Plain language and citizens 09.00 – 10.30

Conference Room

Welcome and introduction
Dr Deborah Bosley, President of PLAIN and Principal of the Plain Language Group

Plain language, citizens and the European Ombudsman
Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman
The European Ombudsman spoke eloquently about the value of plain language focusing on its value to government and the public administration sector. She also spoke about how her office deals with complaints against the EU institutions.

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Clear health information is the best remedy
Dr Richard Murray, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, MSD
Dr Murray described what health literacy is, levels of health literacy and general literacy. He looked at patient health behaviours and outcomes and how they are linked to low health literacy. Dr Murray mentioned some MSD projects focused on improving health outcomes and why these are important.

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Plenary Panel 10.45 – 11.30

Testing 1, 2, 3…: An integrated model for evaluating plain language
Presenters: Dr Neil James, Executive Director of the Plain Language Foundation Australia and Susan Kleimann, Kleimann Communication Group
Panelists: Lynda Harris, Chief Executive, Write Limited
Chris Bransfield, Co-Founder Woods Creative LLC / Creative Director, Experience & Psychology

This plenary looked at the ‘false dichotomy’ about testing and the need to move towards all plain language documents having some form of evaluation, but more broadly defined. The panel then looked at the ‘Spectrum of evaluation methods’ – a new ‘spectrum’ of methods, including document assessment methods and user testing methods. Finally, Dr James invited a response – from panelists – to the ‘Criteria for selecting evaluation methods.’

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Concurrent Sessions 11.30 – 12.30

Health: Why patients still can’t get clear information about their medicines.
Karel van der Waarde, Design and research consultant
Conference Room, Basement

Conflicts between criteria related to regulations (legal), profits (economical), and healthcare (wellness) prevent the development of clear language about medicines. The underlying assumptions of these three perspectives can be discerned in most examples of information about medicines. The presentation showed some of these.

Result writing information about medicines combines expectations of patients, pharmaceutical industry, and regulatory authorities. Despite good intentions and investments, the results in most cases remain a compromise that do not really support anyone to act appropriately. However, there are some examples that really enable people to act appropriately.

This presentation showed that:
• Patients are just like normal people: they like understandable and well-designed information.
• Positioning patients first is still not common practice: legislation and financial considerations are more important.
• It is essential to test beforehand: opinions and assumptions might need to be reconsidered.
• Building prototypes convincingly proves that change is possible. However, tangible prototypes need to be augmented by solid arguments.

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Medication – consequences of not communicating clearly about medications at discharge from hospital and in the community pharmacy.
Dr. Laura Sahm, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacy, University College Cork
Conference Room, Basement

This presentation looked at how:
• prescriptions issued with incomplete or inaccurate information at discharge from hospital have a deleterious impact on the seamless care of patients at a very important point in their care; and
• pharmacists in communities provide information to patients (on the medication bottle or on the accompanying Patient information Leaflet) and how they serve to aid or to confuse the patient.
Health literacy is the key to improving health outcomes.

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Best practices in plain language and adult literacy:

Plain language in the Spanish-speaking world: bringing transparency to private and public sectors.
Joanna Richardson (Chair), Plain English Instructor, Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal
Presidents, 1st Floor

This session had four presenters. Joanna Richardson gave a brief introduction to the topic and speakers. In these presentations, delegates heard from the following speakers:
Estrella Montolío, Tenured Professor of Spanish Linguistics, Universidad de Barcelona
In 2011 the Spanish Minister for Justice formally presented the Cross Cutting Ministry Commission Report on the Modernization of Legal Language (Informe de la Comisión interministerial de modernización del lenguaje jurídico). This presentation focused on the highlights of that report which was directed by Dr Montolío, and carried out by a research team from the University of Barcelona, (Estudios del Discurso Académico y Profesional). To date, this is the most extensive report on Spanish legal discourse.

