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Designing for Change

In our work at Clear Language Lab, we have spent this year thinking about some key themes around clear communication and its power to advance change:

Whose Opinion Matters

So much information that is critical for people’s lives is presented in a top down manner — for a variety of reasons:

  • The idea of good writing is often equated with legalese, bureaucratese, and overly technical writing without care for the reader

  • Mission-driven staff in non-profits and government agencies often act with lens of scarcity and critical elements like clear communication can go by the wayside

  • So many systems are broken on purpose — and if people can’t understand the system, it makes it that much harder to access said system

One community member we spoke with about public health information said: “We receive so many letters, so many information in the mail, in could be like less words, and better presentations, giving the readers like what this [example] is about, in an easy way.”

Mismatched Values

There’s a lot of talk about equity these days. But let’s make sure we’re walking the way, not just talking the talk.

Another community member spoke about a housing handbook: “You want to feel comfortable…[the original handbook] felt a little bit offensive.”

This is not the first time we have seen or heard examples like this. How many organizations tout values around equity but their communications with community members are patronizing, condescending, or blaming? It’s critical that we examine all aspects of our organizations and reflect where we have room to do better in developing anti-racist practices.

Changing the Processes Themselves

Sometimes, we can make information as clear, understandable, and inclusive as possible, but the processes themselves still get in the way. Reflecting on a holiday giving process, one community member said: “They required all this paperwork for toy donations for families….a lot of families couldn’t participate because they couldn’t produce that info.”

In Summary

This month, Juneteenth became a federal holiday, and Pride month celebrations returned all over the country after subdued celebrations during the pandemic last year.

While awareness-raising, acknowledgement of harm, and celebration are extremely valuable, it’s critical that mission-driven work continue to be grounded in real systemic change as well. We must not just be limited to posting about these events on social media in June but also invest the same dedication to these values year round.

We must continue to reimagine what clear communication looks like and whose needs it meets.



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