working together

Interface - talking to each other

Iteration - version

Joined up - working together

Joint working - working together

Level playing field - everyone equal

Lever - Why use at all?

Leverage - influence

Localities - places/town/city/village

Lowlights - worst bits

Mainstreaming - Why use at all?

Management capacity - Why use at all?

Meaningful consultation- talking to people

Meaningful dialogue - talking to people

Mechanisms - methods

Menu of Options - choices

Multi-agency - many groups

Multidisciplinary - many

Network model - Why use at all?

Normalising - make normal

Outcomes - results

Outcomes - focused

Output - results

Outsourced - privatised

Overarching - Why use at all?

Paradigm - Why use at all?

Parameter - limits

Participatory - joining in

Partnership working - working together

Partnerships - working together

Pathfinder - Why use at all?

Peer challenge - Why use at all?

Performance Network - Why use at all?

Place shaping - creating places where people can thrive

Pooled budgets - money

Pooled resources - time and money

Pooled risk - Why use at all?

Populace - people

Potentialities - chances

Practitioners - experts

Predictors of Beaconicity - Why use at all?

Preventative services - protecting the most vulnerable

Prioritization - most important

Priority - most important

Proactive - Why use at all?

Process driven - shouldn't everything be people driven?

Procure - buy

Procurement - buying

Promulgate - spread

Proportionality -  in proportion

Protocol - guidance

Quantum - Why use at all?

Quick Hit - success

Quick Win - success

Rationalisation - cut

Rebaselining - Why use at all?

Reconfigured - reform

Resource allocation - money going to the right place

Revenue Streams  - money

Risk based - safest way

Robust - tough

Scaled-back - cut/reduce

Scoping - work out

Sector wise - Why use at all?

Seedbed - idea

Self-aggrandizement - Why use at all?

Service users - people

Shared priority ¬- all working together

Shell developments - Why use at all?

Signpost - point in the direction of

Single conversations - talking to

Single Point of Contact - everything under one roof

Situational - situation

Slippage - delay

Social contracts - deal

Social exclusion - poverty

Stakeholder - other organisations

Step Change - improve

Strategic -  planned

Strategic priorities - planned

Streamlined - efficient

Sub-regional - work between councils

Subsidiarity - Why use at all?

Sustainable - long term

Sustainable communities - environmentally friendly

Symposium - meeting

Synergies - what use at all?

Tested for Soundness  - what works

Thematic - theme

Thinking outside of the box - Why use at all?

Third sector - charities and voluntary organisations

Toolkit - guidance

Top-Down - ignores people

Trajectory - route

Tranche - slice

Transactional - Why use at all?

Transformational - change

Transparency - clear

Upstream - Why use at all?

Upward trend - getting better

Utilise - use

Value-added - extra

Vision  - ideal/dream/belief

Visionary - ideal/dream/belief

Links:

Council leaders ban business jargon - Computer Weekly

Predictors of Beaconicity - Government publication  

IBM's partner in £400m deal calls for less jargon - IT Projects blog

IBM Jargon and General Computing - IBM publication dated 1990

The LGA wants to ban jargon - about time  

24 Comments

  • Quite WHY the use of plain english should be linked to the recession is beyond me. So when we're not in recession it's fine to baffle the public?

    At least one of the alternatives quoted is plainly wrong though. Coterminous is a term about borders of areas running together. So for example the SW borders of Cumbria and South Lakeland are the same line, so they are coterminous. Absolutely nothing to do with hymns. Suggesting cliches like that as an alternative is quite silly!

    I completely agree with the idea though.

  • My job involves taking minutes at Council meetings and I cringe at the jargon I'm expected to reproduce. Only last week I came across this monstrosity in an inspection report - 'The Authority recognises that future delivery of strategic objectives will necessitate a culture of embedded outcome-focused co-operative working'.

  • Adrian:

    Thank you for the comment - I agree, though in defence of the Local Government Association I should say that it links the recession with plain English because local residents may raise more queries with councils if they don't understand jargon, and queries cost money to deal with.

    The LGA could have made that clearer.