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Mariana Bozetti, Plain Spanish Consultant at the General Attorney’s Office, Buenos Aires, and Instructor at the UTDT
Based on the premises that citizens have a right to understand the discourses that impact on their lives, and that the use of plain language is one of the means to protect this right, in 2014 the Office of the Attorney General of Argentina through its Disciplinary, Technical and Human Resources Secretariat initiated a PL training programme.
This presentation analysed one aspect of this programme: a course on the writing of rulings in plain language for prosecutors and agents of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It focused on the concept participants have of legal style at the beginning of the course and how it translates into their writing. From this comparison conclusions may be drawn on what aspects of plain language need to be emphasized during training when there is a significant distance between the concept of “clarity” as a feature of style and how it appears in the discourse.

Claudia Poblete, Lecturer in Spanish language, Law School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso
This presentation gave an overview of current developments in the Chilean Judiciary regarding clarifying legal sentences. Dr Poblete focused on the creation of a plain Spanish language commission within the Judiciary. She also referred to a useful glossary to explain frequently used legal terms to the lay users. The presentation also touched on the BBVA’s TCR programme in Chile.

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María Such, Head of Reputation and Group Strategy, BBVA Bank, Spain. BBVA Marketing, Spain
The presentation described the Transparent, Clear and Responsible (TCR) Communication Project we are implementing in BBVA- a global bank. It also covered the rationale behind this project, the objectives, the main lines of work and the challenges ahead.

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Training best practice:

New tools – new possibilities? The search for best practice in clear language.
Aud-Sølvi Botn, Senior Adviser, Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi), Norway
La Touche Room, Ground Floor

New learning trends and digital tools are creating new possibilities to achieve plain language in the public sector. By focusing on the end-users, and especially looking closer at the key role of middle management in plain language, Aud-Sølvi Botn shared reflections on what they learned when preparing to develop an e-learning course in plain language.

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Advanced online training design to teach plain language writing skills.
Marie Antaya, Director, Eclectic Communications
La Touche Room, Ground Floor

To successfully create online language and writing curriculum, your approach must be the same as for face-to-face courses: actively involve the learner, provide realistic examples and create activities that allow them to apply their learning. The instructional design must ensure that learners can transfer the skills they’ve learned to the workplace. A challenge with online learning is achieving higher-level cognitive objectives—analysis, synthesis and evaluation— that are more easily realized in classroom settings.

In this presentation participants learned how to apply adult learning theories and evaluate technology options to ensure that online curriculum can accomplish high-level learning outcomes.

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Advocating for plain legal language:

Reconciling the need for legal accuracy with a commitment to plain language.
Dr Stephen James, Legal Writer and Editor, Victoria Law Foundation
Talbot Room, 1st Floor

The presentation explored how you can negotiate with lawyers and other specialists on reference groups set up to ensure the accuracy of your publication. It covered why to use reference groups, how to set them up and what’s involved in translating legalese into plain language. It showed that you can reconcile the need for accuracy with a commitment to plain language.

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The case for plain language.
Professor Joseph Kimble, Distinguished Professor Emeritus Western Michigan University, Cooley Law School
Talbot Room, 1st Floor

Dr Kimble broke down the evidence for how strong the case for plain language based on studies: where they come from (law, business, government, health literacy), the kinds of benefits realized, and what the readers say. He also asked the audience what counterarguments they still hear—and then talked about how we can best deal with those objections.

Presentation Coming Soon

Evaluating clarity:

Promoting the access to information in citizen language: The Chilean experience of the Council for Transparency
Christian Anker, Head of Unit, Council for Transparency (Chile)
Room D104, Ground Floor

This presentation showed strategies developed by the Council for Transparency to promote and expand the right of access to public information in Chile over the last few years. These strategies have worked with citizens and plain language on different levels in the public sector and in civil society. Through the slides, participants will see concrete experiences and strategies that have benefitted the modernization of public management and created greater credibility for the State. The development of these strategies have enabled citizens have greater participation and control of their institutions, with the language of the people being the basic bottom line of interaction.

