Thursday, December 11, 2008

Communicating With Government Online: How To

Just a little addendum to my last post. Let's say, for example, that you, like most right-minded Australians, see the idea of a national net filter as not only fundamentally misconceived but also ineffective in achieving the goal it aims for. Let's also say you would like to communicate this in writing - let's say by means of a Federal Government consultative blog. (And I'll note that they haven't asked you for your opinion on that, which may mean they aren't interested in hearing it.)

Here are some things to try and include in your written communication.

- Correct spelling and grammar. These will make it look like your opinion has been thought about for longer than it takes to press the spellcheck button, and will also give the impression that you paid attention in school long enough to learn how to use a dictionary, and therefore possibly learned some other things as well.

- Formal English. Net slang is awesome, and there are a whole bunch of places where you can legitimately use it in a hilarious and attention-grabbing fashion. Formal government consultation is not one of them. It's not a matter of whether they "get it" (they might surprise you) - it's that, much in the same way as you wear your best suit to a job interview, you should wear your best English when you're genuinely trying to persuade someone of something. Avoid jargon and pop-culture references.

- Politeness. Even people who are wrong deserve your politeness. Assume good faith. Assume these are people who would honestly like to improve the lot of Australians. At the very least, assume that they are not particularly interested in reading past your insults in case you mixed some good advice in with your name-calling.

- Reasoned argument. "Net filter = fail" may be a pithy reference to modern forum culture but it is unlikely to cause anyone to have a sudden moment of enlightenment and convert to your point of view. Back up your opinions with reasons and examples, and if possible facts, statistics, and references.

- Constructiveness. For each thing that you say is a bad idea, try and include a good idea that could be tried instead. Also note that good ideas are received better when they are expressed without sarcasm.

- Conciseness. This is my weakness, don't let it be yours. The government does not have time to read everything you have to say, particularly in an online forum. Limit yourself to three key points, make your points in three sentences each, and make these the first three paragraphs of your text (with possibly a one-line summary/introduction at the top and a one line summary at the bottom). Even that's really longer than is ideal in a comment section.

- A forward outlook. Focus on the future. Focus on what can be done now, and done tomorrow, not what was or was not done in the past. The government is looking for ideas for future policy, not ideas for things to apologise about.

I hope this helps. I for one am already sick of reading comments consisting of "GG government better luck next election QQ epic net fail lolz you no can haz digital economy cheezburger", and I'm pretty sure the government is too.

1 comment:

Zubon said...

As an American government worker who gets passed public contributions for review and analysis, I can confirm that sounding like a professional adult is rather important. Do not send items to state cabinet officers with "lol" and "pain the booty" in them. It helps me, in that it warns me that more poor judgment is to follow (and oh boy did it), but it will not help your cause.