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17 February 2012

Plain language for smart regulation (US, FR, SE)

This blog has not yet fully addressed the important issue of the promotion of plain language as a component of a smart regulation policy. As summarized in an online article by Federal Computer, recent developments in the United States give us the opportunity to look at international best practice.
"The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a community of (US) federal employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from government." Their first concern was the quality of regulations, but they later widened the scope of their action. The Office of Management and Budget issued new government guidelines in 2011. More recently, Cass Sunstein circulated a memorandum on "Clarifying regulatory requirements: executive summaries" with a template of a summary.
Significant efforts had been made in the francophone world, where purity of language has always been a prime concern since the XVIIth century and naturally pervaded the administration. In 2009, a seminar organised by the Walloon authorities brought together several French speaking countries to discuss ways and means of improving official forms: see Colloque francophone for the proceedings.
Resources developped at the time are still online:
  • Québec : brochure « rédiger simplement »
  • Belgium: Guide des formulaires
  • France had an active policy until 2006, with an advisory body composed of linguists and experts that built a number of linguistic tools in support of simple language. Among them, a lexicon, to "translate" officialese into good French and an IT based application for the same purpose. This policy was part of the wider objective of making the administration more understandable, the other main effort being to simplify and improve official forms. The last report from COSLA(2006) summarizes the policy, which is part of the modernisation of the state programme.
Another country that has had an ongoing policy for plain language in the administration is Sweden.
It would be helpful to colleagues if other examples of plain language policies could be pointed out.

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