In the 12 November issue of Third Sector, Debra uses a story about the trouble she had communicating with a friend, Aga, who was helping her clean her house in advance of a visit from her partners’ mother as an analogy for talking to government, when the government and the third sector use different language and terminology. Debra’s solution was to use Google Translate to try and communicate, with much miscommunication going on.
I read the article with much despair. A quick look at the App Store or Google Play would have shown Debra that there are many “apps for that”, which would have improved the experience of communication with Aga. In fact, it is crucial to make sure you have the right apps or tools for any situation if you are going to get the most out of it. A bit like talking to government departments: finding the right framework for a conversation that uses two different terminologies is essential. There are some who might liken Debra’s description of Google Translate as a one size fits all solution for communication to the much criticised Compact that is supposed to govern relations between government and suppliers including charities. I am still undecided about what the right tool for managing relationships with government is. What I am clear about is that taking the time to establish a common framework for discussion always improves the conversation and makes it more productive. Debra made the mistake of taking the first available tool and expected it to fit her situation perfectly.
If I extend Debra’s analogy further and consider the analogy she provided then I might say that Aga was suggested for the job of helping to clean house because she had the right skills and could clean house to a high standard. Debra (the government) might have been better off leaving Aga (the third sector) to get on with the job, without needing to distract her with pointless communication. A little bit like the article Debra wrote a few weeks ago: Reform? Who needs Reforming Exactly?