Strategy to develop Short Breaks for Disabled Children

This week’s usability atrocity is editorial rather than technical, but demonstrates the same fundamental error: a failure to consider that the audience is not the author, and the arrogant belief that the audience should work around the author’s laziness. Author or web developer: both should serve the visitor.

A neighbour of mine has a disabled child. She was therefore sent Birmingham City Council’s four page executive summary of the Strategy to develop Short Breaks for Disabled Children, Young People and their Families 2009 – 2011 [58K PDF] but found it complicated to read as her first language is not English and asked me for help. (25 October 2010: Version hosted on my site as original authors deleted it from their site.)

What a pile of bullshit it is.

It seems to be all motherhood and apple pie, but it’s difficult to tell; although they claim “parent views count”, it’s a shame that no-one wrote a summary in language likely to make sense to parents or indeed anyone outside the consultation/ Local Authority industries.

It kicks off explaining that this is a joint strategy with the three PCTs in Birmingham, yet do not explain what a PCT is. The approach “promotes good outcomes for children and young people”; does “promotes good outcomes” mean the same as “gets good results”? As defined by whom?

The summary tells us that the strategy “adopts the logic model approach to service design”. What does this gobbledegook mean?

Here’s another horror:

To transform short break services for disabled children Birmingham City Council has received a major financial investment from Government, in the form of a ring fenced grant, of £5,806,000 revenue and £2,311,700 capital spread over a two year period beginning April 2009.

What does “ring fenced grant” mean to someone who doesn’t understand the language of budgets and spreadsheets?

Why not say “We have received a government grant of £5,806,000 revenue and £2,311,700 capital spread over two years from April 2009. We can only use this money to improve short break services for disabled children”. (I changed “transform” to “improve” on the assumption that the grant is not given for the purpose of worsening the short break service).

There are several more crimes against the English language. For example, the passive voice creeps in for no apparent reason: “consultation has also taken place with other stakeholders and the key messages to emerge were…”.

Why complicate this? I assume this means “We have talked to other interested parties, and they told us..”? If that’s it means, why not say that?

The first commissioning objective is “to develop a more dynamic model”. What does “dynamic model” mean? Kate Moss after a snout full of coke?

Objective six tells me of a “distinctive gap”. It what way is it distinctive? Is it wider than other gaps that they identified? Narrower? Smells vaguely of chives or raspberries?

Objective seven is “to establish robust infrastructure…to deliver short breaks services”. If “robust infrastructure” means “buildings that don’t fall down on disabled children”, then it has my unqualified support. If it doesn’t mean that, what does it mean? If it’s an objective, I’d like to know what it is, please.

The authors will apparently “work collaboratively with the family information service”. The definition of “collaborate” is “work together on a common enterprise of project”, so “working with” anyone is collaboration by definition.

There will be a “dynamic process that engages disabled children”; in what sense will it be dynamic (aren’t processes supposed not to change all the time?) What are “opportunity change plans” – or is this a typo for “with the opportunity to change plans”?

I also noticed some horrible jargon that seems to deliberately obscure the message:

There are no plans to disinvest in existing residential provision in Birmingham. An increase in capacity is being sought through the more flexible use of residential provision…

I’m interested in the word “disinvest”. As an opposite to “invest”, it would seem that they do not plan to withdraw money or reduce funding to existing residential provision, although this message is diluted by using the passive rather than “We have no plans…” and not using the more direct “We will not reduce funding…”.

But “not disinvesting” doesn’t sound like there will be more money into the system. At the same time “an increase in capacity is being sought” [by whom?]. So my decoding suggests that what they really mean is “Our funding of existing residential provision will not change, but we will require working practices to change so that we can accommodate more children”.

That may or may not be a good thing; I can’t judge. But it sounds like it might have a profound effect on staff and the disabled children, so I wonder why it is written so unclearly.

I’m interested to know why there was no budget to proof-read this document or even to turn it into the language of people like me – a parent. Currently, it reads like a memo between policy wonks.

Or is it deliberately designed to obscure the message and get through on the nod?

2 Responses to “ Strategy to develop Short Breaks for Disabled Children ”

Comment by Bill Lees

You’ll not be surprised to learn that I agree wholeheartedly with the criticisms that you voice in respect of that particular Executive Summary document.
I have to read a few of these, and although there are some individuals employed as Council officers who are capable of producing documents in clear, plain, communicable English, far too many of them are afflicted by the weird ailment, of which this is an example, of employing bewildering and obfuscatory sentence construction and peppering language with impenetrable jargon. I’m not at all sure where it comes from.

Comment by Bruce Lawson personal site Strategy to develop Short Breaks | Joint Pain Relief

[…] Bruce Lawson personal site Strategy to develop Short Breaks Posted by root 43 minutes ago (http://www.brucelawson.co.uk) Mar 1 2009 proudly powered by wordpress entries rss and comments rss it kicks off explaining that this is a joint strategy with the three pct s in birmingham comment by bill lees march 4th 2009 at 10 12 am Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Bruce Lawson personal site Strategy to develop Short Breaks […]