    Coterminosity is not in the Oxford English Dictionary (not even the full version) and even coterminous is considered obselete. The OED prefers "coNterminous".

    It is used a lot by councils when referring to electoral boundaries. They could instead talk about sharing boundaries.

    I agree that the LGA's alternative "singing with the same hymn sheet" is bizarre - but I guess some councils use coterminous in that context.

    Tony Collins

  • Jane:

    I hope that taking minutes of council meetings is a small part of your life - like having a tooth pulled now and again

    Tony

  • @Jane

    'The Authority recognises that future delivery of strategic objectives will necessitate a culture of embedded outcome-focused co-operative working'.

    Translated I think that means.

    "Yes, in the future, we need better teamwork to complete our work"
    - well duh!

  • Has the War On Apostrophes in Street Name Signage now been extended to hyphens? Surely it should be can-do culture or are they referring to people who can do culture? From my experience of councils there's more of a can't-be-arsed culture at large.

  • What a complete pile of bollocks.

    Is this story really true?

    Since when has the word "robust" come under the heading of jargon?

    You can not replace the word "transparency" with "clear", not least because one is a noun and the other a verb. But moreover because they do not mean the same thing

    And "long term " is not a synonym for "sustainable".

    Frankly I'd rather live with jargon. Looking at the list above its meaning is often clearer than the alternatives (if not more transparent).

  • Although I agree with this in principle many of the words listed are not jargon at all, they are simply words that poorly educated people may not be familiar/comfortable with. I think the root issue here is that the poor old councillors have suddenly realised that they no longer understand half the things that get passed through committee.

  • Andrew

    Your description of the list is clearer than any council minutes.

    I've used 'robust' a lot but I'll be more careful now it has become cliche. It's not for me to defend the LGA but some of the words are there because many of those who deal with councils regularly don't know what they mean.

    Some of the alternatives are not great. I sound like an LGA press officer but it's difficult to give a simplifed definition of a word or phrase when you don't know the context.

    I certainly wouldn't put the list aside because I disagree with some of the words chosen or the alternatives.

    It's a reminder that we as journalists get caught up in jargon and cease to think enough about what we're saying. Once that happens there's a danger we stop simplifying and clarifying what our interviewees are telling us.

    Tony

  • So does that mean the Procurement Department now need to be called the Buying Department? Who's going to sign off on the cheque to replace the door signs?

    This is nonsense. Clear language is fine but many of these words are appropriate and valid. If anything, this council seem to be dumbing down their management if they cannot be bothered to expand their vernacular.

    Oh rubbish. I have to ban myself for using the word "vernacular". Sorry, I meant "dialect". Damn. Try again. "words".

  • "councillors have suddenly realised that they no longer understand half the things that get passed through committee."

    That's a tradition in local govt, not the price of jargon.

    Tony

  • you missed
    Systematics - Why use at all?

    Taxonomy - Why use at all?

    taken from the LGA site

    http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/core/page.do?pageId=1716341

  • This is a reasonable idea, however they have clearly taken it to an extreme. Whilst a significant number of phrases/words are absolutely unnecessary. Words with legitimate, specific meanings can not be replaced by words of a vaguely similar nature.

    I'm fairly sure that Capacity is not interchangable with Ability...

    Also there are words which i would assume local government has some requirement to use.(subsidiarity)

    As Johnny Wise Boots points out many of these words are completely valid.

  • It just makes you realise how bad the dumbing down in our schools has got if the LGA are having to resort to this load of rubbish to communicate with the great unwashed.

  • I should choose my words carefully given that certain readers of my comment may struggle to understand some of the more “complex” words.

    I find this story scandalous (bad). Has our culture reached a point where words such as: advocate, autonomous, capacity, cohesive, enhance, robust, holistic, functionality, initiative, proactive (I’m too angry to go on) are classed as incomprehensible (unintelligible or hard to understand) to the population?

    The vast majority of the banned terms are common words. I cannot believe the wealth of support for this policy. Yes local councils should be clear and concise in their language but why can’t they use “normal” words? What has happened to our education system?

