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City of Winnipeg to adopt new plain language policy


The City of Winnipeg is looking to start communicating more clearly with its citizens.

A new report says the city is moving ahead with a plain language policy to make it easier for people to understand city signs, social media posts, websites, and city hall reports.

It's part of an effort to reduce jargon and improve understanding, especially for those new to the city and country.

When Abdikheir Ahmed came to Winnipeg 20 years ago as a refugee from Somalia, figuring out how to apply for city services was challenging

"All those publications that the city put out, it was quite inaccessible," he said.

The executive director of the Aurora Family Therapy Centre said a lot of information provided by the city is written in high-level English and jargon that newcomers struggle to understand.

For example, a simple phrase like "recreation facility" in the city's leisure guide is problematic. Ahmed said the description needs to be clear and specific.

"Where people get to play, a soccer pitch, a community centre with a place where kids can come out and families can have fun," he said.

A new report at city hall recommends moving ahead with a plain language policy. All city materials in both English and French will be written at a grade eight reading level or lower. This includes city advertising, correspondence, presentations, publications, signage, social media, website content, and administrative reports.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said this is about improving service delivery. "We need to make sure that the reports that come from the public service and the communications to the public are in language that is easy to understand," he said.

Coun. Janice Lukes has been pushing for the policy, saying the city's demographics are changing, and the current practice is costing time and money

"It creates hours and hours of work having to get back to people to decipher things, to explain things," Lukes said.

She added it's not just the general public who will be assisted by clear plain language, councillors will as well.

"Often when reports come forward we have to have department heads come and brief us on what the report says," said Lukes.

Ahmed works with newcomers every day. He calls the new policy a game changer.

"Because people will be able to contribute to how the city makes decisions," he said.

There will be some exceptions. The report said the policy will not apply to materials displayed on city property but operated by someone else.

The policy will also take into consideration that the language used in things like legal documents, engineering reports, and financial reports cannot be changed.

The report recommends an update on how the policy is working in five years. Lukes would like that changed to one year so council can check in sooner.

The report will be discussed at next week's executive policy committee meeting. Top Stories

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