Washington State: Where We “Plain Talk” Dana Howard Botka Plain Talk Coordinator, Office of the Governor Manager, Customer Communications Washington State Department of Labor and Industries P.O. Box 44050, MS 4050 Olympia, WA 98504-4050 botd235@LNI.wa.gov – 360-902-5408 www.accountability.wa.gov/plaintalk April 1, 2008 Plain Language Action and Information Network Workshop
A snapshot of Plain Talk in the state of Washington • 35 cabinet agencies have Plain Talk programs • More than 5,000 state employees trained • More than 150 projects • 1,000 form letters • 225 forms • 1,000 web pages • 430 larger documents • 6 major web site overhauls
How did we get started? • 1994: State Writers Roundtable brings Ginny Redish to Olympia • 1997: Gov. Locke issues clear rule directive • 2001: Clear workplace safety rules published • 2001: “Plain Talk” launched at Dept. of Labor and Industries • 2002-2004: Ecology, Revenue and Transportation initiatives • 2005: Governor Gregoire signs Plain Talk Executive Order • 2006-2007: Coordinated agency effort begins
Executive Order 05 - 03 Plain Talk – March 24, 2005 • “… we recognize that clear, easy-to-understand communications are essential to good service. We communicate with businesses and individuals through letters, forms, instructions, announcements, publications and other documents … …They must be written and designed so they can be easily understood.”
“We want to make it easier to do business with the state of WA” Gov. Christine Gregoire Business-related examples: • Easier documents, applications, and instructions for new business owners. • Clearer forms for paying workers’ comp. • Less complicated environmental permits. • Easier-to-understand rules for keeping a workplace safe.
Citizens needto understand their rights and responsibilities Citizen-related examples: • Clearer instructions for filing an appeal. • Better explanations of benefits. • Clearer instructions for paying child support. • Better instructions for workers who haven’t been paid – how do they file a complaint?
How state agenciesare working together • All 35 agency directors assigned Plain Talk leads. • We meet each month for special presentations. • We formed special committees to: - Publish a web site. - Develop guidelines. - Organize an awards program. - Develop measures. • Everyone must submit a Progress Report to the Governor.
2007 Governor’s Plain Talk Award winners celebrate in Seattle with the Governor. Nov. 8, 2007
Example #1:Increasing revenue After rewriting one letter in 2003, the Department of Revenue dramatically boosted its use-tax collections: • Tripled number of businesses voluntarily paying use tax from 3% to 9% • Goal: $1.2 million extra revenue in first year. Actual: $2 million extra collected. • Cost: 1 cent for every dollar collected. Work by Janet Shimabukuro and Alyson Chase, WA Dept. of Revenue. Assistance from Dr. Janice Redish.
6 months later Example #1:Increasing revenue
Example #2:Reducing phone calls Before: ON 2-13-03 AT 12:01 AM YOUR DRIVING PRIVILEGE WILL BE SUSPENDED FOR FAILURE TO APPEAR/PAY/COMPLY ON CITATION #409584 RCW 46.20.289. THE SUSPENSION WILL REMAIN IN EFFECT UNTIL NOTIFIED OF REINSTATEMENT BY THIS DEPARTMENT.TO AVOID SUSPENSION, YOU MUST RESOLVE ALL CHARGES ON THIS CITATION WITH THE COURT INDICATED BELOW AND THE DEPARTMENT MUST RECEIVE PROOF FROM THE COURT BEFORE 02-14-03 THAT THE CHARGE(S) HAVE BEEN RESOLVED. QUESTIONS REGARDING THE CITATION AND/OR FINE SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO THE COURT LISTED BELOW.
AfterOn 2-13-03 at 12:01 AM your driving privilege will be suspendedThe Court has notified us that you failed to respond, pay, appear or comply with the terms of the citation listed below.Citation # Violation Date Reason for citation0000000010-6-2002 No valid licenseWhat do I have to do to avoid suspension of my driving privileges?1.) Contact the court below to find out what you must do to take care of this citation…Work by Alan Haight, Judy Groezinger and Vickie McDougall, WA Dept. of Licensing. Assistance from Dana Botka. Example #2: Reducing phone calls
Example #2: Reducing phone calls • Dept. of Licensing dropped its hotline busy signals by 95%. • 850 more people per day reached the hotline, instead of getting a busy signal. • 3 FTEs were transferred to help customers in other ways.
After Example #3 - Reducing postage, paper and phone calls - Before
Example #3 – Reducing postage, paper and phone calls • System mails 1.5 million pages per month. • Rewriting and consolidating 12 letters into 1 is saving $25,000 per year in postage and paper alone. … now benchmark measuring % of phone calls caused by these letters.
Are we making a difference? We think so. We have … • Measured successes where possible. • Collected much anecdotal evidence • Brought about a cultural shift. • Begun to train and plan for performance measures by year-end 2008.
Measures in 2008 – Pilots • Collections letters: Will clearer instructions and lay-out increase and speed payment of delinquent taxes? • Benefits eligibility letters: Will clearer and more coordinated messages drop phone calls to staff from confused citizens? • Instructions to liquor licensees: Will simple instructions on form letters reduce work load for enforcement officers?
What we’ve learned:Measures tell the story best • Start measuring at beginning of project. • Use measures to guide team goals: “What problem are you trying to solve?” • Programs are motivated by the potential of having great numbers. • Measures are stories – and that’s what sells plain language.
What we’ve learned:It doesn’t have to be expensive • Look for existing resources. • Use common sense. • Simple usability tests are possible. • Look for the easiest projects with the biggest pay-offs.
What we’ve learned:Plain Talk uncovers other problems • Foggy policies (once hidden by foggy writing). • Poor processes (once hidden by strange and unexamined written instructions). • Managers and staff with big territory issues. • Inflexible attorneys* • Complex programming issues. *They are really coming around!
What we’ve learned:The message needs to come from the top, repeatedly. • Executive Orders are powerful. • Agency policies: Managers take them seriously. • Progress Report requirements are a reminder of an initiative’s importance. • Repeated messages – such as checklists and other reminders – keep things going.
What we’ve learned:Citizens and businesseslove it! You can publicize your efforts through: • Usability tests • Focus groups • News stories • Agency-sponsored business roundtables and special-interest events. • Agency newsletters to targeted groups.
End of presentation “We used to get lots of questions about procedures. And questions about terms, like objective findings and abeyance. Now that has stopped. Any time there has been some kind of plain English program, there’s been a serious decline in questions. The reaction is not immediate, but it’s quick enough. We see it -- and it’s amazing.” - Bob Brown, Manager L&I Hotline 175,000 calls/year from injured workers and their employers