4. Case Studies

4.1 Government of Nova Scotia

Communications Nova Scotia is a government agency reporting to the Minister of Policy and Treasury Board. It has a visual identity program, web policy, and advises on all government communications.

A Government-Wide Plain Language Policy
Communications Nova Scotia developed a plain language policy to apply to all government communications. The government did not approve the policy, which is viewed as a victim of both budget cutbacks and competing priorities.

The policy would have placed responsibility for plain language within Communications NS. Communications NS believed a policy would create goodwill, positive perceptions that the government is willing to go the extra mile to give people access to information, and would help people write things correctly the first time.

Communication NS led an interdepartmental Committee to develop the policy. The committee was made up of people with a personal interest in plain language, for example departmental lawyers and information managers.

Under the proposed policy, directors would monitor plain language use, advising Deputy Ministers of progress and problems. The approach would have been education rather than enforcement. Communications NS believed a policy would:

  • Save money in the long run.
  • Promote unfiltered messages that don’t have to be interpreted later.
  • Promote accountability.
  • Encourage plain language training within existing training budgets.

The provincial government continues to develop plain language materials on a projectby- project basis. Communications NS offers plain language information and an “ask an editor” service on its website.

Lessons Learned

  • Resistance to the government-wide plain language policy focussed on the cost of training government employees. Communications NS did not figure out these costs. Instead it suggested that employees who communicate with the public be trained from existing training budgets, which had been reduced by 10 percent.
  • Bureaucratic will is as important as political will.
  • People need to see the cost of not using plain language. For example, the staff time costs of responding to follow-up requests for information.