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Tackling Bureaucracy — No Matter What Your Role

How can we mitigate bureaucracy to increase access for our community?

Maybe you caught the New York Times article last month that explored the impact of bureaucracy, attitudes toward government services, and the burdens these processes put on individuals and families. Or this recent clip of Congresswoman Porter highlighting the extensive hoops people must jump through to get their most fundamental needs met. Often times these systems create more inefficiencies and sometimes even harm.

Obviously, at Clear Language Lab, we think access to information is the cat’s pajamas. Though, we aren’t surprised the New York Times article reported about 25 percent of respondents reported receiving mail from the government they could not understand. This in turn affects critical parts of life such as medical coverage and tax information.

How else does this play out in real life?

You’ve got a bug, you’ve bruised a rib coughing so hard, can’t sleep, and don’t know how you are going to work. The person at the medical office tells you different information from your provider website, and you don’t know what to do.

You know you are supposed to make choices about your health plan, but you aren’t even sure what your options are because the language is very confusing.

You left the doctor’s office with so many papers and your follow-up care wasn’t clear because you couldn’t find it among the pages and pages of information you received.

Any of these sound familiar? These stories may ring true across a variety of sectors intended to help people but are mired in bureaucracy. Let’s operate from the place that if you have made it this far into this post, your dream isn’t to spend all day creating complicated paperwork for hard to navigate systems.

How do non-profits and other mission-driven organizations perpetuate bureaucracy? How can we make it better? Here are a few practical actions for mission-driven organizations.

Experience your user’s experience.

Literally, do a walk-through of your processes. If you are reviewing your orientation process, is it clear where people go and when? Do you need more signage? If you are sending a letter home, do people know what to do next in different scenarios? Have you fleshed out all the possible scenarios?

Tell it like it is.

Bureaucratic systems ask a lot from you without providing much explanation why. The ability to explain why you need the information you are asking people to provide helps the process feel more transparent. This extends to conversations and forms, too (We need information about your family because…) If you can’t explain why you need it, why are you asking for it?

Build in check-ins.

Does your new fiscal year start in July like many nonprofits? Head over to your calendar and pick a day two months before that. This is the day you start revising your documents to make sure they are still relevant. Are your forms in plain language? Are there questions from three grants ago that are no longer relevant? Get rid of them!

Bureaucracy is a real barrier to accessing the essential services that our communities need to thrive — let's be a part of the solution!



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