Category Archives: language

BCC’s complex Fix My Street responses

I felt I had to write this blog post, because I consider myself to be very IT literate, however I am utterly confused by email responses from Birmingham City Council (BCC) to my Fix My Street (FMS) reports.

I recently reported a lot of litter near my place of work. Today I received an email about it from BCC.

Problem 1: unintelligible email ‘from’ name:

Email 'from' name

What on earth does CCRMFORWARDMAIL mean? If it wasn’t for the subject line, I might have assumed this was spam.

Surely it can be changed to something like “Council FixMyStreet response” or even just Birmingham City Council or the relevant department name.

It’s not just council employees who work in the Communications department who need to know about Plain English, this was presumably set up by someone in IT. I would make a Plain English course part of every council employee’s (including outscourced employees) induction training.

Problem 2: email content

Below is a screenshot of the whole lengthy email I received with my comments in red (sorry about the inaccessibility of this method, I was struggling to work out how to best comment on it while keeping the original layout as well as the text).

Pretty confusing I think you’ll agree. The council need to make things as easy as possible to understand. Someone could be prompted to use a computer for the first time to be able to use an excellent service like Fix My Street, this is sure to put them off.

Council communications need to be made as easy as possible to understand. We shouldn’t have to decode them. They should be written with the least literate and IT literate people in mind, because those with higher levels of literacy can still understand them. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Problem 3: Responding to this email

The first line of the email states “Please respond to RefuseCollection@birmingham.gov.uk and not directly to
individuals”.

What do I write in my reply, just “no” (in response to “Can you please confirm whether this area has now been cleared.”)

At a minimum, some futher instructions should be given:

  • Even though I am not replying to the individual whose name is on the email, should I mention their name?
  • Do I need to describe the whole problem again if I’m sending a new email to a different address?
  • Do I need to extract the report number from the URL quoted in the metadata of the original report included at the bottom of the email?
  • Do I need to include the URL of the report?
  • Even thought I’m not supposed to reply to individuals, perhaps it should recommend that I forward the email to the address given for replies so that all the information is there?

I should just be able to hit reply. I believe it’s quite quick and easy to change the ‘reply to’ address for an email. After finishing a draft of this post I have noticed the line “Replies to this email will go to the user who submitted the
problem.” in the email from FMS to the council. Perhaps that is the reason I can’t reply straight to the council, and does the ‘from’ address actually originate from FMS? Perhaps more of this is down to Fix My Street than I first realised.

These things are just so obvious. There seem to be so many communication issues with the council that could be solved by a bit of empathy – council staff just need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the average person. Surely it’s not that difficult to use their imagination. Just imagine you know nothing of internal council jargon and systems (why should you know or even care), you could be a new computer user, what would you make of receiving that email?

Update: After finishing a draft of this post I have noticed the line “Replies to this email will go to the user who submitted the problem.” in the email report from FixMyStreet to the council. Is that the method BCC used to contact me? Perhaps that is the reason I can’t reply straight to the council, and does the ‘from’ address actually originate from FMS? Perhaps more of this is down to FixMyStreet than I first realised. Is it their system that includes the original report or the council’s? Perhaps councils should not be encouraged to reply to the Fix My Street report if they can’t see a draft of the email that the user will receive. Either way, a lot of this stuff could be resolved by BCC working more closely with FMS. It shouldn’t be down to the public to have to work out what is going on.

Everyone needs a (decipherable) voice

Hmm, about this time of year I like to write a blog post, hehe. I know it’s been aaaages, but I’ve been seduced by the whole microblogging/social media malarky instead as well as a bit of dabbling on CriB, BiNS, hampstr and The Kitten Channel.

But finally I have been annoyed enough to write a post on my very own blog! Anyways, nuff rambling, here it is:

The comments on this post from Created in Birmingham started a train of thought that confused me. There are similar comments on a post about the Cue Club from ages ago.

For example:

dayum dats tight… make me wun..lol jux kiddin’ but yea props tu who made dis

While it’s important that everyone has a voice, if no-one apart from that person’s friends (if that) can understand it, what’s the point?

That’s why we have rules of spelling and grammar in English, right? So that we can talk to people other than our immediate friends (using inspeak).

I am overly aware that it might just be me getting old. Maybe I’m not supposed to understand these comments. Maybe they are just for kids to show off to each other. But what worries me is that when these kids need to have a conversation with, say, people in authority, about more important things, they won’t have the language to do it.

It’s the same sort of thing as text speak creeping into pupil’s exam papers etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love language and inventing new words. I’m fully aware that language can and should evolve, but not this fast. This could create real barriers between generations.

Am I worrying unnecessarily? I myself am guilty of using abbreviations and inspeak in communications with my friends, is it only a matter of time before this creeps into more serious conversations with strangers?

I love lolspeak, but hate text speak, why is that? Is it because lolspeak is very deliberate and you have to know the rules before you break them, whereas text speak just seems ignorant and lazy? Am I just being agist?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, as long as I can understand them!