Archive for March 10, 2011

That’s not my name

March 10, 2011

Names can be important... and very unimportant

Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me…

We learn this lesson when we’re four years old and as soon as we become adults we promptly forget it as we learn the importance of language.

It was ever thus and never more so than when those of us in local government try and work out what to call the people we provide services for. Bearing in mind that this debate could be reduced to one of semantics it causes real consternation amongst us officers.

With this in mind, and in the spirit of starting a debate, here is the we love local government guide to what to call those pesky people who are not local government officers:

Service User

This is a fairly straightforward one right? We work for service users, i.e. people who use the services we provide. Job done! But no, hold your horses there a second… What about those people who would use the services if they knew more about them? And what about those people who need the services but don’t currently use them? Using the expression service user excludes them right?

Ok, so we need to look elsewhere. What about the classic:


This definitely works. Everyone in the Borough is a resident and therefore if we use the expression resident we’re not excluding anyone right? But no, you’ve got two problems here. Firstly, by treating everyone equally you’re not factoring in that the views of someone who needs a service are definitely more important than those of someone who never uses any services. Secondly, what about those from outside the borough who use our services? Doesn’t the use of the term resident exclude businessmen, tourists and people who work in our local authority? They’re surely too important to forget?

What next? (more…)