Thursday, December 13, 2007

The happiness of the pedant

I enjoy being pedantic now and again. Not necessarily with student assignments, they are learning, but when professional communicators produce communication that is vague, can be misinterpreted or makes no sense it is a pleasure to pick the holes or read a pedantic stripping away of the sense of an official document. John Redwood provided just that in his comments on Ed Ball's 'Children's Plan'.

I was emailed by 'Ed', well it was a Labour circular asking me to comment on the document, I clicked on the link provided, it was wrong. After scouring the web for the Department of Children, Schools and Families I located a copy, I was now wondering if they really wanted to consult me on this, or anybody for that matter. I think the normal rule is make it easy if you really want feedback, if you don't make it look like you do but make it hard: now what do you think was the case?

One of Redwood's points in particular interested me however, a reference to co-location: "that new primary schools should be co-located with the “police, social care, advice and welfare services…”. When I asked him if he really thought a police station on the same site as a primary school would make the school more attractive to parents he looked puzzled as he did not seem to realise co-locating police with children at school could mean siting the police station at the school". I thought surely this was not being suggested!

There are only three references to co-location in the full report: the one closest to a definition is "staff in co-located services are more likely to talk to each other and provide joined-up support. For example, co-location of health visitors and midwives helps smooth transition between antenatal and postnatal periods"; so we are talking a one-stop shop idea where several things can be provided in a 'joined-up' way under a single roof (so lots of management speak). Chapter 7 of the report sets out Labour's ambition in more detail (ahah!!)

Well err maybe. There is the phrase "locating services under one roof in the places people visit frequently"; so schools in supermarkets perhaps? The opening part suggests joining up health care and education, so this is teaching that the wrong food, alcohol, cigarettes are bad? That's new! There is box 7.2 which is a list of vague aims and managerial buzz-words (see below) if it makes any sense or informs of the practical detail please let me know, maybe it is me being slow. The chapter then tails off talking about so many different issues that it is hard to tell what is happening and where. Now to be fair to Mr Balls it does not suggest housing schools in police stations or vice versa, but then again it is so vague it could mean just that. Once again government provides a document that is virtually meaningless in the specifics that anything could be seen as meeting the appropriate target, offers consultation but makes it difficult, and sets aspirations few can disagree with. But what does it mean?
The first law of producing communication that stimulates intelligent thought and debate is to make it comprehensible and encourage the audience to actually read/listen etc. This is none of that, given the prevalence of professional communicators in government is this the design I wonder. Is the detail wrung out of it to ensure that it offers an appearance of activity? Whatever it reads to me as meeting standards of bad communication only: any views?

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