Background: The Clear Communication Index (Index) is a content-assessment tool developed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of its compliance with the Plain Language Act of 2010. The Index enables writers, editors, and reviewers to quickly ascertain the clarity of a document for audiences.
Program background: The National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) initiated a 6-month pilot to systematically introduce science-based clear communication recommendations to a group of approximately 200 employees. The purpose was to determine how easily staff could learn a new method for assessing the clarity of their public communication materials. The pilot project entailed (a) training and providing technical assistance to center staff; (b) initiating Index ambassadors to support rollout within the Center; (c) enumerating the number of documents/products using the Index; (d) creating an interface within the electronic document review and approval system to allow for scoring to be documented; (e) cultivating the work of a plain language workgroup within the Center; and (f) ultimately, producing easier-to-understand written documents for CDC’s various audiences.
Evaluation Methods and Results: During the project, appropriate training courses were presented to nearly 200 NCBDDD staff; 100 took a basic plain language course and 92 took the specific Index training. The main goal of the pilot project was to institutionalize the Index process within NCBDDD to strengthen the clarity of the materials developed. Overall, the pilot project did raise awareness and engagement with the Index. As a result, approximately 240 public and partner documents (e.g., fact sheets, Web pages, webinar presentations) with an average Index score of 90% (target score was 90%) were produced by the Center following the pilot through January 2015. Several months later, members of the CLG met for a moderated discussion on observations and recommendations about the Index. The group provided feedback on the helpfulness of the index, problematic issues that arose during the pilot, and recommendations for the future.
- Respondents were supportive of the Index, aware of the index’s science-based development, and felt it was generally accepted at the Center.
- Respondents felt that problematic issues could be categorized into four topic areas:
- Conflicting with existing guidance
- Scoring subjectivity
- Determining a single main message
- Applying the index to various products
- Respondents were able to provide numerous recommendations for improving the use of the Index within the Center and agency. Those suggestions centered on training and standardization of use and review.
Conclusions: Use of the Index improves documents, and institutionalization of the index has fostered an atmosphere of favorable reactions to plain language at the Center. Training staff in the regulatory need for plain language, general strategies of presenting information in easy-to-understand terminology, and evaluating products using the Index are integral to successful implementation.
Implications for research and/or practice: Adoption of plain language efforts by writers, editors, and reviewers will help ensure crucial public health information is better understood by nontechnical audiences. Understanding the recommendations of public health is one key component for individuals to make important decisions about their own health.