    A travesty for the English language.

  • I would say that 80% of the words in the list should remain in use. Most were coined for good reason, usually the need to sum up a difficult concept in one or two words. Overuse of jargon for it's own sake is irritating, but that's no reason to ban it.

    Beware "dumbing down" the language (more jargon?). Topics like rationalisation, strategy development, and the description of complex processes NEED a language of their own. If you don't understand it, try harder or resign!

  • Great idea. I went to the LGA website to collect the original list and found this headline on their home page.
    Empowering engagement: a stronger voice for older people.

  • Phil,
    You said:
    @Jane

    'The Authority recognises that future delivery of strategic objectives will necessitate a culture of embedded outcome-focused co-operative working'.
    Translated I think that means.
    "Yes, in the future, we need better teamwork to complete our work" - well duh!

    No, it doesn't. It is a very subtle and important point about 'performance indicators'. How do people (e.g. taxpayers) know if you are getting anywhere? The difference between activity and progress can be elusive. What is being asked for is that teams develop their own measures of whether they are making real progress and that these are public and used to show whether the Authority is making progress at a higher level. The exact opposite of jobsworths.

  • I really do despair.

    Regrettably most of these are recognised English words & phrases that can be used very effectively by a skilled communicator to succinctly convey concepts, information or ideas to those who are reading their prose - assuming of course that the reader has at least a reasonable grasp of the English language (or access to a dictionary).

    However it should be noted that those intent on obfuscation frequently use simpler words like 'it's council policy' and 'no I never did get your letter' and ''cos it's me job' to better promote the desired line of propaganda - it's the message that's the problem, not the medium!

  • I can see both sides of this argument. Language is a means of communication and communication is a two way process. If your listener(s) does not understand what you are saying you are not using appropriate language as it is you who wants to be heard. It follows that you must use language that your audience will understand.

    Someone above uses the phrase 'the great unwashed', to me this is wholly inappropriate in a public servant. Tax payers have a right to know what we are doing with their money whether they are well educated or not.

    I think the LGA is wrong to use the word banned. In a meeting where everyone understands the 'jargon' I see no problem with using more complex terms. It would not be appropriate in any meeting at which councillors are present. Councillors are the people's representatives and generally speaking the notes from these meetings will be published.

  • I think the point people are missing here is not that the words themselves are necessarily jargon or even inappropriate, but that their over-(and in some cases mis-) use has become clichéd.

    For example there is nothing wrong with ‘interface’ if we are talking about an application interface, but when used to simply replace ‘let’s meet up’ – not only does the speaker sounds like a bit of a twerp, but it is a blatant misuse of the word.

    I think that it is a really positive move, but also that the LGA is missing a trick here. What is the point in just publishing a list of banned words? At Original Software we've taken the concept one stage further and levied a corporate tax on the use of those offending words. - http://www.origsoft.com/blog/?p=52 The councils should be building community spirit and getting behind local charities by taxing council workers for the use of the words. Believe me, even just 20p a time does add up quite quickly and really motivates people to think harder about what they are saying!

  • It's an early April fool joke, right?
    This is a form of Genecide, without the IT jargon how will techies survive, this will just drive them deep underground where they will sit around in their bedrooms playing Warcraft until the early hours and not interact with the rest of the human race. And they will live with their parents until they are in their 60's and never have a girlfriend. Oh no wait a minute, they do that already!


  • I have to laugh at the alternatives provided:

    Embedded client side software -> Set in person software

    Protocol Toolkit -> Guidance guidance

    TCP/IP -> Transmission Control Guidance over Internet Guidance.

    Oh yes, this all makes sense :).

  • Not to rain on any parades, but wasn't this list in regard to documents received by members of the general public, from local councils?

    It's not a push to have all jargon ever changed with the terms suggested here, but to replace the idiotic cofascilitation of ambiguous elitary vernacularised jargon phrasology with things people can actually understand. In the context of council letters, most replacements suggested are pretty accurate.

    Except for the singing on the same hymn sheet, of course; I'd rather just talk about/work on the same thing.

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