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Does [best] practice make perfect?
Anki Mattson, Språkkonsulterna
Room D104, Ground Floor

This was a presentation about plain language perseverance at a small Swedish agency – a time journey through goals, methods and results. It focused on:

• One example of The Swedish Plain Language Act in action
• Our different ways to teach plain language
• What changes our efforts lead to
• How we follow up and evaluate our plain language work

This session looked at how organisations (one in particular) plan and take a plain language journey with our support in the following areas: education, editing and revising, hands on coaching and style guides. On the fifth year of this journey, the presentation shared lessons learned.

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Concurrent Sessions 13.45 – 14.45

Case studies: Clear language in public digital service

Communicating clearly to Irish citizens using our website.
Niamh Buckley, Digital Communications Project Manager, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Ireland)
Fergal McGovern, CEO, Visible Thread
Conference Room, Basement

In mid-2014, the Irish Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources ( prioritised a project focused on making web content more understandable and accessible to the general public/citizenry of Ireland.

In this lively presentation, Niamh Buckley, of the Department of Communications with Fergal McGovern of VisibleThread – a company that provided some of the automated scoring tooling used during this project – shared strategies on how the department was able to educate content authors about the core principles of Plain Language.

Niamh also told the story of how the department was able to use technology to quickly score large areas of a web site for Clear Language. This automated approach served to flag issues for focus, and saved many cycles. The result was a focus on editorial activities to produce clearer, more relevant content for target personae. Fergal helped to explain some of the use cases where VisibleThread technology was applied with real content examples.

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Clear language in Norwegian public digital services.
Ragnar Breivik, Adviser, Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment
Oda Straete, Language Council of Norway

Conference Room, Basement

The Agency for Public Administration and eGovernment and the Language Council developed a methodology for evaluating the language used in Norwegian public digital services and websites. It is based on the principle of clear language in Norway’s Civil Service – that the language used is plain and user-friendly. This presentation showed show the development of the methodology, and report the findings from the first evaluation.

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Translation, legal, consumer:

Clear communication in corporate and financial translation.
Nikki Meyer, Circa Consulting & Communications
Presidents, 1st Floor

Translators can improve the quality of their work by applying clear communication principles. In this era of Google Translate, translators should focus on the human contribution to their communication to add value to their profession. This presentation highlighted user experience, offering tips and suggestions for translators and other language specialists working in multilingual environments.

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Using Online Glossaries and Focus Groups to Improve Plain English and Plain English and Companion Translations
Maria Mindlin, Linguist, Transcend
Presidents, 1st Floor

Field-testing takes a significant amount of time, money, and it can delay the roll-out date of projects. In some cases, this means we may have to revisit the original message and repeat the consensus building process. Is it really worth it?

Using materials from a current, national project, this hands-on workshop demonstrated the importance of testing the source text before translating to other languages. Focus groups were important in this process.

Evaluating clarity:

Clear, concise, and effective: User-testing financial documents in a new regulatory environment.
Anne-Marie Chisnall, Manager Professional Services, Write Limited
Helen Wise, Manager Training Delivery, Write Limited

La Touche Room, Ground Floor

User-testing a financial document using a combination of ‘think aloud’ testing and informal and formal protocol testing. Participants in this session will heard about several aspects of best practice in user-testing:
• How to apply a model for user-testing to a financial document, from setting up a project to reporting on findings
• What questions a client organisation is likely to ask about the methodology and how to respond
• Ways to deal with unexpected results
• How the findings can influence the final design and content of the document.

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Best practices in legal writing for lay audiences:

Decision-writing for the Local Government Ombudsman (UK)
Daphne Perry, Trainer, writer and consultant, ClarifyNow
Talbot Room, 1st Floor

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) investigates complaints from the public about failures of administration in public bodies including local authorities, schools and care providers in England. In 2011 the LGO decided to move towards routine publication of most of its 11,000 decisions each year. Each decision would have to be accessible and readable for the public as well as for its individual addressees. Publication began in 2014. This case study explained how, in 3 years, the LGO worked on the presentation, style, tone and language of its decisions to meet this objective.

