4.2 British Columbia Securities Commission

The British Columbia Securities Commission is a Crown corporation. It regulates securities trading in the province and makes sure that investors have the information they need to make informed investment decisions.

Plain Language: A Strategic Priority
The British Columbia Securities Commission made plain language a strategic priority so that securities regulations would be easy to understand for everyone.

It has trained its staff and developed plain language guidelines for all written communications. The Plain Language Style Guide, developed by a committee set up in 2001, helps employees communicate more clearly. The chair and vice-chair of the Commission support and talk about plain language, but there is no plain language policy.

The BC Commission decided to strike out on its own and lead by example after the failure of a national attempt to look at plain language for commissions across the country.

Though training was initially resisted by some employees, it provided the vehicle for all 215 fulltime employees to jump on board. Training costs were $100,000 initially. The cost of plain language, including an audit and staff time, is relatively insignificant within the Commission’s $28 million annual budget.

In 2002-2003 a private consultant conducted a plain language audit for the Commission, looking at a variety of documents and giving advice on how they could be improved. A mentoring program and on-line plain language discussion group were less successful. The Commission has not done a review to determine how well peer review is working.

The Commission is currently looking at future goals and performance measures. The performance measures are seen as important to know how much time needs to be spent to continue to promote and support plain language use.

Lessons Learned
Support at the top is critical. The chair and vice-chair of the commission made their support for plain language clear and visible. The buy-in from employees can be as important as support from leadership. Here are ways the Commission helped employees see what’s in it for them.

  • Appeal to people’s basic sense of fairness and the entitlement to a right to know.
  • Educate about the operational benefits, not just the moral arguments. For example, the Commission saw an increase in media coverage because reporters had clearer information.
  • Build on employees’ dedication. Because of its emphasis on audience, plain language reminds staff of their mission and the people they serve, for example, the idea of protecting investors against fraud.
  • Help people see the wider implications of plain language, that it removes a paternalistic attitude about information. It empowers people to take action.
  • Promote pride in the self-improvement aspect of plain language training and use.