Happy Birthday Plain Language Act 2022

October 2023

It’s been a year already since the Plain Language Act 2022 became law on 21 October 2022.

We know many of you are strong champions for plain language in your work and see the real value it has for the New Zealand public. But if you’re not working for one of the organisations who must meet the requirements in the Act, you might be wondering what they’ve been up to in the past year.

Here’s what we know!

A reminder on what the Act means

It applies to crown agencies reporting to the Public Service Commission.

Those agencies must write any new or significantly updated public-facing documents in plain language, from 21 April 2023.

They’ve had to appoint 1 or more Plain Language Officers, who are responsible for:

  • making sure their organisations meet the requirements of the Act
  • teaching their people about the Act
  • handling public complaints about their communication
  • reporting to the Public Service Commission each year about how they’re doing.

Take a look at the Act if you’d like to read more detail.

Plain Language Act 2022

So, what’s been happening in the past year?

Appointing Plain Language Officers

Many agencies have appointed their Plain Language Officers and have started looking at where their organisation needs to focus their effort first.

Plain language commitment statements and complaints processes

Some agencies have published a strong plain language commitment statement on their website, and set up a process to handle complaints (or good feedback too) from the public. Keep an eye out for these – we hope you’ll start seeing more over time. Here are a couple of great plain language statements we’ve seen so far:

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s plain language statement

Fire and Emergency’s plain language statement

Other agencies, while not having a clear commitment statement, have at least mentioned plain language as something people can comment on when contacting them.

First report to the Public Service Commission

The first reports went to the Public Service Commission in July 2023, as a response to a survey the Public Service Commission sent out. It asked questions to get a baseline understanding of things like:

  • whether the agencies had appointed their Plain Language Officers
  • what plain language resources they have for their people
  • what kinds of communication they’ve done with their wider organisation about the act
  • what kind of training they have on offer or are planning to offer
  • what else they were planning to do to make sure they meet the requirements of the act.

Training with Write Limited for Plain Language Officers

Write Limited ran 2 training courses for Plain Language Officers or their helpers. The courses were split into 2-hour sessions, once per week over 4 weeks. One of the main goals was to write a project plan to drive a successful plain language culture shift in their organisations. The courses had a great mix of representatives from the different reporting agencies, which was really encouraging.

Our board member Steph went on one of the courses, and she says:

“The training was an excellent opportunity to meet and connect with other people in other agencies doing the same work I do. We talked a lot about the intent of the act, how to champion it, the awesome work we’ve already done, the challenges we see in our work, and our future plans and ideas. There was a lot of knowledge-sharing and encouragement going on. I think we really motivated each other and helped each other’s thinking and success. It was a professional and supportive environment and I can see how it would have been a major boost for anyone who wasn’t really sure how to make a start.”

Write’s founding sponsor Lynda Harris was one of the trainers. We asked for her thoughts on how the training went, and here’s what she said:

“I loved creating and delivering the course! I think the best part was working with like-minded people who understand the true value of plain language to their organisation. Each person was highly invested in their PLO role and engaged in the programme in a really thoughtful way. Their enthusiasm and commitment (to the homework even!) made it so easy to work with everyone. It’s been truly inspiring. I have to say though, that both courses were a sobering reminder as to the scale of the task for PLOs! But equally, I’ve been thrilled at the way the Rewrite for Change™ model in our book Rewrite, along with the PLO Project Plan, offers a step-by-step plan to meet the requirements of the Act.

Among many positive comments after the course, one PLO said, ‘I had no idea where to start and now I have a clear path.’ That was so good to hear.”

Here’s some helpful extras from Write:

Rewrite by Lynda Harris

Next workshop for PLOs

Lynda’s seven tips for PLOs

Write’s range of workshops

Change leadership training with Dr Dawn-Marie Turner

Part of the training with Write included a session with Dr Dawn-Marie Turner on the resistance mindset and readiness mindset. It helped Plain Language Officers learn how to shift their thinking to better prepare and lead their people through a plain language culture change.

It was super eye-opening and everyone enjoyed it. It’s one of Dawn-Marie’s leadership specialties and we recommend you check her out!

Dawn-Marie Turner’s website

Plain Language Officer networking

Following the training, Write started an online network for the Plain Language Officers and their helpers to keep connected.

The Public Service Commission also ran their first forum for representatives from all reporting agencies. It had an awesome turnout and a great showcase of the promising mahi a number of the agencies have done already. The group heard from:

  • Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand
  • Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency
  • Toka Tū Ake Earthquake Commission
  • Inland Revenue Te Tari Taaki
  • the Environmental Protection Agency.

Thank you, Plain Language Officers!

We love that you’re training, connecting and working together to make this a really great outcome for New Zealanders!

Are you ready to get involved?

If your organisation reports to the Public Service Commission, find out who your officers are and what they’re getting up to. You might be able to help!

If you don’t report to the Public Service Commission, you could still:

  • advocate for plain language in your organisation
  • champion its importance for your customers, clients, partners and people
  • organise training
  • publish your own commitment statement and ask for feedback on any unclear content
  • create a plain language community or network in your workplace
  • enter the Plain Language Awards next year to celebrate your people’s great mahi!

Want some more plain language goodness?

In this month’s News section we’ve got a short recap of this year’s Plain Language Awards night. And you’ll spot a couple of plain language-y links in Let’s tech communicate.