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Developing plain legal documents in a traditional legal environment: from ceremony to pragmatics.
Tialda Sikkema, Lecturer and PhD candidate, University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht
Talbot Room, 1st Floor

In this presentation, participants learned:
How to develop the quality of a legal document quality and how it is not only a matter of text, structure or design, but also are part of a communication chain in organizations. The content and design have to fit into the broader goals of an organization.

How these organizational goals might both interfere or be helpful in the use of plain language: traditional legal professionals like notaries and bailiffs tend to feel warmly towards traditional legal, ‘unplain’ language despite its obstructive effects on readers.
How it is best to first find a solid base with the owners of the document on the purpose and desired effects of the documents before starting to improve the quality of the legal text.

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Evaluating clarity:

Formal, yet friendly: evaluating the tone of plain language.
Greg Moriarty, Training Manager, Plain English Foundation
Room D104, Ground Floor

This workshop looked at how plain language practitioners can approach tone more systematically by applying qualitative and quantitative criteria. The presenter assessed and edited texts using the Plain English Foundation’s (in Australia) 10 elements of tone. These hands-on exercises showed how our tone scale helps when training professionals or editing their work. Attendees also workshopped the role of design as part of the ‘visual voice’.

Concurrent Sessions 14.45 – 15.45

Case studies in consumer protection:

Foxed and fined: how unclear contractual parking signs bamboozle motorists.
Martin Cutts, Director, Plain Language Commission
Conference Room, Basement

Today, we’re all used to the idea that good companies want their contracts with consumers to be clear. But what happens when less-scrupulous companies prefer obscurity to clarity? In the case of the unclear contractual information shown on UK private-parking signs, obscurity means an avalanche of costly ‘parking charge notices’ for drivers – more than two million of them a year. The notices look like official fines or penalties to most people, who tend to pay up when threatened with debt-collection letters and court action.

In this session participants were in the driving seat, almost literally. They played the role of a driver faced by the genuine signs at a hospital car park. It was challenging. The presenter then explained how he (and others) publicly shamed the trust into getting all the signs and ticket machines altered so they were easier to understand. This led to a 42% reduction in the number of penalties being issued and other interesting findings…

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Welcome to the financial mainstream? The hazards facing low-income people when navigating the financial world.
Sally McBeth, Manager, Clear Language and Design
Conference Room, Basement

Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a big push from the Canadian government and our major banks for more “financial literacy.” This effort combines practical financial education for consumers with efforts to clarify obscure financial contracts such as credit card and mortgage insurance policies. Sally spoke about her experiences, both working with the big banks and working on the front lines with the “financially illiterate.”

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Best practice:

Best practice guidelines for community legal information
Joh Kirby, Executive Director, Victoria Law Foundation
Presidents, 1st Floor

This session focused on best practice guidelines for the development and maintenance of online community legal information developed by the Victorian Legal Assistance Forum.

The use of search engines to find information can lead the user to incorrect or irrelevant information which is unlikely to assist. Even when relevant websites are located many are too complicated, poorly structured and don’t meet plain language guidelines. The guidelines were developed to help address these issues.

The presentation highlighted what participants needed to know about providing community legal information online and how to apply the guidelines to existing websites and in the development of new ones.

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Becoming a plain language organisation:

Getting the right people around the right table: ensuring success in a clear communications project
Robert Linsky, Director of Information Design, NEPS
Karel van der Waarde, Design and research consultant

La Touche Room, Ground Floor

One of the major activities of any clear communications project is to contact and involve all relevant stakeholders. This requires support from senior management, the cooperation of different departments (all those that touch the document), and direct contacts with people (both internal and external) who are likely to use the finished documents. In practice, this activity always requires more effort than expected, because the list of stakeholders can only be formed at the start of a project. To make matters even more complex, any project will modify and adjust the frames and assumptions of several stakeholders. Dealing with this requires specific knowledge and skills.

In the presentation, the presenters showed, reviewed and discussed examples of their own practice related to financial information and health information. Participants were encouraged to bring in good and bad examples related to the risks and benefits of involving people in clear communications projects. The discussion focused on the practical knowledge and skills needed to ‘get the right people around the right table.’

