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Gobble the Gobbledegook

By John Hargreaves 9 July 2014 8


Bureaucrats are often accused of suffering from verbal diarrhoea and obfuscation, using a paragraph when a couple of words will do. I used to shudder when presented with stuff which was meant to sound academic and high level but was just cr@p. Plain English is fine but still suffers a death by a thousand cuts.

Every now and then, something pops up from the private sector which is usually laid at the feet of bureaucrats. I now expose this lunacy. It needs a translator!

Here are a couple of examples, in a report by the Centre for Policy Development which was looking into public service efficiency. I put these examples out there for you all to top, as examples of gobbledegook. How about a RiotACT award for this rubbish?

In the Canberra Times of 26 June, the report was quoted as containing these pearls:
“Initiatives by agency heads to facilitate bottom-up innovations (such as temporarily implementing more permissive standards to create a window for experimentation with new techniques by front-line workers);

An innovation investment fund to provide a public sector equivalent to venture capital, combined with mechanisms to capture and share information on implementing innovations; and

Focus on organisational outcomes with clearly defined priorities informed by a national planning process.” (my emphasis)

The Foreword was done by Terry Moran, former chief of the PM’s Department and now President of the Institute of Public Affairs. He set an example by saying:

” the cost of all three levels of government in Australia is among the lowest in the developed world.
However, none of this is to argue that we should be blind to the potential for improvements. This report highlights a number of examples where the implementation of one-dimensional ideas about efficiency have (sic) come at a very substantial cost.” (my emphasis)

These are only some of the pearls in the report commissioned by the CPSU, the Belcher Foundation and Slater and Gordon.

I’d want my money back! Over to you, Rioters, for better examples of literary fertiliser!…

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8 Responses to
Gobble the Gobbledegook
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John Hargreaves Ex MLA 2:14 pm 14 Jul 14

Mostly good points. I reckon the 5 minute management technique ought to be mandatory in all organisations. this means that it should take no more than 5 minutes to digest a written report and make a decision on it. it requires discipline and structure and brevity of argument, or the dissection of information into bite sized chunks.

John Moulis 10:55 am 10 Jul 14

Newspapers are occasionally guilty of using silly and offensive jargon as well. I remember when Don Dunstan died The Canberra Times published an article referring to “Dunstan’s time in gubernatorial office”. I repeatedly wrote to the newspaper asking why that ugly American word was used, the letters weren’t published. I then wrote to the journalist concerned asking whether he’d apologise for using the word and give an undertaking that he would never use it again. There was no apology and I didn’t get a reply but I noticed that his byline disappeared from the paper shortly after.

MERC600 10:18 am 10 Jul 14

I still remember when a para was not complete without ‘Inter Alia’ being used.

Walker 10:58 pm 09 Jul 14

Jargon exists. It’s necessary.
Sometimes, not. Motives vary.

(Calculon voice-over: “Paaauuuse!”).

Technical terms in a fair use context,
is not gobbledigook, it’s just… an engineering proposal.

(“I said, paauuuuse!”)

I quit!

(“You’re fired!”).


Masquara 8:56 pm 09 Jul 14

You missed the necessary comma after “Development” in para 3.

Dacquiri 1:21 pm 09 Jul 14

John, we need this:

Interestingly, a couple of years ago, just after the ACT Govt Ombudsman criticised the ACT Govt for the poor quality of its written communications, I wrote to the Chief Min. to suggest that a ‘plain English’ unit be set up, with an editor and a graphic designer, which would review and advise on written communications. She responded that she thought that everything was fine and that there was no need for such a thing.

neanderthalsis 12:18 pm 09 Jul 14

So your quoting examples from the private sector that were in most cases probably written by ex-public servants for consumption by current public servants proves what? And I would hesitate to class the CPSU and IPA private sector in any real sense of the term.

My theory is that public servants generate large quantities of fecal prose in order to justify their existence and/or classification. If there ever was a public servant who could write a high level report in a page over half an hour instead of 80 pages over three weeks writing time plus proof reading and multiple up-chain approval, they would be efficiently dividended rather smartly because they would have no work to do the remainder of the time.

curmudgery 11:27 am 09 Jul 14

I’ve never forgotten the lament I once heard from a lovely, middle-aged lady: “I used to be able to write. Then I joined the Public Service.”

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