Digital democracy relies on two things:
- good use of technology
- content that is easy to understand and that provides the information people want and need
Currently, much of the digital (and printed) content assumes people have a high level of literacy, knowledge of specialist language and an understanding of democractic concepts.
This makes much of the content inaccessible to most of the population of the UK, however well technology is used.
About plain language
Plain language summaries make the content more accessible to a much wider section of the population.
Plain language summaries can be read by anyone with a reading age of 14 to 16.
The summaries use words, knowledge and concepts familiar to most of the population of the UK, rather than technical language. If it is important to include specialist words, then the words are explained at the start.
The downside of the plain language summaries is that they lose some of the precision of the original.
On the plus side, plain language summaries give the gist of a report to people who otherwise would be unable to access the information. In addition, professionals often use the plain language summary as a swift way to check whether a report is relevant to them.
Producing a plain language summary is a mixture of art and science. The finished product needs to be:
- accurate enough that people will not be misled
- easy enough for people to read
- interesting enough for people to want to read it
How are plain language summaries created?
The art involves reading the original several times to look for key information in the report, then thinking oneself into the mindsets of members of the public from a range of backgrounds to imagine what information may be of particular interest to them. The science involves drafting and re-drafting until the readability statistics indicate the summary is suitable for people with a reading age of 14 to 16.
Checking is vitally important. However good someone is at producing a summary, there is no substitute for checking whether people from different backgrounds can understand the summary with ease. In this case, the summary was checked and amended by a carer, a teenager and a member of a community organisation.
About the Digital Democracy Commission's plain language summary
This plain language summary was produced by Barod Community Interest Company. Barod is a workers cooperative based in Wales. Barod is a Welsh word that means "ready". The directors are a mix of people with and without learning difficulties. They started Barod because all that was available to people with learning difficulties were courses and work placements aimed at getting them ready for work. Fed up waiting to get paid work, they started their own company and created their own jobs. Barod is approaching its second trading birthday and has just been able to create another paid job for an employee with learning difficulties.