21 August 2018 • Gideon Wille
Civilian dictionaries close divide between laymen and specialists
Rainwater drainage infrastructure? Oh, you mean the drain pipe! Transit control equipment? Oh, you mean the traffic light! Language used by public institutions like (local) government is not always clear to everyone. One solution to this problem might be a civilian dictionary. Researchers with The Hague University of Applied Sciences spent two years developing several pilots for the creation of such a dictionary.
Specialists often use jargon and terminology. This terminology is important for precise communication between specialists. However, it often causes confusion for others. This issue of jargon is one example of the divide between the social environment and the system world. A divide which researchers from the eSociety Institute at The Hague University of Applied Sciences aim to close.
Martijn Hartog is one of the researchers involved. Recently, he gave a presentation to employees of the Dutch House of Representatives in which he highlighted the advantages of a civilian dictionary: “We are moving towards a participation society in which civilians can be more empowered , provided they have access to the right information.” Unfortunately, documents published on their respective websites by Dutch municipalities, provinces and the House itself are full of jargon.
The solution to this problem could be a civilian dictionary: a verified list of terms used by civilians with links to other civilian terms or external, specialist terms. Developing these dictionaries is possible due to technological innovations such as linked data and the semantic web. As such, civilian dictionaries may optimise civilians’ search terms and search results, improve their access to information and even explain or translate specialist texts.
Over the past two years, the eSociety Institute joined forces with different partners to create civilian dictionaries. For instance, researchers and Dutch Land Registry employees worked together in the ‘Speaking Clearly’ project to determine easily understandable definitions to be used in the Basic Registries of Topography, Land and Addresses & Buildings. The results can be found at tax.kadaster.nl.
The eSociety Institute also helped develop civilian dictionaries for the council information systems of the municipalities of The Hague and Amsterdam, for products of municipal advisory partner VNG Realisatie and for terminology regarding healthcare (together with Nictiz, the expertise centre for e-health). Hartog is pleased with the research into civilian dictionaries: “With a lifespan of two years, these are short innovation processes that nonetheless have had a sizeable impact. We have set forth a concept that can be applied across domains: it has proven its worth to the Land Registry, local government and the healthcare sector.”
Martijn Hartog on civilian dictionaries research: ‘Short innovation process with sizeable impact’