For me to depart from the Center’s Board. It’s been a terrific 10 years, but I need a rest and the Center needs a change of leadership.
We’ve gotten a lot done since we hosted our first big conference, the Plain International conference in Washington in 2005. We had over 300 people from 17 countries participate. The event set the trend for the bigger and better Clarity and Plain International Conferences we now enjoy.
The Center’s ClearMark awards celebrated their fifth anniversary this year. They’re now a coveted award, recognizing excellence in communication in both public and private sectors. We typically get close to 200 entries each year. Talking to winners, it’s clear that the award helps plain language advocates get support from their organizations for their efforts. If you haven’t entered, what are you waiting for?
Most importantly, the Center was a very important player in getting Congress to pass the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Despite not including any enforcement provisions, the Act has been a powerful tool bringing about an evolution in the way the federal government communicates. The Plain Writing Act Report Card, now in its third year, has had a major impact on agencies and has gotten the Center a lot of media attention. That attention has filled the enforcement gap, encouraging agencies to do better so they get good publicity, not bad publicity, for their communication efforts. The continuing attention of the original House sponsor of the bill, Bruce Braley (D-IO), has helped ensure that agencies care about their scores.
Of course there’s a long way to go, but compared to government writing of the early 2000s, I see a dramatic improvement. Getting government bureaucrats to recognize their responsibility to communicate clearly with citizens requires a change in agency culture, and that doesn’t happen overnight. But it has started, and I’m confident the current positive trend will continue, especially if all of you contact agencies about their written products, both good and bad. Public attention is one of the most powerful forces in bringing about change in the way the government operates.
One major piece of unfinished business – the Plain Regulations Act – will stay on my plate. Regulations are not covered by the Plain Writing Act, and it is still hard to find a well-written regulation. I’m not giving up on that. So don’t be surprised if you hear from me asking you to contact your Congressional delegation or write a letter in support of that Act, or some other plain language initiative in the government.
The Center just held its annual Board election. The new Chair is Jana Goldman, recently retired from NOAA. Susan Kleimann, one of the founders of the Center, continues as Vice Chair. I know that Jana, Susan, the other officers, and the rest of the Board will take good care of the Center and will continue to pursue its mission of advocating for plain language in the government and private sectors. I wish them the best, and hope they have as much fun as I’ve had.
About the author: Annetta Cheek is a founder and former Chair of the Center. She is now the Chair of the Government Affairs Committee.