Monday, 15 October 2012

Fornalism and Regulations

Today is turning into one of those days.  In the middle of working towards an institutional revalidation, pretty much my whole focus is currently locked onto a series of policy and regulatory documents in which I am writing all the various changes which have been agreed upon - which really means translating various minutes and discussions into appropriately 'regulatory' language which scrupulously avoids saying anything that contradicts a statement elsewhere in our regulations.  It involves laboriously cross-checking every sentence, and carefully scanning every punctuation mark to ensure that there is no obvious scope for misinterpretation.

The task is, frankly, mind-numbing - especially the week after I finally managed to dodge my way back into a classroom again, and had such a delightful time re-meeting old students and welcoming new ones.

One of the problems with regulations is that the mode of language which is used in them is so entrenched into a legalistic tone, that:

1)  Nobody willingly wants to read them;
2)  No wonder nobody wants to read them, because they are difficult and boring;
3)  If nobody wants to read them, there is an increased chance that nobody will follow them.

The question then is firstly how to accurately translate decisions and discussions into formal policy, and secondly how to translate policy back into something which people will actually read and understand.

Normally this involves writing a process handbook (although seriously, who the hell would voluntarily read something called a 'process handbook'?!).

But here is my problem.  Everything is so 'normal'.  It is all usual, and standard practice, because to do anything else would be to invite an auditor or an inspector to say 'this is not what I was expecting... I don't like it'.

Next week I am going to be introducing students to literary formalism.  To do so, I will be using the ideas of Victor Shklovsky.  Shklovsky made the argument that Art was simply a process of making things which are familiar, look unfamiliar.  In so doing, he argued, Art makes things look strange - and makes us pay attention to them.

I wonder - is there a way to do something similar with regulations and policies?  Would it be possible to turn the dissemination of policy into something which makes them both strange and suddenly arresting?  If there was, it would make my life a whole lot more enjoyable.

Anyway - here is what I will be explaining about Shklovsky next week - I used pretty pictures to make it look strange...