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Lean for efficient communication – making communication both profitable and sustainable.
Susanne Blomkvist, Plain language consultant, Språkkonsulterna
La Touche Room, Ground Floor

What happens after a language project? How do we know that the measures we have proposed are actually being carried out, or that our writing courses have a lasting effect? How do we ensure that writers and other communicators don’t go back to their old way of writing?

Inspired by Lean production philosophies, Suzanne developed a five-step model which provides a way for organisations to develop and improve work with text and communication.

In this presentation, Suzanne spoke about the five-step model and gave examples of how participants could can use it.

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Social media:

Zombie funktuation: Little-used punctuation marks and symbols brought back from the dead by social media.
Berna Cox, Freelance journalist, editor and trainer
Talbot Room, 1st Floor

Unfortunately, this presentation had to be cancelled and was replaced by a short input on writing for the web: tips and techniques.

Plain language in social media
Helena Englund Hjalmarrson, Language Consultant and CEO ,

Talbot Room, 1st Floor

A presentation about plain language on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Helena wrote the book Språket i sociala medier (The language in social media) which tells you what you need to know before you make posts professionally on Twitter, Facebook and other communities.

The session included information on best practice (in terms of a professional communication) in social media. It also included discussion about the impact of social media on an organization’s overall writing.

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Best practice:
Teaching plain language in groups – administrators and lawyers side by side.
Annasara Jaensson, Language consultant, Språkkonsulterna
Room D104, Ground Floor

What works when you teach plain language in groups? One thing is varying the ways you talk about texts and reading, another is using effective methods. In this session, Ms Jaensson presented a course method of Språkkonsulterna, and shared what worked for them. After that, participants were invited to get creative, and share their knowledge and ideas discussing questions like:
• How can we develop and make our teaching methods more effective?
• How can we make text exercises efficient and suitable for different professional groups?
• How do we motivate participants to sustainable text development?

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Contribution of plain language to efficiency and effectiveness: An around the world perspective 16.00 – 17.00

Conference Room
This session provided inputs from a number of speakers, outlining the contribution of plain language to efficiency and effectiveness in their respective countries.

Dr Annetta Cheek
Chair, Government Affairs Committee, Center for Plain Language
Annetta was pivotal in bringing about the US Plain Writing Act (2010). Her input focused on the role of the press in achieving compliance with this Act.

David Feeney
Reform and Delivery Office in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
David spoke about the importance the Reform and Delivery Office placed on plain language and the fact that plain language features as a clear commitment in the Government’s Public Sector Reform Plan. David highlighted initiatives to promote plain language with civil servants.

Claire O’Riordan
Plain English Coordinator, National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA)
Claire highlighted recent work to promote plain English by NALA in Ireland. Claire spoke about the development of NALA’s Plain English Editing and Training Service and recent initiatives to promote plain English.

Christian Anker
Head of Unit, Council for Transparency.
The Council for Transparency is a new autonomous public institution that promotes transparency. It supervises compliance with laws related to transparency and information related to State-managed bodies – especially in relation to the right of access of citizens’ information.

This input showcased the strategies developed to promote and expand the right of access to public information in Chile in the last few years. It showed how information about the public sector has been created and promoted, and how campaigning policies and other media methods have been used to improve the participation of citizens.

Hasina Yasmin Abdullah
Instructor/ Learning Specialist
Yasmin provided an overview of how Malaysians view plain English. Her presentation focused in particular on how people in the business sector in Malaysia see the value of plain English.

Mariana Bozetti
Mariana presented on the work she is doing at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Argentina to promote plain language and future plans. She also mentioned her interesting experience at a private law firm where she works (Marval, O’Farrell and Mairal) in using plain language.

Plain language internationally
Dr Neil James
Vice Chair of PLAIN and Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation in Australia
Dr James spoke about PLAIN’s efforts to coordinate international activities in plain language. He also highlighted PLAIN’s draft consultative strategic and how it will help to coordinate plain language activities around the world.

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