Case study: Welcome to the beach

I was recently introduced to the inspirational Alyson McGregor from Altogether Better and she has introduced me to the concept of ‘the beach’ which I want to share with you.

Altogether Better recently evaluated the work they were doing in the health sector – changing the way primary care worked alongside citizens – and surprisingly (or not?) they brought in some linguistic analysts to examine the context of language. I’ve always been interested in how the language we use impacts on ourselves and our colleagues and more importantly, other citizens.┬áThe linguistic analysts confirmed my long-held belief that our public sector language excludes and confuses and they explain it thus:

There are two different worlds – each with its own dictionary – the professional world (commissioners, managers, doctors, voluntary sector – most practitioners) and the life world – the world we exist in when we go home and are once more part of our own neighbourhoods. The professional world creates, perpetuates and normalises its own language, one that is full of acronyms and official, uninspiring words. It takes words from the life world and changes them so they appear more serious and important. When we begin working alongside people in the life world we often attempt to adapt our words and documents so that they are ‘simpler’ and easier to understand but does this make them truly accessible? Who wants to read a 40 page strategy anyway!

Rather than trying to fit one world into the other, we need to create a new space where we can come together and agree how we are going to behave, together.

There is another way – and this is where the beach comes in. If you perceive the professional world to be the sea and the life world to be the land – then what lies between them, joining them together is a completely different space – the beach, where everyone behaves in a new way. In terms of our work, this means that rather than trying to fit one world into the other, we need to create a new space where we can come together and agree how we are going to behave, together – the language we will use, the things we will do. All of this can be done with a combined consensus.

The official term for ‘the beach’ is the liminal space; that’ll be the professional world term – I prefer the beach, myself. Once you’ve been introduced to this new way, you realise that you don’t have to figure it all out yourselves. Invite everyone onto the beach and work it out together.

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