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Public Sector Informant : PSI - October
32 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [LANGUAGE:GEORGE FRIPLEY] Bureaucratese as a workplace weapon Jargon 101 Mastering government writing will help you to keep the public, and your superiors, at bay Just imagine what this jargon would mean to a member of the public. It would cause total confusion and, hopefully, a further letter requesting clarification of what you meant. To ensure that you can carry out your government writ- ing skills in a professional and appropriately vague manner, you should make sure that you are aware of the relevant jargon that you can use. The good use of jargon will give your letters, reports, policies and briefing notes a soothing and confidence-building feel, while at the same time leaving the reader with no real idea of what you are talking about. For instance, when writing a policy, you can use scientific terms and names that will only be under- standable to a very few academics who specialise in that area. When writing letters to the public, you can make use of acronyms that you know will mean nothing to them. You can also use this method when writing briefing notes to a board or your senior management, as they will not admit that they do not know what you are talking about if you make it convincing enough. See below for an example of what should be included in such a briefing. I wish to bring to the Board's attention a matter of crucial importance to the future of this department. The JVNOS sub-committee recently had correspondence from the GJPC that the FNO was not happy with the way the Board was using its SOPs to gain knowledge construed by the FNO to be its own domain. After some contact with the FNO, and with refence to our own KPIs, the NNTB was contacted to see if there were any legal concerns that may leave the Board open to being sued pursuant to clause 13B(iv)a(iii) of the EJPA Regulations under the EJPA Act (1927). A successful prosecution under these provisions would result in a failure to meet the KPIs and have a potential negative impact on the perceived integrity and capability of the Board. This would cause the SRF to ask questions and the SAG to run for cover. The performance of Board members would be most likely to be called into question, raising the possibility that the Minister ask for a judicial inquiry under the WATIB Act (1978). Board members would have a defence through the NFIWGO clause (s178(b)3 of the EJPA Regulations), though this may not be enough to save their positions on the Board or prevent a jail term if found guilty This sounds serious and of major importance. However, the number of acronyms and vague terms mean that most board members would have no idea what is going on. They will be worried, and probably inclined to approve any recommendation asked for that sounds like it will avert the disaster. Acronyms used JVNOS: Joint Venture National Ocean Study FNO: Federation of Norwegian Oceanographers GJPC: Global Joint Projects Com- mittee SOP: Standard Operating Pro- cedure KPI: Key Performance Indicator EJPA: Environmental Jurisdic- tions and Prosecutions in Antarctica SRF: Stakeholder Reference Group SAG: Stakeholder Advisory Group WATIB: Who Are These Idiots on the Board NFIWGO: No F---ing Idea What's Going On Weasel words This type of briefing note can be followed with a relatively meaning- less recommendation that will give the board comfort that actions are indeed being taken. For example: It is recommended that the Board resolve that in the future they are committed to expressing an interest in supporting further research within the JVNOS project and its triple-bottom-lime analysis to be carried out by the JSVEnv. What does this mean? Does anything have to be done as a result and will it cause an environment where deci- sions will need to be made? In short, it says absolutely nothing and does not ask for any actions or decisions to be taken in the near future. This is a successful recommendation. This example clearly shows that even when writing to a board that does nothing other than administer funding arrangements for foreshore restoration projects, they can have the willies put up them with some creative jargon. When you consider this, just imagine what this sort of jargon would mean to a member of the public. It would cause total confusion and, hopefully, a further letter requesting clarification about what you actually meant. This will slow down the wheels of government and ensure that every aspect of an issue is carefully scrutinised prior to any thought of making a decision. A final word on the use of ''weasel words and terms'', so called because they are vague enough to allow the writer to weasel out of any tight corner that they may inadvertently find themselves in. A few examples of these terms including the following: Sustainable What does this really relate to? Basically, whatever you like. Without context it could mean pretty much anything. Sustainable income, su- stainable environment, sustainable wage packet -- it's really up to you. Community capacity building Nobody really knows what this means. It is a term that has grown in popularity in recent years and is often used by politicians who want to sound like they know what they are talking about. Externalities Who cares what this really means? It could mean anything, and will most likely be misinterpreted by the reader, and possibly the writer. Facilitate This is a wonderful weasel word. When used, it doesn't specify what steps will actually be taken and so it cannot be definitely attributed to any particular action. This is pure gold for the procrastinator. Subjectto. . . This is usually part of a very slippery phrase that is used to promise the world, but only on the condition that a number of other things happen first. It is often used in government approvals and can then be used in court when a contractor decides that they haven't received what they thought they were entitled to. George Fripley is a former senior state public servant. This is an extract from his book, You Can't Polish a Turd: The Civil Servant's Manual, Night Publishing, 2010. governmentandbureaucracy.blogspot.com When Jacob's Dad passed away after returning from East Timor, he and his family were devastated. Legacy stepped in to o er practical help. Legacy helps many brave families like Jacob's every week of the year. To keep us going, please donate to Legacy. Thank you. W P r isit www.l cy.c .
PSI - September