Communicating in plain language is increasingly becoming a focus for governments across the world.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Plain Writing Act into law. This law requires all federal agencies to communicate in plain language so that every citizen can understand government communications.

In 2015, the Australian Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) launched the “Digital Service Standard” to help teams build online government services that are simple, clear and fast.

And in Ireland, Revenue and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) are leading the way for government communications.

Today’s Words Matter event, hosted by VisibleThread highlighted how technology can help support editorial and content changes for communications teams.

Effective content strategy for better government engagement

Government agencies have limited resources for web projects.

Yet citizens access information on the web as their first port of call and a website is a vital communications channel for every government agency. If government departments create readable content, citizens can find what they need quickly. This creates time efficiencies for both the citizen and government and encourages trust.

The INIS website is one of the busiest in the country.

It also has one of the largest global audiences of any Irish government website. Many people accessing information on the INIS website don’t speak English as a first language.

INIS have embarked on a two year content upgrade to rewrite hundreds of web pages in plain English.

In addition, user experience was further enhanced by:

  • Reorganised siloed content into intuitive “user journeys”
  • Created 101 new immigration guides to put key information on single pages
  • Simplified application information for prospective asylum seekers

The result has been a reduction in the operational burden on staff, as people now find information much easier online, as well as an improved reputation for INIS.

Counting on words

In mid-2015, Revenue initiated a redesign of the department’s website.

The purpose of this initiative was two-fold:

  • Re-organise content in a way that made sense to customers
  • Rewrite the content in plain language

Citizens rarely go to a government website homepage and navigate from there; they’ll search for the information they want using a search query to land on a specific page. They expect to find the information they’re looking for this way.

To best serve citizens’ needs, Revenue used external editors and internal content teams to create consistent, clear information for the website.

VisibleThread’s Readability tool was then used to measure readability scores to ensure every citizen, regardless of education level, could easily understand the site’s content.

Numerous representatives from Irish government departments attended Words Matter to discuss how they could use technology and plain language to drive better citizen engagement for their remits.

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