Making pdf policy accessible through Simply Understand

After the excellent efforts of Adrian Short to make council web sites more useful by providing news feeds, I found another no-cost digital engagement innovation. Again from an individual.

Corinne Pritchard dropped a comment into a piece a wrote which bemoaned the way that a government department puts up pdfs for a consultation exercise instead of pages you can read on screen. Corinne said: I do that at Simply Understand. I looked – and was hooked.

Simply Understand is a unique translation service. Are you fed up with gobblydegook and jargon? Are you frustrated by endless sentences and hundred-page documents?

Simply Understand aim to cut your policy papers, manuals and programmes down to size! When everything is simply readable, you can simply understand.

Corinne does the translation, then publishes at scribd.com, which as you can see here allows you to scroll through documents. Click the Scribd logo and you go to the site for other options including downloading of the document and embedding (as I have done here).

Sale and rent back - a consultation Sale and rent back - a consultation corinne.pritchard4326 Sale and rent back is when you agree to sell your house at a lower price, in return for being allowed to stay on in your house and pay rent to the new owner. Businesses who offer sale and rent back services are not currently regulated by law. The Financial Services Authority wants your thoughts on how to do this quickly and successfully! Another translation from www.simplyunderstand.com.

I emailed Corinne and asked how Simply Understand sarted, and how it works. She replied:

“I started working in the public sector when I left uni, way back in 2005. As time went on I noticed more and more a kind of institutional tendency to overcomplicate things. A letter requesting info would become a four-page treaty. Press releases had at least six paragraphs that just repeated the one before, in a slightly different way. And that’s just the really simple stuff! This tendency to overcomplicate was even more obvious, though, in the consultations government departments put out.

“Everyone knows about voting. You make your choice, you go into your little booth and make a cross on a bit of paper, then you put that paper in a box, and hope your team wins – the end! Then we complain (and I do!) when they don’t do what we expect them to, and we’re really fond of saying how they don’t listen, and don’t want to hear what we have to say (and I did!). But, and here’s the kicker, we’re all (almost) wrong. For every major piece of work, act or paper, the government has to get our opinion, and they do it through consultations.

“I was quite excited about this (sad, I know), so I picked up the first consultation paper that interested me and started reading. And I read it again. And then a little more closely. And then again. Understanding came painfully slowly. I realised then that most people would have given up by the second or third page, and there were 40 more to go!

“I was deeply disappointed that something so fundamental to our democracy was so difficult to do. So I thought I would use my public sector experience and do something about it – I would translate these consultations from English into, well, better English! So I made Simply Understand – a “labour of love” according to the people at TheyWorkForYou.com.

“Every month, I collect together three or four new consultations and get people to vote for the one they want translated. Then I try to boil it down to the essentials – all you really need to know about what the government’s planning to make an informed decision, and so you can really tell them what you think. I hope that these revamped consultations will make it easier for people to have their say, and whether you use Simply Understand, or bravely tackle the official versions, I hope you’ll be inspired to do more than just vote – because it’s your right, and your say!”

I checked back with Corinne on whether she offered a paid-for service:

I do hope to graduate to that eventually, but the consultation service is free – it’s the only way for it to remain unofficial and below the radar, I know the original authors can get jumpy about misinterpreting.
If people would like to hire me directly to translate their stuff, for instance if they have something complex they want to get across and think my services would be useful, I’m happy to quote them on an individual basis! But if it’s fun and / or all about giving democracy a bit of a kickstart, I’ll probably do it for free 🙂

I’ve been wondering about how and where digital engagement differs from more conventional engagement processes. Obvious really – people can just do stuff, without asking permission, and in doing so hopefully shift the way our cumbersome official processes operate.

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